Charting New Paths in Language Research

“If you’re curious about something and nobody has an answer for you, go answer it for yourself.”

Bethany Dickerson, a Linguistics major and Honors College senior, has had the opportunity to find answers for herself throughout her time at Michigan State University. Through countless undergraduate research experiences and leadership roles in multiple student organizations, she has found herself and her passion.

Learning from Leaders

Dickerson became interested in linguistics after taking Spanish in high school and interacting with native Spanish speakers. She started developing a curiosity for language learning and understanding how and why we use language.

“I came to MSU because I wanted to major in linguistics, and of the six colleges in the state that offer linguistics, Michigan State had the best faculty and undergraduate research opportunities,” she said.

Scholarships also played a large role in her decision to attend MSU, having received a scholarship from the Honors College and the Department of Admissions.

“If I didn’t have my scholarships, I couldn’t be here,” she said.

Supporting Environment

Dickerson has been involved in undergraduate research since her freshman year, studying broad topics in geology and food nutrition, but mostly focused within the field of linguistics in the language acquisition lab and the sociolinguistics lab. One of her ongoing projects involves GAP (general all purpose) verbs. Because verbs tend to be difficult to learn, Dickerson is comparing how developing children use GAP verbs and how “late-talkers” use them. This information could have real-world effects, influencing what children are tested on to determine if they are late-talkers.

If you can use the knowledge you learn in a classroom and apply it to real-life problems, everything seems much more significant.

“I would absolutely recommend getting involved in undergraduate research,” Dickerson said. “If you can use the knowledge you learn in a classroom and apply it to real-life problems, everything seems much more significant.”

Dickerson attributes many of her opportunities for learning outside of the classroom to her instructors and faculty within the linguistics department.

Bethany Dickerson presenting undergraduate research at Michigan State University
Bethany Dickerson presenting her research at the University Undergraduate Research and Arts Forum (UURAF) in 2016.

“The graduate students and faculty within my major are so supportive and willing to talk to you about anything, be it about your research or about your stresses of the day,” she said, adding that as a smaller major, linguistics students get to connect with each other and their instructors. “The people within my major have become really important parts of my life.”

Not only is she involved in countless research studies, Dickerson also is a leader of qUALMS (University Association for Linguistics at Michigan State). qUALMS both tutors linguistics students through study sessions and group work and has “expo days,” where they examine things that are interesting within the field but that are not offered through classes. Students have a chance to share their research with their peers and socialize with fellow Spartans.

The people within my major have become really important parts of my life.

Dickerson serves as the chair of the Michigan State Undergraduate Linguistics Conference as well and is organizing two conferences that will take place in the spring, one in which MSU undergraduates share their research with graduate students and faculty members and another international conference the day after where linguistics undergraduates from any university are invited to present their work.

Building Networks for Future Success

Even outside of her major, Dickerson is very involved on campus and in the East Lansing community. She is a member of SARV, the Sexual Assault and Relationship Violence prevention program on campus. She helps run sessions for freshmen to talk about sexual assault and violence on campus and measures to take to stop these things from happening.

“SARV is the thing that I do that I value most and that makes a difference in other people’s lives,” Dickerson said.  

I really found myself at MSU and became much more outgoing.

Dickerson also is an intern at the Lansing City Clerk’s Office and won the MSUFCU Unpaid Internship Scholarship for this position. Though outside of her educational interests, she values the real-world learning she is doing at the city clerk’s office. “MSU and Lansing have so much to offer, it’s important to experience internships, study abroad and undergraduate research, because they all push your comfort zone and give you valuable experiences.”

Graduating in May, Dickerson will be taking away a new found confidence in herself and a support system within her major to carry on with her.

“I really found myself at MSU and became much more outgoing,” she said. “The connections and close relationships I made within my major have been so important and will be what I take away after graduation.”