Did you catch the faculty feature on Prof. Colin Wilson in this week’s Arts & Sciences Weekly e-newsletter? Read up on it here…
Describe your primary research or scholarship, and tell us what is most exciting about your current project.
My research focuses on understanding how people learn and generalize linguistic patterns from sparse, ambiguous evidence. According to theories developed by linguists and other cognitive scientists, learning is possible only because there are tight restrictions on our implicit hypothesis spaces: humans are built to learn “natural” patterns, not all imaginable patterns. Recently I have found striking support for such restrictions in experiments that ask English speakers to learn unfamiliar ways of forming new words, modeled after patterns that are found in many Austronesian languages such as Chamorro and Tagalog.
Share a best practice or tip for successful teaching or mentoring.
Because most undergraduates have had limited exposure to my main fields of study—for example, it is rare for high schools to have any classes in linguistics—all of the courses that I teach involve learning a lot of background material, new ways of thinking about and analyzing data, specialized jargon, etc. However, I think it’s important to learn through doing and include an original research project as the culmination of every upper-level course. I understand that this creates some anxiety for students who are new to the research area, but they never fail to rise to the occasion and impress me with their projects.
What do you like to do outside of work?
My family is outdoorsy—we enjoy hiking, swimming, and camping—but you can also find us seeing a band, catching a movie, or at the theater.