While her research focuses on the study of language acquisition, MIT professor Athulya Aravind also helps her students acquire the skills and knowledge they need to succeed in their field.
Aravind is an assistant professor of linguistics at MIT and serves as the co-director of the Language Acquisition Lab. She studies children's developing understanding of what structures are licit in their language, how those structures are interpreted, and how they may be used in conversation.
Guidance in research and the field
A central tenet of Aravind’s role as a mentor, laid out explicitly by her and enthusiastically echoed by her advisees, is offering them advice and feedback as a colleague. Aravind’s students appreciate the nature of her engagement with their research, as she continuously offers them constructive criticism in order to help them improve.
Her students appreciate her willingness to engage with them and their research; one nominator wrote that Athulya “always gives me specific suggestions to work on [in order] to become a better researcher,” and that she helps her students identify the key research questions they need to answer in their work.
In addition to robust feedback, Aravind also offers her advisees a large degree of intellectual freedom and allows them the chance to explore research topics that particularly interest them. Said one nominator: “Even when we have disagreements on the future directions of our collaborative work, Athulya will always listen to my reasoning and respect my decision to proceed in the direction I believe in.”
Above all, it is clear that Aravind truly cares about the growth of her group members as academics and as experts in their field, and she works tirelessly to help her students achieve success.
A compassionate, supportive, and open-minded learning environment
Not only does Aravind take pride in guiding her students’ academic journeys, but she makes herself available to them as a resource when it comes to more personal issues relating to academia and their success.
Aravind values creating an open and honest learning environment, where her students can share their individual struggles with her, without fear of retribution or judgement. Aravind’s nominators recalled instances where they felt comfortable sharing deeply personal and sensitive issues with her, and were grateful for the comfort and guidance she offered them.
In particular, Aravind has clearly demonstrated her willingness to engage with her students on issues of diversity, equity, and inclusion. One nominator wrote that they “have had so many vulnerable conversations with Athulya about issues related to political developments and racial inequities, both inside and outside academia.” This student went on to describe how much they appreciate Aravind’s openness about, and engagement with, these difficult yet extremely important topics.
Aravind makes her dedication to a compassionate, understanding, and diverse learning community very clear, and sums it up thusly: “The best environment for graduate students is one that gives them a sense of community and belonging, as well as the intellectual freedom to work on problems that interest them. Building such an environment has been a major goal of the graduate program in MIT Linguistics since its inception."