Dr. Phan Thi Huyen Trang: One small wing cannot make a spring
Dr. Phan Thi Huyen Trang is currently the head of the community of practice Vietnam’s Language and Culture, and is one of the ten faculty members recognized by VNU University of Languages & International Studies for their outstanding research achievements in the 2021-2022 academic year. These achievements include the publication of two articles in reputable, ISI/Scopus-indexed journals, three international conference presentations, one edited volume published by University of Hawaii Press, and a book chapter by Routledge. Dr. Phan’s area of interest is theoretical and applied Vietnamese linguistics.
Dr. Phan Thi Huyen Trang has achieved her current level of success by displaying her talents and qualities at an early stage. She began her journey in scientific research as a second-year undergraduate student, and in the two successive years, she received the First Prize in the University-level Research Competition, while also graduating with Summa cum laude from her Bachelor’s degree (honors) in VNU University of Social Sciences and Humanities.
Introduction to Linguistics, while challenging for many first-year undergraduates, is her favorite subject. For her, learning is not simply a process of absorbing knowledge by rote, but rather an active process of exploration and curiosity. She finds particular enjoyment in uncovering the rules and patterns that underlie what may appear to be arbitrary or chaotic aspects of language. For example, she may question why many place names in her hometown of Nam Dinh begin with the word “Co,” and whether this naming pattern follows any specific rules. Similarly, when reading the poetry of Han Mac Tu, she may wonder about the phonological principles behind the musicality of these works.
Dr. Phan suggests that students should pursue a topic of interest when they feel curious or uncertain about it. The reasoning behind this is that students can easily connect with experts within their university. Furthermore, students may also seek guidance from outside of their academic institution and even beyond national boundaries, as long as the person is suitable and capable, and willing to teach.
Dr. Phan reveals that it typically takes 4 to 5 years for her to complete and publish a research paper. Although some of her submissions have been initially rejected, Dr. Phan sees this as an opportunity to revise and improve her work based on feedback from reviewers. Through this process, she has gained valuable experience for future research. Dr. Phan currently has three books and several articles published in reputable international journals and publishers. One of the books, “Interdisciplinary perspective on Vietnamese languages” was published by John Benjamins in 2019, and the most recent one is “Vietnamese Linguistics: State of the field” published by University of Hawaii in 2022. These significant publications have helped to create a community of Vietnamese linguistics experts both within Vietnam and internationally.
Dr. Phan recently has an experience of conducting field research on the island of Cat Ba in Hai Phong, Vietnam, where she was part of a research team from NCCR (The Swiss National Centre of Competence in Research) studying how children on the island learn Vietnamese. Through this experience, Dr. Phan had the opportunity to work as an experimental linguist for the first time and realized the importance and value of research in bringing positive impacts to communities and society. Furthermore, she mentions that this experience also allowed her to connect the triangle of research, family and community by involving the first-year students of the speaker’s school in the research team to record and transcribe the language.
Despite achieving many accomplishments, Dr. Phan shares that she still often feels confused or uncertain when reading research articles – this is also a problem that many young students encounter when first interacting with scientific papers. Every day, she still dedicates time to reading articles related to topics that she is interested in. She has the habit of arriving at class 15 minutes early to read her favorite scientific journals. Her advice for students is to read even if you don’t understand, read by topic, read a lot, and familiarize yourself with the topic, and gradually you will understand the research and the content of the reading.
From her perspective, research is not a separate profession, but rather a practice that everyone is engaged in to some extent in their own lives. Everyone is a self-researcher when it comes to areas they are passionate about. She personally sees opportunities for learning everywhere and maintains a “learner mindset.”
When asked about the reason for choosing the VNU University of Languages and International Studies (ULIS) as a place for research and creativity, she believes that ULIS is a dynamic, professional environment with many opportunities for personal development and international connections. Her most memorable quote is: “A small wing does not make a spring.” Specifically, ULIS and Vietnam National University Hanoi have invested well in research, balancing the importance of teaching and research, and especially in recent years there has been a big shift in the research environment. Although in reality, the research environment in Vietnam has not yet fully developed as it is in the world, there are many teachers who have studied at higher levels abroad, bringing new “colors” and new “spring birds” that help students access new knowledge and modern teaching methods. Additionally, she highly values the curiosity, aspiration, and learning attitude of Vietnamese students, saying that “if you truly want to, you will not hesitate to work day and night to achieve it.”
As the head of the community of practice Vietnam’s Language and Culture, Dr. Phan always tries to make it a dynamic learning space, creating inspiration for the teaching staff and students of ULIS. Additionally, the community hopes to make ULIS a leading research center for the Vietnamese language in both Vietnam and abroad. In the future, they plan to continue organizing meaningful events related to ULIS, collaborating and working in a professional and thorough manner, and connecting with others. ULIS Media wishes Dr. Phan Thi Huyen Trang and her family a healthy, peaceful, and happy new year, and success in her future endeavors.
Mai Ngoc-ULIS Media