Convocation, Profile

Student enriches her BA experience by volunteering on-campus

October 07, 2019

Sometimes life doesn't turn out the way you planned, and the same can be said for Susanna Firley's time at Simon Fraser University (SFU). Her academic path has unfolded quite unusually since her first semester.

"I came to SFU with the intention of finishing a degree in English," says Firley. "Along the way I took professor Trude Heift’s LING 220: Introduction to Linguistics, which was a taster pack of all things linguistics. I was hooked!"

This Thursday, Firley will cross the stage with a BA majoring in Linguistics and a minor in Psychology. 

Firley is a familiar face around the Department of Linguistics. She worked as a research assistant on various projects at the Language and Brain Lab (LABlab), and she was most recently involved in building an experiment using a computer program called SuperLab. The work at LABlab was challenging but it proved to be a rewarding learning experience for her. 

"It was great to work on the LABlab team and to get to know the research process intimately," Firley says. "I really had no idea what I was doing, but I had success given the time and the patience of professor Yue Wang and lab manager Keith Leung."

Besides volunteering at the lab, Firley also tutored at the Linguistics Department Writing Centre (LDWC). When senior lecturer Cliff Burgess first launched the Writing Centre in the fall of 2018, Firley was one of the first writing tutors to join the team, and her work at the LDWC has become one of her proudest achievements at SFU. 

"The LDWC was a unique opportunity to connect to peers and hone my own writing skills in the process," Firley says. "It was truly gratifying to see noticeable progress in my peer’s work. I owe Dr. Burgess many thanks for overseeing my position and encouraging my path." 

When asked what the future holds for her, Firley joked, "Currently under construction."

She is keeping an open mind to the different possibilities out there but she is certain about one thing: a graduate degree is definitely in the cards for her. 


  • LING 309 and LING 806: Sociolinguistics
    I have associate professor Panayiotis Pappas and associate professor Suzanne Hilgendorf to thank for introducing me to sociolinguistics. LING 309 showed me how language is used to express individuality yet community membership. LING 806 was mind-opening to the effects of globalization on the English language. Also, professor Pappas introduced me to The Wire so I thank him for that (great show!).
  • LING 480: Special Topics in Linguistics I: Medical Communication
    Emma Mileva’s course helped me understand how power dynamics expressed through language in medical discourse can affect health outcomes. This course would be particularly applicable for undergrads who are considering a career in the medical field, or anyone who wants to give their doctor a few tips on effective communication. 😊


That is a big question. Be a neurotic work-a-holic? It worked for me.

More seriously, try to realize that post-secondary is a short time in your life. Commit, work hard while you are here, follow your interests, and be proud of your achievements. Try to get involved as much as you can early in your degree, whether it be joining a lab, a club, or a study group. Get a good pen and stay organized.

Oh, and take a night off every once in a while! 

Fall 2019 Outstanding Academic Achievement Award Recipients

This fall convocation, the Department of Linguistics is recognizing a small group of graduating students for their outstanding academic achievements.