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Researcher profile: Dr Marine Riou

Dr Marine Riou joined the Prehospital, Resuscitation and Emergency Care Research Unit (PRECRU), School of Nursing, Midwifery and Paramedicine, in September 2016. Dr Riou was recruited as a linguist from her position as an Adjunct Lecturer in English Linguistics at the Sorbonne-Nouvelle University in Paris, France. Marine is currently working on the National Health Medical Research Council (NHMRC) funded ‘Improving ambulance dispatch to time-critical emergencies’ project with Professor Judith Finn and Dr Stephen Ball.


Dr Marine Riou with colleagues Dr Stephen Ball and Professor Judith Finn.
Dr Marine Riou with colleagues Dr Stephen Ball and Professor Judith Finn.

Provide an overview of your research career to date.

In 2015, I completed my PhD in English linguistics on topic transition in conversation. This focused on how people indicate and signal that they are going to switch topics during conversations, and the different trajectories of when this can happen.

As part of my study, I conducted researched into typical conversations, but also conversations in which one of the people was a patient with schizophrenia. I was trying to find examples of unusual topic transitions, to see if there was anything missing in them.

I was able to study in the United States of America at the University of Santa Barbara, the University of California Berkeley and the University of California, San Francisco and, through this research, I discovered that more than what the patients said, the more unusual transitions came from their conversation partners. It was the conversation partner that highlighted what was missing in the conversation. The conversation partners seemed to overcompensate for what they perceived as issues in the patients’ discourse.

I was not expecting that outcome, it was really interesting to see the conversation partners putting so much effort into helping, but it became a bit silencing in some of the cases because, in the end, it was taking so much space in the conversation. The help they were giving was so specific that it really narrowed what the patient could say next. These were conversations with the patient’s family members, so it was probably also the idea that they were being recorded for a study and wanted their child to do well and tried to help as much as possible.

In between completing my PhD and coming to Curtin, I started working on a project with colleagues from my old Department of English at the Sorbonne-Nouvelle. It is an ongoing project where we conducted teaching experiments in classes we all taught together.

The goal was to test innovative ways of making English grammar and English linguistics more fun for students, and also to make the classes more student-centred and dynamic. We decided to experiment with a few things and changed different aspects of our teaching and we monitored the changes between two cohorts to see if it worked, and if students were happier to participate.

We didn’t have funding per se for the project, but the Chief Investigator, Hélène Josse de la Gorce, convinced the university to buy education resources. For example, she asked the university to purchase ‘clickers’, which are individual voting devices for students to use in the classroom.

By using these devices, we could project quizzes which the students could answer live during class, and then a graph was generated indicating how many people said ‘yes’ or ‘no’ to the question, and that gave us the opportunity to discuss the topic with students right away, and clarify anything that was not understood.

It also helped to make the class more interactive, especially for shy students who now had a way to participate. The experiment went for one academic year, so from 2015 to 2016, and now we are writing about it and trying to find ways to modify next year’s course.

How long have you been at Curtin?

For just over a year. I arrived in Perth from Paris in August 2016.

Why were you drawn to academia/research as a career?

I was drawn to a research career because of the idea that, as an academic, you can learn new things throughout your life, so you can basically spend your entire life expanding your knowledge and maybe contribute a little bit to the wider knowledge of a specific field.

I am drawn to the idea of becoming hyper-specialised in an area, and understanding it really well. I like the concept that if you get tired of a subject, or want a change, then you can start a new research project. I thought it would be a very stimulating long term career.

Dr Riou was an Adjunct Lecturer in English Linguistics at the Sorbonne-Nouvelle University in Paris, France.
Dr Riou was an Adjunct Lecturer in English Linguistics at the Sorbonne-Nouvelle University in Paris, France.

What are your current areas of research interest/specialisation?

One of my favourite areas of study is anything related to language and how people use language in their everyday lives. I also really like the idea of interdisciplinary research, working with people from different backgrounds and methodologies who come together and look at the same issue just from different angles. I find this type of research very stimulating and it is nice to have dialogue between different fields because then you can generate new ideas.

More generally, one of my favourite research interests is people. If you study language and how you use it in everyday life in interaction, then the focus is on people, and you are at the intersection of the fields of linguistics, sociology, psychology and ethnology.

I could study linguistics and not be concerned with people, as I could analyse the structure of texts or sentences or how sounds are produced, and things like that, which is also great, but what I really find fascinating is the intricacies of day-to-day conversations.

Who do you collaborate with?

On the NHMRC project I am currently working on for PRECRU, I collaborate with St John Ambulance Western Australia, fellow PRECRU researchers and staff at Curtin, Monash University and Ambulance Victoria.

What have been the challenges and highlights of your career to date?

My answer to this is both a challenge and a highlight at the same time: interdisciplinary research. It is very rewarding and frustrating at the same time. Because it’s really hard to find the right way to have – not that there is one right way – a real dialogue between different fields. You need to make sure that one field is not just being utilised by another because otherwise both fields won’t bring something to the table.

Sometimes, the questions you want to ask are different as you’re not looking for the same answers, and you don’t even identify in the same way what it is you’re looking for. Your very understanding of what is a sound methodology might be considered poor science in another field. So it’s challenging to do interdisciplinary research, but extremely rewarding when you can negotiate these differences.

Another highlight is living overseas and working overseas. While I was studying for my PhD I lived in the United States, and now in Australia. It is just another motivation to be in academia, because you can basically work from anywhere.