Baby Talk

Courtney is a Junior studying Communication Sciences and Disorders. She hopes to become a speech-language pathologist, and she is fascinated by how babies and children learn. Courtney is funded by a Summer Undergraduate Research Grant.  The Undergrad Research Blogs are sponsored by theOffice of Undergraduate Research.

Weeks 3 and 4: Results!

My experiment is producing results! I’m not sure how much I’m allowed to say, so that’s all I’m going to say about the results. They exist. They’re there. We have done the study with some toddlers, and there are results now. Sorry if you were expecting something more conclusive. 🙁 Here’s a fun video of a baby and a persistent puppy to make up for it!

In other news, I took the GRE today! I switched my work schedule around so that I could take the entire day off to take it. Now that I’m finished, I couldn’t imagine going to work afterwards. That test was exhausting! My mental energy for the day is done! Thankfully, I’m pleased with my score and I’m not going to take the test again. I just unsubscribed from the GRE Question of the Day email, and it felt so good!

If you’re planning to take the GRE, I recommend this book. Be sure you use the online resources that go along with the book, too! I also downloaded the free GRE software, PowerPrep II, and took the practice tests provided there. The software is free and made by the GRE people, so you should take advantage of it!

When I returned home after the test, some lab friends were gracious enough to post a status for me on Facebook.

Note to self: always remember to log out of all accounts on the lab computers!  But seriously, everyone in my lab has been so helpful and supportive of me and my project. I’m 100% sure that I could NOT have done it without them!

If you’re interested in baby research, here’s a link to a news article about a recent study… it turns out that dancing with a baby makes the baby more helpful! I heard about it on the radio, and I had to see for myself. Why didn’t I think of this study idea?! When the experimented bounced the 14-month-old baby in sync with music, the baby was more likely to pick up an object that the experimenter dropped. And yes, the article includes a video of the experiment. So the next time you need a baby to help you out, put on some music and dance first. #lifehacks

This week, I’ll be running the experiment with more participants, and then analyzing the resulting data. I’m also going to a luncheon with other URG recipients sponsored by the Office of Undergraduate Research!

Weeks 1 and 2 in the Lab

My study is ready for its first participants!  Here is what I have been working on over the past few weeks:

Filming a video for the study stimuli with the help of some research assistant friends

Recording sentences for the test portion of the study. I <3 my Midwestern accent. It will never change. 🙂

Editing sounds in Praat. Side note: Did you know the Praat icon is a mouth and an ear? It seems like every time I use Praat, someone (an RA, grad student, etc.) has this revelation. Praat is one of my favorite open-source software programs. It’s easy to use (even though I still don’t know what Praat Picture is for) and you look really fancy when you’re using it. You can even make a Pinterest-y craft project with it. #science

Making video clips for the stimuli and test sentences Adobe Premiere

Putting everything in WISP for MatLab, which has been the most frustrating task so far. If WISP were a person, it would be that person who cuts you off on the highway, then drives really slowly in front of you. Ugh.

Calling families and inviting them to come to the lab and participate in the study. YAY!


Since I don’t know who is reading this post, I can’t divulge many details of the study itself. You’ll just have to wait until it’s finished and read the resulting paper to learn about it! 😉


Lately, I’ve been feeling a bit jealous of my friends, the majority of whom are interning at big companies or traveling this summer.  But then I remind myself that working with infants and children is my passion. And my friends are only posting the highlights of their summers. I can’t post the highlights of mine because it’s pretty weird to ask to take a photo of someone else’s child. I may not be interning somewhere with a high-rise office, but I get to avoid workplace drama and business suits (yikes). I may not be traveling somewhere exotic, but I get to spend time with my family and friends in my favorite city on earth.

I think it’s a good trade-off. 🙂

Hi Everyone!

Hi everyone! I’m Courtney, and I’m a Junior studying Communication Sciences and Disorders in the School of Communication.  Most people who learn about my major have never heard of it, so I figured I would start this blog off with some information about the field. The Northwestern CSD Department’s website provides a better explanation than I ever could.  The Department “explores the science of human speech, hearing, and learning and seeks new and more effective ways to prevent, diagnose, and treat related communication disorders.” A lot of CSD majors hope to become speech-language pathologists, audiologists, doctors, teachers, or researchers. I’d like to become a speech-language pathologist.

The Department is home to nearly 30 research laboratories.  I have been working in one of these labs, the Language Learning Lab, under Dr. Casey Lew-Williams since January 2013. The lab investigates how infants and young children learn language. I was attracted to this lab because I’ve always been interested in how babies learn. And that’s what my I’ll be studying under my grant this summer.

My study is called “Infant Language Learning from Overheard Speech.”  It investigates how toddlers learn words from speech that isn’t necessarily directed toward them. Some research says they can’t learn from it, while other research says they can.  I hope to learn more about the conditions under which language-learning happens from overheard speech.

I’ll try not to use scientific jargon on this blog — I want everyone to understand my project. This research is important, and its full value won’t be realized unless people actually get it!