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Q&A with Zsófia Demjén

Zsófia is a Senior Lecturer in Applied Linguistics. She is currently working on a project to better understand the experiences of people who hear voices.

What attracted you to take up your position at the UCL Institute of Education (IOE)?
There is the obvious: the Institute's reputation and track-record for excellent research. But more specifically, in my previous job, the IOE was always seen as the go-to place when we needed external examiners, or specialists to help design particular parts of the curriculum or to contribute to research projects and papers. I wanted to be a part of the group that others call on.

Which UCL programmes are you contributing to in the upcoming 2019-20 academic year?
I am the programme leader for the Applied Linguistics MA and I teach the Language at Work module.

What do you most enjoy about your position and why? 
I really enjoy the autonomy, flexibility and intellectual challenge of academic work, as well as the combination of research and teaching. The two are fundamentally complementary: research ensures that teaching content is vivid and up-to-date; while teaching encourages us to make research understandable, and to address the 'so what?' question. 

The MA module I teach draws on my research in healthcare contexts, but I'm really enjoying the challenge of figuring out how best to demonstrate the potential of linguistic tools across contexts and for multiple purposes.

What is the focus of your research and what benefits do you hope your discoveries and/or insights will bring?
Basically, I'm interested in how people use language for different purposes in health and illness related contexts and situations, because how people say what they say can tell us more than just what they actually say. In this way, we can learn more about how people experience particular illnesses or healthcare services. In the long run this can help in all sorts of ways: e.g. to understand why some interventions or diagnostic tools do or don't work very well; or what causes misunderstandings, shame, etc. in interactions, but also on a broader scale in terms of social attitudes.

Right now, I'm working on a pilot project with colleagues at Lancaster University looking into how people who hear voices describe their experiences. Studies in psychology have shown that a sizable minority cope well with these experiences and for some people the experiences are positive and helpful. We're interested in better understanding how the positive voice-hearing experiences are different from the distressing ones based on how people describe these, and the extent to which linguistic markers might be able to predict whether someone is likely to cope well or not. 

What working achievement or initiative are you most proud of? 
I am really happy to have had a role to play in setting up the new special interest group in Health and Science Communication under the umbrella of the British Association for Applied Linguistics. The group now has a sizable following with its own strand within the annual BAAL conference as well as its own annual symposium, which attracts contributions and audiences from a number of different disciplines.

How has being in London and/or at UCL in particular benefited you?
It's amazing to be located in Russell Square with the buzz of four universities immediately around you, and several others within a 30-minute walk. My own work draws on disciplines beyond linguistics (psychology, health and well-being) and this makes it so much easier to have conversations with colleagues working in other faculties and institutions.