CoEDL Alumni

Discover the unique paths beyond CoEDL that our alumni have taken



How did CoEDL’s impact extend beyond transforming the science of language?

Over 200 Chief, Partner and Associate Investigators, students, postdoctoral fellows and research associates worked with CoEDL across its lifetime. Of these, many continue CoEDL’s mission to transform the language sciences after moving to new positions at other institutions. Many others struck out on new paths, applying their experiences at the Centre to diverse industries and projects.

Read on to discover the stories of an information visualisation specialist; a health scientist; a public servant working in business analysis; and a forensic linguist working to improve legal and justice processes, all of whom are alumni of CoEDL.

Lydia Byrne

As a PhD student at the University of Queensland, supervised by CoEDL CI Janet Wiles and AI Dan Angus, I looked at how information visualisation could support the analysis of dynamics in conversation. It was cross-disciplinary work drawing from the fields of Information Technology, Visualisation and Linguistics.

The Centre was really fertile intellectual soil to grow in as a budding researcher. I taught my first workshops on visualisation at CoEDL, introducing linguists to some of the fundamentals of information visualisation. A well-built visualisation helps researchers discover patterns in data and share those patterns with others. It can assist the user to be robust in their data gathering techniques and provide deeper insight into the value of the data.

I also encountered many different fields and ways of doing research and research-related work, like tool development. I built my first professional visualisation application for a collaboration that started through CoEDL. These experiences deepened my understanding of how to harness the push and pull between what technology can do and what you design a tool for. This is relevant to my current role at the Defence Science and Technology Group, where I spend a lot of time on the design and development of software tools for visualisation and knowledge elicitation.

CoEDL also really opened my eyes to the potential for theoretical concepts from linguistics to improve visualisation. Much of the myriad and valuable data expressed in natural language can be lost if you apply the traditional data science approach of trying to turn everything into numbers as fast as possible. I think visualisation researchers are just starting to scratch the surface of how we can process and make sense of this data visually, and learning from other disciplines can help this.

The connections I made with the linguistics community have also had really direct applications. I've saved a lot of time and effort on processing text data in our interfaces because I thought, 'Some smart linguist will have already solved this problem, and written Python code for it.' (And they had! Linguists are the best.)

Karen Mulak

I was working as a Research Officer at the MARCS Institute at Western Sydney University when the Centre opened. I was impressed with the scope of the Centre and its mission to drive advancements in our understanding of the intricacies of language by uniting researchers from various fields, who shared an interest in studying language, but who each brought unique approaches and perspectives. I successfully applied for a postdoctoral position, which I held from 2015 to late 2017, supervised by CI Paola Escudero that spanned aspects of language processing and language learning.

Much of the research Paola and I undertook with our collaborators focused on questions relevant to language learning and perception in multilingual communities by infants and adults. Multilingual environments, in which individuals may speak and/or are exposed to multiple languages and accents, are increasingly the norm. To understand how exposure to multiple accents and languages affects word recognition and word learning, we investigated how monolinguals recognise words and learn new words in accents and languages other than their own.

Following my selection as an AAAS Science & Technology Policy Fellow in 2021, I began work as a Health Scientist at the US National Institutes of Health in the Eunice Kennedy Shriver National Institute of Child Health and Human Development. I summarise, analyse, and report on NIH-funded research and programs, particularly those centred on child and reproductive health, and directly contribute to connecting science with policymakers. Thus far, I have prepared briefings on the impact of technology and social media on child development for the NIH Director for use in Congressional testimony; summarised recent advances in contraception for a Congressional report; and translated scientific articles into summaries for stakeholders and government officials.

Science communication is a core component of my work, and CoEDL played a significant role in developing my skill in this area. During my postdoc, I collaborated in the drafting of multiple press releases; participated in radio and television interviews; and, as part of the community engagement inherent to the CoEDL mission, I gave several community talks at family expositions and public libraries. I also presented our work at conferences in Australia and overseas, and enjoyed the opportunity to teach (as well as learn!) at CoEDL Summer Schools. These experiences advanced my ability to convey complex scientific topics to broader audiences and mean that I am progressing well in my fellowship.

Simon Gonzalez

I was working as a research assistant focused on sociophonetics at Griffith University when I first met CI Catherine Travis at a conference in Brisbane. Catherine told me about CoEDL’s work, which led me to apply for a Research Fellowship with the Centre, working for Catherine’s Sydney Speaks Project and the Transcription Acceleration Project (TAP) led by CI Janet Wiles.

My application was successful, and I spent about five years working at CoEDL on the development of linguistic technologies for sociophonetic analysis. For example, I helped to develop a web-based application that visualised phonetic patterns of vowel spaces across a range of different demographics, including country of origin, gender and age. I also assisted the implementation of engineering-oriented tools for linguistic applications, such as running Natural Language Processing (NLP) techniques to identify linguistic patterns in different corpora spanning a century of data.

In the last part of my fellowship, I led a project on the acoustic force-alignment of speech data, oriented to the implementation in minority languages, including Australian Aboriginal languages and languages in the Pacific. This project also opened doors to collaboration with researchers in other parts of the world, including the United States, England and New Zealand.

It was a time of unprecedented growth and was invaluable in my career and personal development. CoEDL exemplified what it means to thrive in a field of research while remaining grounded in human connection. In a world where everything is becoming more automated and dependent on machines, developing human connection, networks and, most importantly, friendships is an aspect that we should never lose, especially in academia.

The Centre’s interdisciplinary nature also gave me great exposure to working with colleagues in other research areas of interest. I particularly enjoyed diving into the engineering aspect of language studies and using methods and tools like NLP to address the need in linguistic research to follow efficient data protocols and to process large datasets for accurate results.

I currently work in Business Analysis for the Department of Defence, where I draw on my knowledge of data processing and statistical analysis for my every-day tasks. My interest in the engineering aspect of data has also allowed me to grow more in areas such as Machine Learning and Artificial Intelligence. I strongly believe that my exposure to other technical fields through interdisciplinary collaboration at CoEDL was fundamental for taking this path. For this I am very grateful.

Debbie Loakes

I was working at the University of Melbourne in 2015 when I applied for a research fellowship on a project called ‘A Sociophonetic Study of Aboriginal English’, working with CI Janet Fletcher. I was lucky to be selected and spent my time looking at social and regional differences in speech between people living in Warrnambool and Mildura in Victoria. This research focused on speech production and perception, eventually expanding to encompass voice quality — an understudied area of linguistics, but an obvious part of how people sound.

I absolutely loved the opportunity to work in CoEDL. I felt I could be creative in the way I approached my sociophonetic work, and had fantastic support from Janet Fletcher and other senior Centre members such as Anne Cutler (who I am so glad to have known, and who will be sadly missed) and with Gillian Wigglesworth. Coming together and making connections, with the CoEDL community and with the communities I worked with in Warrnambool and Mildura, is what I’ll remember most. Thank you to all the CoEDL members who fostered such a great working environment and were fantastic role models — your example will continue to influence my professional life.

I now work as a research fellow at the Research Hub for Language in Forensic Evidence at the University of Melbourne, investigating how language evidence is used in court. The Hub focuses on covertly made recordings and issues surrounding their transcription[1].

Covert recordings are legally taken in secret to support legal proceedings, but the dialogue they contain may be indistinct due to the recording methods. Often, transcriptions of these recordings are made by police; they are not always correct, inadvertently contain bias and are rarely adequately checked. These transcriptions are nevertheless submitted to court, which can result in justice issues.

Alongside my colleagues we hope to establish reliable and effective processes for handling indistinct covert recordings, as well as their transcription and translation. This also includes a project with fellow CoEDL alumnus Hywel Stoakes, looking at automatic transcription.


Further information

To learn more about these and other CoEDL members, explore the People subset of Connections data in map or list form.


Hero image: CoEDL members gather at Western Sydney University during the 2015 CoEDL Summer School. Image: CoEDL.

Image 1: Lydia Byrne. Image: Lydia Byrne.

Image 2: Karen Mulak. Image: Karen Mulak.

Image 3: Simon Gonzalez. Image: CoEDL.

Image 4: Debbie Loakes. Image: Debbie Loakes.


Debbie Loakes [1] — Loakes D (2022) Does Automatic Speech Recognition (ASR) Have a Role in the Transcription of Indistinct Covert Recordings for Forensic Purposes? Front. Commun. 7:803452. doi: 10.3389/fcomm.2022.803452