August 12, 2021

USRA recipient Sophia Draper gains breadth of skills in the LangDev Lab

Sophia Draper has charted a path toward working as a Speech-Language Pathologist (SLP) ever since she saw first-hand the amazing way they can help children with developmental disabilities. Studying as a Linguistics major with an extended minor in Psychology, she gained valuable experience in the Language Learning and Development Lab, which culminated in a USRA this summer. Sophia recently shared some insights about her research and what it’s like to work in the lab.

Early Experience with SLPs

While working as a camp counsellor at the Down Syndrome Resource Foundation’s day camps in Burnaby during the summers of 2019 and 2020, Sophia was able to shadow SLPs and watch how they helped kids communicate. “I found it so interesting and amazing,” she says, and has had her sights set on becoming an SLP since then.

From Lab Volunteer to Project Lead

“I started in the LangDev Lab in the fall of 2019 as a volunteer. I wanted to do lab work of some kind and this lab sounded exciting to me because I’m really interested in child development and speech disorders,” says Sophia. This led to a Directed Study this past spring with the lab’s Director, Dr. Henny Yeung, about the effects of bilingual language development on social and pragmatic understanding in children. She is continuing to work on this project over the summer as a USRA recipient.

“I’m really enjoying getting a feel for the research process from the beginning of a project. We read about all these studies in Linguistics and Psychology, but you don’t really know all the work that goes into them and what the process is like just from reading the articles.”

The project involves partially replicating past research: planning how to translate in-person studies to online versions, creating the experimental stimuli, programming the experiments, and now piloting and running participants. Previous studies have found differences between bilingual and monolingual children on social and pragmatic understanding, and this project is also investigating whether the type of bilingualism matters.     

Building a Diverse Skill Set

“I really am grateful to be working with Henny because I’m learning a lot about so many different areas, from statistics, to making animations, to working on my presentation and communication skills. It’s not just about the research process. That’s a big part of it, but it’s also all these other skills that are important for me in the future—for my master’s, and then eventually for my career.”

Flexible and Fun Work Environment

“Another thing about the LangDev Lab is how much flexibility there is with volunteers’ and RAs’ interests,” Sophia adds. “Henny really wants everyone to be passionate about what they’re working on. If there’s a project you think is really cool, or a particular area you want experience in, he and Elise (the Lab Manager) will do their best to get you involved with it.”

Sophia will be graduating this fall and plans to gain further experience helping children with developmental disabilities before applying to graduate school. We wish her success!