“My research trip to the CASS centre” by visiting PhD student Anna Mattfeldt

Several times a year, the ESRC Centre for Corpus Approaches to Social Science welcomes visiting researchers, from PhD students to professors. Past visitors include Will Hamlin (Washington State University, USA) and Iuliia Rudych (Albert-Ludwigs-Universität Freiburg, Germany); current visitors include Laurence Anthony (Waseda University, Japan) and Anna Mattfeldt (Heidelberg University, Germany). Before returning to her home university, Anna wanted to share a few thoughts about her experience here at CASS:

I am a PhD student from Heidelberg who has just spent eight wonderful weeks at Lancaster University on a research trip. Before I went, some friends and colleagues asked me why I would go to so much trouble when I could just as easily write my thesis back home in Heidelberg. In the following post, I will try to answer why a research trip to another country and another university was the right decision for me – and why I can absolutely recommend it to other PhD students as well. I would also like to thank my main supervisor, Prof. Ekkehard Felder, for giving me the great chance to spend these eight weeks of research here at Lancaster.

I am doing my PhD at the German department of Heidelberg University. We have been doing corpus linguistic research in discourse analysis for quite some time, with big thematic corpora like HeideKo that were collected for research and teaching purposes. A bilingual corpus project, focusing on the depiction of Europe in German and Hungarian newspapers, is currently under way with the German department of The ELTE in Budapest, Hungary.

We approach data from a mainly qualitative point of view, accompanied by quantitative analysis. We focus on so-called “semantic battles” in a pragma-semiotic approach, which means we try to find instances of disagreement or agreement between speakers and how they are played out on the linguistic surface-level. Some may come up so often in specific discourses that they can be seen as central to the discourse. We are interested in the concepts behind the discourse, and how we can deduce them from the actual linguistic devices used in texts.

In my PhD, I am looking at environmental media discourses (especially concerning Hurricane Sandy and hydraulic fracturing, the so-called “fracking” in the US, the UK and Germany), in order to do a linguistic discourse analysis. Moreover, I am trying to find a way to detect conflictive topics and concepts in the various discourses. So, for a project that focuses different languages, corpora, research questions, I need corpus linguistic software, like WMatrix, AntConc, CQPweb and WordSmith. My co-supervisor, Prof. Busse, recommended a stay with the ESRC Centre for Corpus Approaches to Social Science at Lancaster University. The CASS centre at Lancaster is known for its high scientific expertise with huge corpora and different kinds of software. This is why I came up with the idea to also look for support somewhere else.

Hence I sent an email to Tony McEnery. To my great delight, after sending in a few documents, I was actually invited to come and do some research here. After figuring everything out at work, sending applications for scholarships to fund all this and chatting online with local property owners, I finally arrived on the 15th February and spent eight amazing weeks here.

The CASS centre has helped me a lot in my research, especially with tricky data. I was also confronted with lots of interesting ideas, and I loved the atmosphere of picking one another’s brains and inspiring one another. I liked the working atmosphere, the many interesting talks that were given, and the wonderful library with all the literature of the different fields, and last but not least the beautiful campus in an idyllic landscape. I was inspired to work more closely with quantitative approaches and to see how they could be used to see the bigger concepts “between the lines”. I also got a lot of my analysis done, made a lot of progress and still managed to see a bit of England as well during the weekends.

Thus, I can wholeheartedly recommend going abroad during a PhD for a research trip:

  • You get to talk to experts who can help you find solutions for the challenges you have been stuck with.
  • You get lots of new ideas just by talking to different people, being in a new environment or experiencing a different research philosophy.
  • Believe it or not, it immensely furthers the writing process to work in a new environment without any distractions.
  • If you are going to a country with a different language than your own, it is a great opportunity to brush up your language skills.
  • You broaden your horizons by living abroad, not only as far as your PhD is concerned.

So if you feel that you can profit in any way by going abroad, I recommend you do that – and hopefully come to Heidelberg! If you have any further questions concerning my project or visiting Heidelberg University for your own research trip, just send me an email (anna.mattfeldt at gs.uni-heidelberg.de).

Are you interested in being a visiting researcher/scholar at CASS? Email us at cass@lancs.ac.uk to discuss research aims and availability.