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Meet Charles Chang of PAMLab at Boston University

Today we’d like to introduce you to Charles Chang.

Thanks for sharing your story with us Charles. So, let’s start at the beginning and we can move on from there.
I got started in the field of linguistics in college, where I majored in linguistics and had a great advisor (Bert Vaux) who encouraged me to continue on to grad school. I applied in my senior year, but didn’t receive funding to the place I wanted to go to the most (Berkeley), so I took a gap year to take up a Fulbright Fellowship to teach English in South Korea. While in Korea, I gained lots of teaching experience, became proficient in Korean, and reapplied to grad school along with external fellowships, which paid off when I was readmitted to Berkeley with funding.

After my first year at Berkeley, I took a leave of absence to complete some applied linguistics coursework at Cambridge and then returned to Berkeley the following year with newfound inspiration and appreciation for my course of study. My dissertation work examined the phonetic changes that occur in the speech of adult language learners at the very beginning of second language acquisition and has led to a number of related projects addressing questions about language interaction and language representation in the context of language learning and multilingualism.

After stints at the University of Maryland, New York University, Rice University, and SOAS (University of London), I started my current post as an Assistant Professor of Linguistics at Boston University in 2015. The PAMLab (Phonetics, Acquisition & Multilingualism Lab) is the lab I established in the Linguistics Program here. This lab includes graduate and undergraduate students and faculty in the areas of language sound systems, language learning and/or the use of two or more languages. We are currently running several research projects, including studies of Asian American language use in Greater Boston, of phonetic variation in contemporary Seoul Korean, and of language development in Korean-English bilingual children.

We’re always bombarded by how great it is to pursue your passion, etc – but we’ve spoken with enough people to know that it’s not always easy. Overall, would you say things have been easy for you?
The career path of a budding academic is rarely easy, and for me it has definitely not always been a smooth road. Attending the grad school that was the right fit took persistence (it didn’t happen until my second application cycle) and once I was in grad school it took several years for me to carve out a path in research, including many rejections from conferences and journals. For example, it took four tries for me to finally get a paper of mine published in one of the premier journals in my field (Journal of Phonetics).

When it came time to apply for jobs, then began a long slog of application writing, revising and interviewing. It took four years (including hundreds of applications, the vast majority of which did not lead to an interview) for me to finally obtain a tenure-track job that was a good fit for me. As a faculty member, I continue to receive rejections from funding agencies, journals, and conferences on a regular basis (fortunately, I have learned how to cope with and learn from rejection well!).

So let’s switch gears a bit and go into the PAMLab (Phonetics, Acquisition & Multilingualism Lab) at Boston University story. Tell us more about the business.
The PAMLab (Phonetics, Acquisition & Multilingualism Lab) is a research cluster in the Linguistics Program at Boston University. We study the processing, representation and development of speech over the lifespan in bi- and multilingual individuals of all ages.

As a lab, we have a unique research focus, which integrates the instrumental study of language sounds, the temporal perspective of developmental research, and an abiding concern with individuals who use more than one language regularly (as opposed to monolingual speakers). We are proud of fostering a supportive and inclusive environment in which students, regardless of their academic background or major, can make meaningful contributions to one or more research projects and thereby gain valuable experience with the scientific enterprise.

Has luck played a meaningful role in your life and business?
I have been extremely fortunate to have received support from many sources and in many forms throughout my life and career. In addition to the unflagging support of my family and friends, I have had great advisors (including my undergraduate advisor, Bert Vaux, and my graduate advisor, Keith Johnson), classmates, and colleagues. With federal and private financial aid, I have been able to attend top universities for virtually nothing out of pocket, both for college (Harvard University, which provided very generous aid) and for grad school (University of Cambridge, funded by a grant from the Gates Cambridge Trust; University of California, Berkeley, funded by grants from the U.S. Department of Education and the National Science Foundation). I learned a lot from and enjoyed working at all of the places I passed through on the way to my current post, which include some very nice places to live (Washington, DC, New York, Houston, and London). Although there have been setbacks along the way, I think that on balance I have experienced more good luck than bad luck over the course of my professional trajectory.

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