Signs of Connection project wins British Academy award for Heriot-Watt academic



Sign language conversation

An expert in interpreting and translation at Heriot-Watt University has won funding from The British Academy for research into how deaf and hearing colleagues build connections in professional settings.

Joanna Drugan, a professor in the Department of Languages and Intercultural Studies at the University’s School of Social Sciences, is one of nine UK academics to win a Talent Development Award from The British Academy, which supports research in the fields of humanities and social sciences.

The awards are for up to £10,000 over 12 months and are designed to promote the acquisition of new skills in areas such as data science, digital humanities and languages. These are areas of the social sciences, humanities and the arts known collectively as ‘SHAPE’ disciplines - Social Sciences, Humanities and the Arts for People and the Economy/Environment.

Heriot-Watt is a workplace where there is exceptional expertise in using signed and spoken languages and is the perfect setting to find out about what works.

Professor Joanna Drugan, Heriot-Watt University

The British Academy said the successful researchers include those looking at the role of sign language interpreters in the workplace, misinformation in everyday life and the demystification of game engines.

Professor Drugan’s project is called Signs of Connection and asks how deaf and hearing colleagues work together, and with the sign language interpreters who participate in their communication. In particular, what helps to build connections?

“Heriot-Watt is a workplace where there is exceptional expertise in using signed and spoken languages and is the perfect setting to find out about what works,” Professor Drugan said.

“I’ve been enjoying learning British Sign Language since joining Heriot-Watt in August 2022, and would recommend giving it a go to any student or member of staff here. I’m particularly excited to work with a deaf researcher, Trudi Collier, to learn about good ways to build connections in the workplace.”

The British Academy Talent Development Awards are funded by the UK government’s Department for Science, Innovation and Technology and are now in their second year following a successful pilot in 2021.

The other eight Talent Development awardees are:

  • ‘Heteroskedastic Proxy Vector Autoregressions’ – Dr Martin Bruns, University of East Anglia
  • ‘Analysing Nazi Language Using Digital Techniques’ – Dr Joseph Cronin, Queen Mary University of London
  • ‘Developing Employability Skills Through Language Learning: a Pilot Project with Adult Learners in the Colchester Area’ – Dr Antonio Da Silva, University of Essex
  • ‘Quantitative Analysis Skills to Bring Together Literary and Demographic Datasets’ – Dr Helen Kingstone, Royal Holloway, University of London
  • ‘Game Engines – New Tools, New Practices, New Paradigms’ – Dr Tom Livingstone, University of the West of England, Bristol
  • ‘Climate Keywords: Towards a Digital Analysis of Environmental Concepts in the UN Corpus’ – Dr John Regan, Royal Holloway, University of London
  • ‘Misinformation in Everyday Life: Portable Principles for Blending Qualitative and Quantitative Social Media Research’ – Dr Robert Topinka, Birkbeck, University of London
  • ‘Kafka in Korea: A Case Study for Diversifying Modern Languages’ – Dr Karolina Watroba, University of Oxford


Victoria Masterson