Alumnus Reflects on His Time with SLS

MSU’s Second Language Studies (SLS) Program welcomed scholars from around the world to present their research at the 42nd annual Second Language Research Forum (SLRF) September 20-22. One of the four plenary speakers at the forum was Luke Plonsky, who received his Ph.D. in Second Language Studies from MSU in 2011 and who organized MSU’s previous SLRF in 2009.

“It feels great coming back, and I’m really proud and impressed with the students who are organizing it this time,” Plonsky said. “A big takeaway for me from organizing the conference in 2009 was realizing how much work is involved behind the scenes of a conference. It’s often a thankless job, but there is so much work and time that goes into organizing an event of this scale.”

Returning 10 years later as an alumnus and plenary speaker, Plonsky’s presentation focused on the validity of measures used in SLS research. Since most variables studied within SLS research are not directly observable, researchers have to study these variables indirectly, which presents potential threats to the validity of their findings. To ensure that researchers are collecting valid data and maximizing study outcomes, Plonsky addressed the need for researchers to take greater care in designing and selecting measures for their studies.

During his time as a Ph.D. student, Plonsky studied similar aspects in SLS and developed a rubric to assess methodological quality in SLS. By researching different standards that were published by other learned societies like the American Psychological Association (APA) and the American Education Research Association (AERA), he created a rubric that measured the extent to which SLS research is adhering to standards of rigor and transparency.

A big influence from my time at MSU was the mentoring from the faculty. I felt like they treated me like a colleague, which taught me a lot about what it means to be a professional in the field.

Plonsky also studied meta-analytic methods while at MSU, which function by extracting data from a set of studies to then arrive at an overall (average) value and conclusion common to a particular domain. Using these tools, Plonsky was able to make conclusions about the effectiveness of second-language strategy instruction often implemented in second and foreign language classrooms.

“A big influence from my time at MSU was the mentoring from the faculty,” he said. “I felt like they treated me like a colleague, which taught me a lot about what it means to be a professional in the field. The collegiality was also a big influence because there was a healthy sense of competitiveness.”

After receiving his Ph.D., Plonsky landed a job at Northern Arizona University (NAU) as an Assistant Professor of Applied Linguistics where he taught classes on Second Language Acquisition (SLA) and research methods within the field. After a few years at NAU, he accepted a position at University College London as a Senior Lecturer of SLA.

“Living abroad gives a greater awareness of what it’s like to be a language learner and of the language learning process in general,” Plonsky said. “The field of SLS is inherently intercultural, so everyone in the field is into travel, being abroad, experiencing other cultures and people.”

After working in London, Plonsky returned to the United States to work as an Assistant Professor at Georgetown University in Washington, D.C., and then moved back to NAU in 2018 as Associate Professor of Applied Linguistics.

“Throughout my career, I’ve been drawn to statistical analysis, development of instruments, and reporting practices and transparency,” Plonsky said. “I’ve been drawn to the potential to contribute our understanding of second language development and the potential to have an impact on our methodological practices. I care a lot about research methods because if we don’t get that part right, then what’s the point of doing all that work?”