CoEDL Students

Stories from some of the many talented and diverse students in the CoEDL community



CoEDL supported and coordinated various schemes to mentor students at all levels and provide insight into what language science research is all about. Guided by the Education Subcommittee and core principles of CoEDL’s mission like collaboration and interdisciplinarity, the CoEDL community proudly nurtured over 240 undergraduate, masters and doctoral students.

Many students studied directly at CoEDL under the supervision of Centre members; others engaged with education activities the Centre supported. CoEDL ran summer schools, research internships and student mobility programs that allowed students to work alongside researchers and partner institutions; engage in interdisciplinary projects; and learn key lessons about academic conduct. The Education Subcommittee worked with the subcommittee for Early Career and Higher Degree Researchers to organise professional development workshops on topics such as writing a resume and finding a job in academia or beyond. Reaching beyond the immediate Centre community and activities, CoEDL members also facilitated workshops through organisations including the Australian Linguistics Society (ALS).

A proud legacy of these student engagement efforts was the increase of Indigenous collaborations. At least 35 Indigenous students worked with the Centre through the years, and many CoEDL students spent time working in and with Indigenous communities in Australia and the region.

The stories shared below introduce some of these unique experiences and the benefits students felt from working with the CoEDL community.

Chantelle Khamchuang

I first encountered CoEDL’s work in 2018 as a student studying my Bachelor of Psychology. Being interested in research, I wanted to understand more about the work before committing to this pathway. I applied for a summer internship at the MARCS Institute for Brain, Behaviour, and Development, and then began working as a research assistant alongside CoEDL CI Caroline Jones

This experience encouraged me to complete a thesis — 'Suitability of Vocabulary Assessments: comparing child scores and parent perspectives on Communicative Inventories for Aboriginal families in Western Sydney’ — which I submitted in 2020.

I worked with Aboriginal families in Western Sydney and asked for parent perspectives on the cultural appropriateness between two vocabulary checklists. Checklists help to identify if children have speech and language concerns. While the Australian English Communication Development Inventory (OZI-SF) checklist is commonly used in Australia, I worked with Caroline to develop an alternative checklist for Aboriginal communities — the Early Language Inventory (ERLI). My findings showed that children in western Sydney scored higher on ERLI than the OZI-SF checklist. Parents of Aboriginal children also felt a strong connection to ERLI as they were able to identify with the items on the checklist either through the use of these words with their children or from their own childhood experiences.

I enjoyed my time with CoEDL and am grateful for the opportunities the Centre gave me. As a direct result of this work, I have developed the skills that are needed to pursue a career in research and am now a PhD student involved in meaningful research for my people. This will continue to influence the future directions I take to make the right changes for Aboriginal communities.

Henry Wu

My CoEDL story somewhat unusually begins before I even started undergraduate studies at the Australian National University (ANU). I became interested in languages from an early age, competed in the Australian Computational and Linguistics Olympiad (OzCLO) in high school, and eventually decided that I wanted to study linguistics at university. When I was looking around for places to study, the various CoEDL projects based at ANU were actually one of the reasons I chose to move from Sydney to study there. There may be better ways to choose a course, but it worked out very well for me!

In my first year of university, I worked as a research assistant for CoEDL CI Beth Evans, who later supervised my honours thesis. During this research I worked on digitally transcribing, annotating and analysing fieldwork data, mostly from Nagovisi, a South Bougainville language of Papua New Guinea. This job has been its own hands-on course in general descriptive linguistics, as well as a crash course on research as a career.

But for me CoEDL has also been more than just a job from which I have learned many practical skills. The research program at the Centre was inseparable from my educational experience at ANU, and I feel very grateful towards the various denizens of the CoEDL community; they made me feel welcome at many talks, workshops and summer schools, and taught me much about language and how to think about it.

In this way, I think of my time as a student at the Centre as a very fulfilling experience of research-led teaching and learning. In particular, the way that CoEDL emphasised the complexity and multi-valency of language change has been formative in the way I think about ‘historical linguistics’ as a field, and how I approach my current main research interest in pre-modern Buddhist translations. I also think the centrality of collaboration at the Centre has left a lasting impression on me in terms of aiming to contribute to a research environment conducive to transdisciplinary work and above all collegiality.

Sasha Wilmoth

I’m extremely fortunate that CoEDL came into being at the same time as I finished my undergraduate degree and started working professionally as a linguist. It’s hard to imagine what I would be doing now if CoEDL didn’t exist.

I first established a connection with CoEDL when I was working at Appen, the Centre’s industry partner. Alongside my day-to-day work on commercial language technology projects, I worked with several CoEDLers, applying the technical skills I was learning to their research projects. I also attended the CoEDL Summer Schools to soak up all the interdisciplinary goodness on offer.

Thanks to CoEDL bringing together the linguists and engineers at UQ, I found work there as a research assistant for a year, looking into methods for accelerating corpus development. This was applied to the Gurindji Kriol corpus collected by Felicity Meakins and Cassandra Algy.

Eventually I decided it was time to commit to research fulltime and began a PhD at the University of Melbourne, working on Pitjantjatjara. With my supervisors, CI Rachel Nordlinger and CoEDL postdoc Rebecca Defina, I developed a project inspired by some of the core goals of the Centre: developing corpora of under-documented languages and embedding the study of variation as a central part of language documentation, to learn more about how diverse language structures evolve. Learning from Pitjantjatjara speakers about their language has been a great privilege, and I’ve tried to approach this with an open and exploratory mindset, having been inspired by all the myriad ways CoEDLers approach language.

Some research is only possible when you make opportunities for long-term collaboration between different types of researchers. One example of this is the sentence planning and production project with Rachel Nordlinger, Evan Kidd, and Gabriela Garrido Rodriguez, which uses eye-tracking to investigate how speakers plan sentences in free word order languages (spoiler: very differently to European languages!). As part of this project, I ran a psycholinguistic experiment with 50 Pitjantjatjara speakers. This unique collaboration between psycholinguists and field linguists is pushing the boundaries of language processing research. Having been incubated in CoEDL, this project now has a life of its own, and I’m excited to continue my involvement post-PhD.

So many other projects and relationships will continue well after the Centre finishes up; I’m grateful for these formative opportunities and all the brilliant people I’ve met over the years.

Alistair Harvey

Much of my early career involved living and working in communities throughout the Torres Strait, Central Australia, the Kimberley and Southern Queensland. This gave me insight into the struggles communities go through to maintain traditional governance, education, mentoring and cultural practices whilst dealing with often culturally conflicting imposed governance and education systems. I am of Saibai Island descent and have witnessed this trend happening with Saibai Islanders. I have heard accounts of how, from the arrival of westerners in the Torres Strait, Saibai Islanders tried to shape imposed systems to fit a structure that could maintain Saibai Island ways of living and understanding the world. These experiences stimulated my interest in contributing to the preservation of Saibai Island cultural ways and language.

I later became aware of CoEDL in 2016, when I was working at the University of Queensland Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Studies Unit as an Academic Projects Officer. I was considering submitting an ARC (Discovery Indigenous) grant and Pro-Vice Chancellor of Indigenous Engagement Cindy Shannon put me in touch with CoEDL CI Felicity Meakins. I worked with Felicity to successfully apply for a DI grant, which included a Discovery Australian Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Award (DAATSIA). It was around this time that I was appointed as an Affiliate with CoEDL.

My DI research focused on developing and utilising a Saibai Island methodology to record and document Saibai Island oral histories, cultural knowledge, stories, and legends in the Saibai Island dialect of Kalaw Kawaw Ya. Indigenous language documentation has historically been from the perspective of academia and the project hopes to offer insights into documenting a language from the perspective of descendants of that language.

In October 2020, I enrolled as a PhD student at the UQ School of Languages and Cultures with the aim of pursuing my research interests of foregrounding language and cultural knowledge documentation to that of indigenous ontologies. CoEDL is a good fit, as I believe there is a growing intent to contribute to reversing the rate of world indigenous language loss by meaningfully contributing to the increased desire of current endangered language descendants to reclaim, revive and reimagine language use.

My time at the Centre has offered me invaluable insight into the current and upcoming academic practices of describing and documenting languages. Prior to my connecting with CoEDL, I had no idea of the many ways that language description, relationships and classifications were undertaken. Many other things from my time here will continue to influence me — perhaps most of all, the important and interesting relationships I’ve been able to make and maintain over these last few years.

Further information

A full list of the Honours, Masters and PhD students CoEDL hosted is available on the Selected Highlights page.

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


Hero image: Participants work on a task in a break-out session at the 2019 CoEDL Summer School. Image: CoEDL.

Image 1: Chantelle Khamchuang, appearing in a still of a promotional video for the Early Language Inventory (ERLI). Image: Chantelle Khamchuang/WSU.

Image 2: Henry Wu. Image: Henry Wu.

Image 3: Sasha Wilmoth. Image: Sasha Wilmoth.

Image 4: Alistair Harvey. Image: CoEDL.