“Being a Mom Helps Me in My Research”

Three questions for Dr. Olga Abramov, researcher at the Cluster of Excellence CITEC

For Dr. Olga Abramov, Bielefeld University was the starting point of her academic career: she started here as a student in the fields of linguistics, text technology, German studies, and Slavic studies while also learning computer programming. She then earned her doctorate in computer science and is now a postdoctoral researcher at the Cluster of Excellence CITEC, where she is working on the EcoGest project, investigating how gestures contribute to childhood language development. In addition to this, Dr. Olga Abramov is also a mother to three children – a role that enriches her research.

Dr. Olga Abramov, researcher at the Cluster of Excellence CITEC Dr. Abramov, is your heart more in the study of languages, or in computer science?
It’s the combination that makes it exciting for me. I started my academic career by studying language because this was the area that interested me the most. During this time, I focused on text technology, which is what led to me learning computer programming. Today, this interdisciplinary path continues to help me – in the EcoGest project, for instance, I am only able to research language because I can work with computer-based models and methods.

What exactly is the EcoGest project all about?
To begin with, we want to investigate the relationship between language and gestures in children: how do they use gestures and their language in order to convey information? What gestures are often used to balance out insufficient language skills? At what point does language become more important than gestures? For adults, gestures lend support to language. How is this with children? Our research findings are then fed into the development of a computer-based model of a child. We know that children learn a lot from other children of the same age. Based on this, we are developing a computer-based model of a peer of the same age who can provide support as a virtual tutor, for instance in learning a second language. This child-friendly model is meant to portray the very parts of language and gestures we are currently researching.

You yourself are the mother of three children. What impact does this have on your research?  
My research is reflected in my personal life, and that makes me very happy. I think it’s great – being a mother and a researcher – though this does of course entail a lot of time spent organizing. As a mother, I observe when my kids learn something, what they can do and can’t do at each age. As a researcher, I can dive much deeper into this by investigating these childhood cognitive developments based on statistics and models.

The EcoGest project began in January 2018 at the Cluster of Excellence CITEC and will run for three years. The project investigates the relationship between gestures and language in 40 four-year-old and 40 five-year-old children, who will serve as study subjects. The Department of Linguistics at Bielefeld University and the Department of Psycholinguistics at Paderborn University are partnering on this project. EcoGest is funded by the Deutsche Forschungsgemeinschaft (DFG, German Research Foundation) with a total of 550.000€.