When I know I’m participating in some structured activity or event (e.g. an internship), I typically try to get sign language interpreters.

This summer, though, I’ll be doing something different. As I mentioned before, I am going to be a research intern at the University of North Carolina at Greensboro’s REU in algorithms and combinatorics. In the linked entry, I actually said that I was trying to negotiate the use of ASL interpreting services.

I’m starting to think that this may not be the best idea for this particular setting, and I’ll have the summer to experiment with my new plan. The problem is one that’s been easily identified, both by me and by others. To put it simply, sign language offers comparatively little benefit to me when used in scientific and technical settings as compared to an English seminar.

Essentially, there must exist some technical/interpreting-benefit curve, where the two factors are inversely correlated. At the very technical end, such as a mathematics research talk given to people who are assumed to already know the topic in some detail, interpreting benefits are negligible. At the low end of the technical spectrum include English seminars, political talks, historical news, etc. I’m happy to have interpreters for those events.

I observed the high-end of the technical curve at the Bard College REU last summer. Even with the help of interpreters, I had enormous difficulty following any of the technical talks that were not in my area of focus (machine learning). And when I did understand concepts, it wasn’t due to the interpreters — it was because I focused intently on the speaker and whatever presentation accessories he or she had in hand.

This was clearly a factor in my decision not to have interpreting services at Greensboro. Another factor was my positive experience in my machine learning tutorial last semester. As part of the tutorial class format, I had weekly one-hour meetings with the professor and another student. Given that there were only three of us, and that we would be discussing highly technical concepts, it made sense for me to decline services, especially given that I had enough hearing to make it through those meetings. I sometimes used my FM system from Williams College, but it wasn’t necessary. An FM system, though, might be more useful for a research talk than a tutorial meeting.

So this summer, I asked and obtained permission to use Greensboro’s FM system, the Contego R900. This way, I’ll be entirely focused on the speaker, which I’m sure will do wonders for my comprehension. Adding in the fact that the groups at Greensboro will be researching in topics more correlated to each other than the Bard groups means that I am optimistic about what this summer has in store.