Coffee chats: Judith Degen

Judith Degen, Assistant Professor of Linguistics, spoke with us on Thursday about her research in psycholinguistics, semantics, and pragmatics, her advice for those interested in graduate school, and the value of “taking joy in the discovery process.” 

Professor Degen’s current research investigates questions of how speakers decide what to say when, and how listeners know exactly what they mean by “reading between the lines” over the course of a conversation. She integrates computational modeling approaches with methods in psycholinguistics in order to form a more complete picture of how listeners make pragmatic inferences both correctly and quickly. She also teaches at both the graduate and undergraduate level about the theory and methods of psycholinguistics. 

Before becoming the director of the interActive Language Processing Lab at Stanford (ALPS), she was a postdoctoral researcher in Noah Goodman’s CoCoLab at Stanford. She has lived all over the world, from South America to Europe to upstate New York, and stressed to us the importance of taking opportunities to study and live abroad. 

When asked about what tips she had for surviving graduate school, Degen shared stories of her time as a graduate student at the University of Rochester, where she made lifelong friends and learned how to become comfortable with being wrong. She also talked about celebrating the small victories and how it is inadvisable to go to graduate school just for the sake of getting a doctorate. 

Towards the end of the afternoon the conversation took a turn towards questions related to how to choose a major of study, the serendipity that plays a part in that decision, and the necessity of taking advantage of the large variety of classes that Stanford has to offer. Specifically, Dr. Degen emphasized that while technical skill is extremely valuable, in order to build a more well-rounded world view, an education in the humanities is indispensable. 

Written by Pratyusha Javangula