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Meet Leslie Cochrane

So welcome back to William and Mary. You’re a former undergraduate of the College. Can you tell me how long it’s been since you graduated?

I think it’s been about eight years since I’ve graduated.

How’s that gap of time felt?

I think it’s gone by surprisingly quickly. It’s been long enough that when I come back and look at students they look very very young to me. It’s long enough, though, that I feel like things have changed a little bit but I feel that everything is still familiar and that there are things at William and Mary that don’t change.

Can you give me a quick summary of everything you’ve done?

I think when I started out after William and Mary I was interested in studying narrative so I spent some time searching for who was going to tell the narratives and what about those narratives I was going to study. And I decided what I was going to study about narratives was identity, how people tell their identity within a story within conversation. And a few years ago I hit upon a group of people telling stories that I wanted to look at and that’s people with physical disabilities and their able-bodied family and friends. And I became fascinated by the way people with physical disabilities tell their stories, the way other people tell stories about them, and the way everyone’s identity gets revealed when analyzing the linguistics of these stories. So discourse analysis, narrative analysis, all being done about disability discourse.

So that’s what I’ve been up to since I’ve left and I’ve done that at Oxford and Georgetown and my research population is in the D.C. area.

What would you like to do for the rest of your life?

Teach. I want to teach students about linguistics and I want to teach people in general about what I’ve been finding with my research. So I think I go out and do my research and find something I want to go teach. I want to tell people through papers I write through presentations I give and also through classwork. The way that I will be most immediately doing this is teaching a narrative class this coming spring and a sociolinguistic field methods class this coming spring.

What is your favorite animal?

I think a dog is my favorite animal. I don’t have one of my own right now but I’ve had one in the past. I like the way that dogs relate to their people.

So from one random question to another, what’s your favorite food?

That’s a good question. I think right now my favorite food is a nacho salad because I have just learned how to make my best friend’s recipe for nacho salad. And she used to make it all the time, speaking of William and Mary, when we were here at William and Mary and she used to make it and serve it to our friends. She said, “Going back to William and Mary you have to be able to make my nacho salad.”

If you could choose one language to learn, which would it be?

I think that it would be Indonesian because I studied the structure of that, a little bit, in the way that you do when you have problem sets of a language. But I’ve never actually tried to speak it or learn it in a conversational way and I’ve had so much fun with the structure of it that’d it would be nice to learn more about it and actually be able to use it.

What is your favorite language that you’ve studied so far?

My favorite language that I’ve studied so far is Latin. That was my first language and that was my lead into linguistics with studying Latin.

From the beginning of your linguistic career, what do you think was the biggest hurdle?

I think the most important thing was starting to think of myself as a professional linguist, and not as a student. In some ways that was very, very hard for me because when I was starting out with my PhD program, I was doing classes, doing homework, still in the routine of going to classes and going to school. But, it is really, really important to make your identity a linguist—that you’re not learning linguistics but that you are a linguist and that you’re already doing this stuff for real. I think that’s kind of hard when you’re doing classes day-to-day and that’s taking up a lot of your time. But you have to think of yourself as already being there. And in some ways for me that was pretty easy because I had people who were sort of nudging me in that direction so I think at Oxford I had a lot of mentors who took my research very seriously. It wasn’t, “Oh, that’s a good project you did but how do you frame this in accordance with other people’s work?” And so people taking me seriously helped. At Georgetown I was pushed into doing professional things like giving conference papers. My first year at Georgetown I ended up giving a conference paper, which I think is a little uncommon for a first year graduate student  and it’s not a big-big deal but I don’t think a lot of people think of doing that their first year. I think in some ways, it was very hard to shift that mindset from I’m a student to I’m a professional and I’m really doing this.

Any funny stories about Professor Martin, Taylor, or Reed?

I don’t know if I have any funny stories in particular but I have some very fond memories of doing game nights. I think actually one of the neat things is meeting up with some of the people since I’ve left here. So seeing professors at conferences, seeing Professor Reed and Professor Martin at conferences was really neat.

Oh, but there was a time I think when they were trying to make Linguistics department photos similar to some on the main William and Mary website. And I don’t know if these photos are still around, but one of the photos on the William and Mary website was a bunch of rugby players absolutely caked in mud and huddled together. So you saw on the front page of William and Mary all these guys huddled together. So the Linguistics department, I think, definitely Professor Reed was involved, but I think Professor Taylor and Martin as well, all tried to get themselves caked in mud and take a photo that would parallel the main website photo with results that if you knew what they were referencing would make sense, but if you didn’t would look pretty bizarre.

Linguists playing rugby. It's what we do.