Get them started young

Start 'em young

Photo by Russ Cooper, MSc(OT)’16

By Russ Cooper, MSc(OT)’16

Seeing the difference McGill alumni make isn’t hard for Dr. Linda Polka and her Infant Speech Perception lab.

Since starting at McGill in 1989, Polka, Professor in the School of Communication Sciences and Disorders, estimates she’s welcomed one or two graduates a week to participate in research, which equals upwards of 2,000 alumni and their children.

The sheer number of contributions has been invaluable for the lab in understanding a baby’s ability to perceive language.

“Parents are naturally curious about their child’s development,” says Polka. “That’s part of what brings them in, but I can see they want to continue to have a connection with the University.”

The lab receives many repeat volunteers partly due, Polka believes, to their practice of presenting each little research participant with a faux ‘McGill University Infant Scientist’ degree. It’s a small gesture to thank participants that’s truly made a positive impression over the years.

“Parents are obviously very proud to have a McGill degree. Many will say, ‘We hope we see another one of these in the family.’ I joke with them that they have to still go through Admissions,” she says. “Regardless, I can see they’re looking to McGill as a place where they’d like their children to continue.”

If there are current McGill students or parents thereof who have participated in the lab’s research in years past, Polka encourages them to get in touch (whether or not they still have their Infant Scientist degrees). “I would just love to see students come by for a little reunion,” she says. “That would be really cool.”

Any alumni wanting to contribute in the future can email Polka at or

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