June 4, 2024

Class of 2024: Syntax and coding and singing — oh my! Following her passions leads one student to unexpected opportunities

Lauryn Anderson merged a love of computer science and linguistics into a combined degree in the faculties of science and art
A group of three people
Lauryn Anderson, left, with Dr. Lora Oehlberg and Dr. Wesley Willett, both from the Faculty of Science. Elyse Bouvier, Taylor Institute for Teaching and Learning

In her first semester of a computer science degree, Lauryn Anderson stepped into Intro to Linguistics thinking it would be a fun easy option — but it was love at first syntax. She quickly realized that she liked the minutiae and little details of language. Something just clicked.

Anderson had come to UCalgary excited to pursue computer science, but with some motivation from her linguistics instructor, she decided to combine it with another degree in linguistics.

"That was a really good decision," says Anderson. "And it was very much just trusting my gut because I knew that linguistics wasn't necessarily the lucrative career path. But that's what I was passionate about. I'm still passionate about computer science, and I found lots of things to be passionate about in that field. But I'm also very passionate about linguistics."

Doing the combined degree gave Anderson the ability to learn a lot of different things every semester. And as time went on, she started to notice more of the crossovers between the two fields.

"Seeing those parallels between human language and computer language was just so fun. And I felt like so many people were missing out on these parallels, you know?"

Merging fields of study

A man's hands on an iPad

Lauryn's prototype.

In the summer of 2023, Anderson started research that aimed to capture and visualize complex taste experiences using a canvas-based app, merging her interests in computer and human languages. Funded in part by the Program for Undergraduate Research Experience (PURE), she worked on the project in UCalgary's iLab under the supervision of Dr. Lora Oehlberg, PhD, and Dr. Wesley Willett, PhD, both associate professors in the Faculty of Science.

As Anderson started to ask more questions about taste, she quickly realized just how complex the research was.

"It's difficult to express how we're perceiving taste, whether in words or through images. Language doesn't really capture it very well," she says.

Anderson says there are two ways to think about capturing taste data: analyzing the individual parts of taste or looking at the holistic experience of taste. She wanted to be able to represent it all.

The resulting app that Anderson, Oehlberg and Willett created utilizes a simple interface that allows users to map taste through drawings and colours, and record their taste experiences over time. That fall, she presented the results of the research and the prototype at the ACM Symposium on User Interface Software and Technology (UIST) in San Francisco.

Finding the balance

A group of people performing a play on a stage

Performing Venus & Adonis … and the Rest of Us.

Tim Nguyen

During her time at UCalgary, Anderson became a club president, performed in choirs, presented and volunteered at conferences and generally participated in campus life to the fullest.

"I kind of overdid it at times," she says with a laugh. "I tended to sort of throw myself at every challenge. I like that about myself in a lot of ways but I also need to take care of myself."

Looking back, Anderson says she learned a lot about balance.

"You know, it's sometimes framed as, okay, once I get through this, then life begins. But it's four or five years. This is your life. You should be living it not just for school, you should be living it for all the things that you love."

For Anderson, that meant making room in her busy schedule for music. Serendipitously, when there was no room in her schedule to join the UCalgary Chorus, she auditioned for the chamber choir.

"I was terrified, but I did it, and I got in," says Anderson. "I got to spend the first five months of university in that choir — it was so cool. And then COVID hit."

After a year and half, the choir was back, and Anderson with it. But unable to continue with the choir in her last semester, she took another step outside of her comfort zone and ended up performing alongside 12 other cast members in a 2023 baroque opera production: Venus & Adonis… and the Rest of Us.

"I had to act. I had like three costume changes. I had a little duet that I sang with someone. And it was unlike anything I've ever done. But it was it was so cool to just dip my toes into another kind of challenge," says Anderson.

The most important lesson

A group of women

With the Women in Computer Science Club at the Canadian Celebration of Women in Computing (2022) in Toronto.

One of the most memorable things she did during her time at UCalgary was with the Women in Computer Science Club. Shortly after it was started by a friend, Anderson signed up and eventually became the vice-president of events and club president.

"Having a space to talk about issues we were facing, whether it was related to gender or not, and feel super welcomed and supportive — that meant so much to me."

During her tenure, Anderson and the club held events to try to make computer science more accessible.

"I think there was just a real niche in in the community that needed to be filled," she says. "And the Women in Computer Science Club took that niche, and they're still doing so many cool things."

Anderson says the most important lesson she learned during her time at UCalgary was just how powerful and capable women are.

"So many pieces make up a person and being able to celebrate how diverse women are but they are all equally deserving and capable, it really changed my perspective."

Looking toward the future

Anderson is still considering her next steps — whether that's grad school or working in the industry — but she would love to keep working at the intersection of computer science and linguistics. For now, she's content being motivated by discovery.

"I don't have a super clear plan and I think that's okay because I know that I can learn whatever I want to learn."

Read more inspiring stories about the accomplishments and journeys of the Class of 2024.

Graduates, as you prepare to transition away from student life, we'd like to also welcome you into the UCalgary alumni community. Learn about the programs, benefits and services available exclusively to UCalgary grads, and be sure to keep in touch.

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