Talk on Research Methods in Computational Linguistics

I gave a guest lecture today in a research methods class of comprising of graduate students from Rhetoric and Professional Communication. When Prashant Rajan, who teaches this course, asked me about this a few months back, I, for the first time, asked myself- “What exactly are the research methods of computational linguistics?” I never had a class dedicated to research methods - we learnt methods of NLP/CL in those classes which taught NLP/CL. I read about scientific method, specific stuff like - methods for social science research, methods for psychology research etc, and I think many of my friends who came from these backgrounds had specific methods classes. But, I don’t remember any CS friends I had, with or without NLP, talking about a research methods class.

Coming from this background, I had a tough time figuring out how to talk about research methods - just describing methods as methods. The fact that I actually did not find anything that is like this online did not help my predicament. I contemplated on apologizing and dropping the talk altogether. But, then, I thought about it a little bit and came up with the following plan:

  • Talking about what is computational linguistics
  • Trying to separate theoretical and empirical research
  • Giving some example research questions, and example methods
  • Taking one research project (not mine) and talking about it from methods perspective.

Here is what I came up with for today’s talk.

Talk + Q&A session took about an hour. With this experience, I have some ideas on improving this version. I am just uploading this current version nevertheless for the following reasons:

  • If some other NLP-er without 25 years of experience behind them gets themselves into scenarios that require them to address such diverse audience, they may get some ideas from here.
  • This will be a reminder to my future self about how the first version was!
Written on March 7, 2018