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50th Anniversary Conference Blog

PhD student Kamaal Majeed has written a blog about his experience at the 50th Anniversary Conference on the 12th June 2015.

Written by PhD student Kamaal Majeed

On Friday, June 12, the Birkbeck Applied Linguistics & Communication (ALC) Department’s series of 50th Anniversary celebration events concluded with its 50th Anniversary conference.  Since the ALC Department’s inception in 1965 as the first Applied Linguistics department in England (and the second in United Kingdom), the ALC Department has maintained a tradition of significant contribution to the field, from both its professors and its graduates.  This celebratory conference, a landmark event in Birkbeck’s history, brought together current and former ALC Department students, lecturers, and professors — as well as students and faculty from several of Birkbeck’s sister colleges within University of London, and members of major national and international Applied Linguistics associations — to commemorate five decades of departmental contributions to the field of Applied Linguistics.

In keeping with the theme of time and the timespan of the ALC Department’s influence in the wider world of Applied Linguistics, the day’s presentations were organised to take attendees on a journey of the past, present, and future developments in the field.  Professor Paul Meara (Swansea), one of the founding members of the ALC Department, began the series of presentations with an overview of the history of the field, using co-citation maps to acknowledge the most prominent Applied Linguistics scholars and topics in each of the past several decades.  For most of the rest of the day, current Birkbeck faculty and students presented the findings from their latest projects, which covered topics from translation and translanguaging, to language variation and change, to corpus-based research on directive speech acts, among many others.  In the final presentation, a panel of professors (Claire Kramsch (Berkeley; president of the Association Internationale de Linguistique Appliquée (AILA)), Mike Baynham (Leeds), Ben Rampton (King’s), Adam Jaworski (Hong Kong), Tim McNamara (Melbourne), Greg Myers (Lancaster; Chair of the British Association of Applied Linguistics (BAAL))) speculated upon the directions that Applied Linguistics research might take in the future, and discussed what current and future scholars in the field can do to continue to produce research that is relevant to and engaging of real-life language issues.

"...diversity of participation reflects the high value the department places on all of its affiliates' contributions to the field."

ALC Department affiliates who are at varying points in their research careers participated in the series of presentations; this diversity of participation reflects the high value the department places on all of its affiliates' contributions to the field.  Attendees were able to hear presentations from professors such as Dr. Ronald Geluykens, a former ALC Department professor who has been away from the department for decades, and attend a poster session featuring current Ph.D. students in the department (Ana Brandão, Kate Hammer, Takako Inada, Chiero Noda) and their Doctoral thesis research.  The attendees learned about the current projects of academic staff in the department, such as Professor Penelope Gardner-Chloros, who has been an ALC Department faculty member for over 20 years, as well as Dr. Bojana Petrić, who joined the ALC Department as a Senior Lecturer earlier this year.  The ALC Department has a history of featuring faculty who are and students who become major contributors to the field of Applied Linguistics, and the series of presentations given at this conference showed that this trend certainly will not stop with the 50th anniversary of the department.

The wider group of attendees who participated in the conference were even more diverse with regard to the points they were in in their research careers, and where they are currently based, and the conference facilitated interaction between attendees at different points on that spectrum.  Bachelor’s degree students in the department posed questions of the panel of tenured professors who have been conducting Applied Linguistics research for decades.  Professors who have remained in the ALC Department reunited with former ALC Department professors who are now based at universities halfway around the world.  First-year Doctoral degree students in the ALC Department met ALC Department alumni who have moved on to introduce some of the major theories that support the theses projects that these current students are now producing.  During the check-in and registration period, I noticed that, unlike at most of the previous conferences I have attended, none of the name tags at this conference had titles (such as Mr./Ms., Dr., or Prof.) or university affiliations; only the attendees’ names were written.  This seemingly trivial aspect of the design of the conference actually made quite a powerful statement; whether the attendee has a CV with pages upon pages of published papers and books in Applied Linguistics, or has just finished first-year undergraduate modules in the subject, he/she is a member of and active participant in the field.  This celebration of 50 years of the ALC Department recognised that the undergraduate and postgraduate students who are being trained to continue breaking new ground in Applied Linguistics, are just as valued as the scholars who have already made numerous highly influential contributions to the field.

"There was one word that appeared constantly among the comments: “inspiring.”"

Near the end of the day, a guestbook went around the conference lecture hall, and attendees were able to write their names and their comments about the conference.  I was one of the last people to sign the guestbook, so, admittedly, I took the opportunity to flip through it and see what the other attendees wrote.  There was one word that appeared constantly among the comments: “inspiring.”  Interestingly enough, “inspiring” was also the one word I had had in mind that would best describe the conference, from my perspective.  As a Ph.D. student in the ALC Department, it was greatly inspiring to see the work of students and professors who all had some affiliation with the department.  It was especially inspiring to see the work of ALC Department alumni who moved on to be tenured professors and prominent scholars at universities all around the world.  Before I applied to and enrolled in the Applied Linguistics Ph.D. program and Birkbeck, I knew that a Ph.D. from the ALC Department would advance my career, strengthen and expand my academic skill set, and increase my familiarity with the collection of scholarly research in Applied Linguistics.  However, seeing all of the Birkbeck affiliates at this conference who were in more senior positions than my own on the academic career ladder showed me just how much is possible for me in the future, following completion of my course of training in the ALC Department.  Judging from the comments I saw in the guestbook, many of the other student attendees shared my sentiments.

Current and former Birkbeck students and faculty, representatives from major national and international Applied Linguistics organisations, and students and faculty from other schools (including sister colleges of University of London) came together to celebrate 50 years of Applied Linguistics teaching and research at Birkbeck.  As Birkbeck’s Department of Applied Linguistics and Communication is one of the first of its kind in the United Kingdom, the work of Birkbeck students and faculty — some of whom are now based at universities in different parts of the world — have contributed significantly to not only British, but also international, scholarship in Applied Linguistics.  As the day’s presentations only served to further emphasise, this tradition of influential scholarship from ALC students and faculty will continue for many half-centuries to come.

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