On Getting Published as a Master's Student

Michael C. Stern

Getting a paper published in a peer-reviewed journal is a standard part of academic life. But getting your name on a research paper for the first time while still a student is a memorable rite of passage. Just ask Michael C. Stern, who’s getting a master’s degree in linguistics at The Graduate Center. Stern was listed as corresponding author on a study just published in The Journal of Cultural Cognitive Science.

The research, conducted at The Graduate Center’s Second Language Acquisition Lab, examined differences among bilingual speakers in what’s called “predictive processing.” That refers to the way we predict what comes next in a sentence after hearing just a first few words.

Stern, who’s 25, had his bachelor’s degree from the University of Massachusetts, Amherst, when he came to The Graduate Center in 2017, but he was new to linguistics. Being at The Graduate Center, he says, “has been transformative. I’ve been given so many opportunities to jump onto projects and develop my ideas into concrete research.”

The journal study originated as dissertation fodder for Christen N. Madsen II, at the time a Graduate Center Ph.D. student. Madsen decided to take his thesis in a different direction, but the bilingual study proceeded. Stern, Madsen, and two other linguistics Ph.D. students, LeeAnn Stover and Cass Lowry, met regularly about the research, advised by Professor Gita Martohardjono. Eventually the data was presented at conferences, and an article took shape.

But going from lab to publication is a long, painstaking process. A draft was sent off for peer review in February. Responses arrived a few months later. Major revisions were needed. The final version went online Oct. 28, co-authored by Stern, Madsen (who now has his Ph.D.), Stover, Lowry, and Martohardjono.

Martohardjono said it was due to the Second Language Acquisition Lab’s “particularly collaborative and democratic nature that an M.A. student ended up being first author on a journal publication.” 

The study found that those who learned English later in life predicted what words would come next in a Spanish sentence just like people who only speak Spanish. But those who grew up speaking both languages while living in an English-dominant society “predicted less actively in Spanish.” What surprised the researchers was that hesitating on those predictions sometimes provided an advantage. Instead of anticipating the wrong thing and then correcting their understanding, those who waited got the right result faster.

Stern says that being involved in this research and seeing his name on the paper means a lot. “I feel incredibly lucky,” he said.

Submitted on: NOV 21, 2019

Category: GCstories | General GC News | Linguistics | Student News