Ambitious alum becomes one of Harvard's newest Presidential Scholars

May 15, 2020

Spider Pride

As Spiders joined other students around the world in remote learning, some also prepared for their post-Richmond plans. For example, recent grad Tess Monks is one of Harvard’s newest Presidential Scholars after being accepted into several of the world’s premier Ph.D. programs for historical linguistics.

In addition to Harvard, Monks received offers to the University of Oxford (master’s degree in philosophy), Cornell University (Ph.D. in linguistics), and UCLA (Ph.D. program in Indo-European Studies). 

“Tess had a stellar performance on the graduate school market,” said Dieter Gunkel, Monks’ historical linguistics professor and adviser. “Harvard, Cornell, and UCLA are the premier Ph.D. programs in her area of interest in the U.S. and arguably the world. You can’t do any better than that.”

Presidential Scholars in Harvard’s Graduate School of Arts and Sciences are chosen for their academic excellence, as well as their desire to pursue public service or research careers. Monks said she’s particularly interested in computational and historical linguistics, because the questions in ancient languages can help us understand more about human communication, modern languages, and subconscious and conscious manipulations of languages across large swaths of society.

“Historical languages provide a huge amount of data across many centuries,” she said. “We can now use statistical modeling and predictions to test for many types of linguistic phenomena across languages and time.”

The classical studies department helped create several opportunities for Monks, including research summers, summer language programs, and study abroad. During her year abroad at Oxford, she studied alongside two top-notch specialists, Philomen Probert and Wolfgang de Melo.

“I more or less owe my entire historical linguistic education to Dr. Gunkel and the connections he has with the larger academic community,” she said.