Reflections on MLC Career Mixer 2016

Ho Fai Cheng, Viggo is a first-year PhD student in Sociolinguistics with an interest in language and identity and intergroup prejudice.

Viggo

“So… what are you gonna do with your degree in Linguistics?”
“Teach? What else can you do with it? Haha”
“Most probably yes, I am really into linguistics research and I would like to further my career in higher education, where I can teach and do research at the same time.”

Yes indeed, this conversation has occurred to me so many times that it is beyond counting. I consider myself one of the lucky ones who manage to find my interests and career goal – a researcher/ educator in academia – at a fairly early stage of my life. Nonetheless, I always find it frustrating when I fail to tell people what a linguist can do outside of the domain of higher education. I feel like a culprit by reinforcing this stereotype and failing to do justice to my fellow colleagues who are planning their adventures in different fields. So, what exactly can linguists offer?

Participating in the MLC Career Mixer, I finally get the chance to learn about all the opportunities available for linguists in the job market. One of the most amazing gists about the event is its specific focus on the applicability of (socio)linguistic knowledge in a wide range of professional realms. It bridges the gap between theories and practices. It is at the mixer where I get to talk to experts who utilize their linguistic knowledge in medical consultation (Glenn Abastillas), survey designs (Mikelyn Meyers), campaign advertisements, and policy establishment. For instance, Clarabridge is hiring linguists to do sentiment and text analysis (for example, in social media) to ‘tap into the voices’ of their customers in order to understand what aspects of the products or services they are most likely to orient to. Having gathered this information, companies can better strategize their advertizing campaigns and tailor them to the target audience. Furthermore, insights from candidates with a linguistic background also prove to be very crucial in designing (and translating) a culturally appropriate survey, which can affect not only its response rate but also the accuracy and comparability across different versions of the same survey.

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In merely two hours, I have learnt a lot more about what I can offer as a linguist. Whatever your specialization is, there must be a company or an organization that you can put your linguistic knowledge to practical use. Are you a computational linguist? Then perhaps you know how to mine a large amount of data on social media platforms and incorporate them into ads design. Are you a sociolinguist? Then perhaps you may be able to offer insights into how people interact in various situations and foster better communication between clients and customers. This realization is without a doubt one of my biggest takeaways from attending the MLC Career Mixer.

MLC Speaker Series – Lauren Collister, “The Linguist in the Library with a Candlestick: CLUES for Working in an Academic Library”

Please join us for the fourth and final MLC Speaker Series event of the semester!

This week we are joined by Lauren Collister, sociolinguist and open access advocate.

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Date, time, location: Friday, April 17th, 1 pm – 2:15 pm, Poulton Hall 230

The Linguist in the Library with a Candlestick: CLUES for Working in an Academic Library

Lauren B. Collister, PhD – Electronic Publications Associate at University of Pittsburgh

Abstract:
The academic library is often viewed as the heart of the campus and is one of the behind-the-scenes drivers of scholarly research and university education. Libraries require people with many different skill sets to drive their various programs and initiatives in support of their campus communities. Linguists bring a particular set of skills to the academic library which I call CLUES: Computers, Language, Understanding, Education, and Science. Whether it’s expertise at using digital research tools and software, linguistic knowledge of communication styles, experience as an author or editor of scholarly journals and books, practical knowledge of the university teaching experience, or knowledge of data gathering requirements for research projects, linguists have the tools to contribute to an academic library environment and find a place to pursue their scholarly interests. In this talk, I will describe how my background in linguistics and academia got me into the scholarly communication field, and I will share initiatives being developed by libraries across the world that align with a linguistics background. We will also explore actual job postings that illuminate the roles that linguists can play in the academic library world.

Bio:
Lauren B. Collister, Ph.D., is a sociolinguist, digital games scholar, and Open Access advocate. She works for the Office of Scholarly Communication and Publishing at the University Library System at the University of Pittsburgh. In her role, she helps journal editors manage software and policies for publishing Open Access journals and does outreach work about Open research, education, and publishing in the campus community and beyond. She also teaches online for Southern New Hampshire University.

Lauren tweets at @parnopaeus and blogs at laurenbcollister.com.

About the MLC Speaker Series:
Speakers in the MLC series are linguists and practitioners in a broad range of industries, from academic research to market research and user experience design. The MLC events are focused on highlighting how practitioners apply linguistic training in their chosen fields, as well as on practical career development topics tailored to linguists.

10 Skills that Any Employer Will Appreciate: The MLC Perspective.

Aisulu Raspayeva is a second-year PhD student in Sociolinguistics with an interest in intercultural communication.

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This post was motivated by a short article that I saw in the booklet of the Psi Chi Society (an organization of students and professionals majoring in psychology), Eye on Psi Chi. What attracted me is the concept of transferable skills and explicitly mapping them to real-world examples from students’ academic experience. The article was titled 10 Skills that Any Employers Will Appreciate. Thus, under each skill there was the list of the relevant experiences that psych major students are gaining while being at school. I will try to do the same but with a focus on us, students of language, culture and communication.

The first skill is interpersonal skills – a crucial condition for the progress of any organization. The authors pointed out work ethic and sense of commitment as well as psych classes on motivation and group work as the reference for the experience that is helping psych students to develop interpersonal skills. I think the same can be applied to MLC students: We all are developing a strong work ethic when collecting data and writing papers according to the academic code of ethic. I’m talking about the team project and group study sessions that are so crucial for developing interpersonal skills. In addition, MLC students become very attuned to subtle changes in the dynamics of communication through sociolinguistics classes, which helps make us excellent negotiators.

Other highlighted skills are engaging in critical thinking, applying theory and research in other settings, appreciating research and diversity, and considering ethics. Regarding critical thinking, such academic experiences as seeing and accepting multiple solution-problem perspectives, dealing with uncertainty, differentiating causality and correlation, and examining research methodologies can be of great service. And decision-making is an activity that we are involved into along all our school years at all levels: which class to pick up and what data to collect. Surely, we all are equipped how to apply the theory in different settings through our diverse discourse classes in which the actual application of theory is a norm. For instance, Schiffrin’s notion of discourse markers (1988) has been applied by MLC students to shed light on many settings from personal communication, professional interactions, and charting on Facebook.

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(image via www.ryanhamilton.org.uk)

Next, we can offer employers our ability to work with data, to analyze it and to weigh its strengths and limitations (again gained through many class projects). Since we are dealing with people, their personal information, and, most importantly, their emotions, we develop ethical judgment and ethical behavior. Another skill that comes from academic research is our ability to appreciate and further diversity as we deal with various populations (men and woman, ESL and EFL speakers, ethnic and cultural minorities, etc). All these allow us to see various perspectives and appreciate individual and groups differences.

Finally, as a linguist you write well for different audiences, show capacity for professional development, are civic-minded, and attuned to details and time management. Being at school for several years requires us to develop strong writing skills simply because writing is the way you earn those As. As the article nicely points out, we, as students, are constantly asked to do self-reflection that results in realistic confidence, self-reflection and self-evaluation skills. This is how we develop capacity for further professional development.

To sum up, the very nature of linguistic analysis and academic experience requires enormous focus and attention to tiny-tiny details, experiences which make us highly attuned to the problems that arise in any area of today’s workplace.

Tips on Surviving as an International TA

Xiaopei Wu is a first-year MLC student who is interested in applying her sociolinguistic knowledge and skills to explore the FL classroom discourse.

What if you’re an international student TA-ing in a classroom of your native language, and you’re a linguistics student? Congratulations! It seems like a perfect match, but it really doesn’t mean that you won’t feel intimidated at first. Here are just a few of the problematic situations that you’ll find yourself in when classes start…
– You can’t resist using linguistics jargons.
– You may know surprisingly little about your own language.
– You’re a drill instructor, but you don’t know the drill.
– You’re not comfortable with the classroom culture.

Those are difficulties that I struggled with at the beginning of this semester. Maybe you’ll find yourself in similar situations, but you’ll get better at dealing with them as time passes by!

Ever tried throwing in to your explanation stuff like “adjunct”, “adverbials”, and “deixis”? I did. Predictably my freshman students looked at me with a perplexed look that would haunt me for the rest of the week. I know this is part of the occupational hazard of a linguistics student, but instead “time word” “place word” and “words like ‘this’ ‘there’ and ‘today'” will make life easier for your students and you.

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(image via asiasociety.org)

As an international student, I sometimes find the different classroom culture in the US to be the most challenging part of studying overseas. Students will try to challenge you and your knowledge of the language as much as possible, but here is where your training in linguistics will be enormously helpful: be communicative, empathetic and try to create a classroom of open dialogue. Language is never just sentences and grammar, it’s culture and attitudes. Establish some ground rules on classroom management – for example, no English during the class. Stick to it and let the students know that you mean it. Winning the respect of your students will make a big difference! I’m probably not there yet, but I’m definitely working on it.

Being an international TA here in Georgetown is a hugely rewarding experience, and I’m very grateful for my friends and faculty members that offer me generous help, some of which I am now sharing with you. I learn every day, and I hope we can learn together in the future.

Craft Your Own Connections!!!

Katarina Starcevic is currently in her final year of pursuing a B.A. in linguistics with a Japanese minor as part of the MLC’s Accelerated Masters program. Her major research major lies in applying Sociolinguistics within the horse industry.

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In the MLC ProSem, we work together to find (or carve out) places in the ‘real world’ for linguists, places where our understanding of language can make a difference or fulfill some industry need. Raised with horses in central Kentucky, I’ve always had one foot in the horse world, and now I find myself stepping back into familiar territory – this time as a young professional with a desire to use my linguistic training working in the horse industry.

For most people in this highly practical industry, “I study linguistics” = “I speak many languages.” This isn’t the worst association for people to make, but it only hints at what linguistics encompasses. A hurdle I’ve faced is getting the horse industry to value my linguistic skills, in addition to my language skills.

One way I’ve approached this problem is by emphasizing my senior thesis as an example of how linguistic study can shed some light on industry communication. In my thesis, I look at the public media discourse of the Thoroughbred racing industry against the backdrop of the industry’s public perception issues. (After several high-profile incidents and news articles, the horse racing industry has been grappling with a public image problem and a wary fan base questioning the sport’s safety and integrity.)

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(image via www.hoffberger.com)

I have to convince members of the industry that the horse industry has an area for growth (negative public perception) and a linguist (me!) with an ability to tackle the problem from a unique angle would be a valuable resource. The thesis is one way I can pave the way. It’s a practical application that demonstrates how my particular skillset can be useful and relevant to the industry’s needs. The background research on the industry I’ve done for my thesis has also allowed me to speak (relatively) intelligently about challenges the industry faces in my informational interviews.

The ProSem has really emphasized using all our skills and experiences to create the most marketable linguist. As students, I think we sometimes brush past emphasizing coursework in favor of past work experience. But, when you’re not dealing with logical connections (linguist + horse industry, for example) you have to craft your own! Research projects and papers are great opportunities to explore your chosen field with a linguistic lens (search for patterns, test hypotheses, or just build your knowledge base) and become concrete examples of your interest in the industry and ability to apply your skills.

Before you get to the “just right” job…

Megan Phillips, a first-year MLC student who is interested in applying sociolinguistics to a professional setting to support sociocultural analysis.

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Recently during one of my informational interviews, the person I was interviewing gave me some advice that I’ve been mulling over. Her advice? Don’t be too picky. By this she meant that when one is job searching or project searching, they shouldn’t disregard an opportunity simply because it doesn’t seem perfect. She’s found that in her career, some of the most valuable experience came from jobs that she was forced to take or took even though they weren’t perfect.

As I’ve been thinking about this more over the past few weeks, I’ve found that I’ve fallen prey to this Goldilocks problem myself, as I’m sure others have. I have been discouraged through internships and prior job experience as nothing seemed to be “just right”. And yet, because I needed to, I continued to work on those projects and through doing so, gained a different set of skills than I had ever expected to have. These projects have additionally put me in contact with people who I would not have met otherwise. Once I’ve explained to them what I’m actually interested in doing, most often people have been incredibly helpful and kept an eye out for me for new opportunities where I might better align what I wanted to do. And I’ve found that the experience I gained working on a project that wasn’t “just right” was experience I was able to apply later down the line, even if it simply gave me more “street cred”.

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(image via www.adecco.co.uk )

So I think the question becomes: do we turn down an “okayish” job in the hopes that something else more perfect appears or in this time of low job-rates, do we take the not so perfect job? This is the point my contact was stressing when she said “don’t be too picky” as you never know what job or project might lead you down a path to “just right”.

MLC Speaker Series – Brice Russ: “Communications, Policy and Outreach: Party in the LSA!”

It’s time for the third MLC Speaker Series event of the Spring semester! This week, we are joined by Brice Russ, Director of Communications at the Linguistic Society of America. Details below. Don’t miss it!

Date, time, location: Friday, March 20th, 11 am – 12:15 pm, Poulton Hall 230

Brice Russ, Director of Communications at the Linguistic Society of America

Communications, Policy, and Outreach: Party in the LSA

Abstract:

At the Linguistic Society of America, Brice Russ does everything from PR and public policy to social media and customer service. In his talk, Brice will share how he went from being a variationist sociolinguist to a communications director, what the LSA is doing for linguists beyond Language and the Annual Meeting, and what lessons from his own experience might be useful for linguists exploring future careers.

Bio:

Brice Russ is the Director of Communications for the Linguistic Society of America. Before joining the LSA in 2014, Brice served as the Public Relations Team Lead for Wolfram Research, creators of Mathematica and Wolfram|Alpha. He also volunteers as the Assistant Director for Yuri’s Night, the World Space Party. Brice received his M.A. in linguistics from The Ohio State University and his B.A. in linguistics (with a minor in English) from UNC-Chapel Hill.

About the MLC Speaker Series:

Speakers in the MLC series are linguists and practitioners in a broad range of industries, from academic research to market research and user experience design. The MLC events are focused on highlighting how practitioners apply linguistic training in their chosen fields, as well as on practical career development topics tailored to linguists.

The King’s Speech

Andrea Price, a second-year MLC student with an interest in the Higher Education and Communication.

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Last summer, my roommate asked me how I felt about LeBron James, the famous basketball player, and his newly announced return to the Cleveland Cavaliers after a four-year hiatus with Miami Heat. As a native Clevelander with more interest in loyalty than sport, I replied that I did not actively welcome his return. After reading James’s Sports Illustrated article, however, I changed my mind, but I wondered how his essay had been so effective in doing so. This semester I’m taking a language and identity class, and so I decided to investigate how James’s essay might have triggered my emotional response.

After reading and re-reading the essay, and considering all of the research I had read so far, I decided to analyze James’s essay using ideas from Bucholtz and Hall (2005). In their article “Identity and interaction: A sociocultural linguistic approach,” Bucholtz and Hall explain that people construct their identities in the process of speaking to their listeners. One principle they promote is the idea that speakers construct their identity in relation to whom they’re speaking, basically construing themselves as similar to or different from their listeners.

Bucholtz and Hall also explain their idea of “adequation,” meaning that in order to construct their identity, some speakers portray themselves as adequately similar to their listeners, rather than exactly the same as them. In my midterm, I will be writing about how LeBron James positions himself in his essay as more or less the same as other Northeast Ohioans. For example, he compares his four years in Miami to the four years other people spend away from home, at college. He also speaks personally about his family and his investment in the future of Northeast Ohio (both topics are cultural touchstones for the area). While analyzing my emotional response to this essay might have more to do with psychology than linguistics, I find it exciting that I can pinpoint linguistic strategies in a non-academic piece which held such importance for my home state.

In the grand scheme of things, my midterm is really is only the tip of the iceberg. Words are everywhere, including in the way Cleveland markets itself, in the way outside influencers talk about the city, and even in the way Northeast Ohioans complain on Facebook about the ridiculous snowfall. I am eager for my chance to move back home and see firsthand how language is used in Cleveland, especially in order to use my language skills in dynamic projects rather than in eight-page midterms.

So, what can you do for me?

Pete Tontillo is a first-year MLC student interested in exploring political communication, and the ways linguistics can be brought to bear on questions of rhetoric, messaging, and issue advocacy.

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For (aspiring) linguists, it can be discouraging to browse job postings online. Very rarely do the headlines actually say ‘Linguist,’ and when they do, it’s always the computational kind. For the rest of us who won’t be pulling down six figures at Google, we’re busy thinking of what job title to put in the search bar, and how we can angle our skills and experience to fit the listed description.

That’s why I was heartened to see this article from Quartz magazine, , which writes that many (/some/a few/maybe just like four) companies are beginning to let job applicants write their own job description. Many job postings, the author writes, ‘describe a generically perfect candidate—one that companies don’t actually expect to find.’ Instead, more and more companies are encouraging applicants to make a case for themselves, and for why the company needs them, even if they don’t know it yet.

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(image via www.best-job-interview.com )

This article caught my eye in part because it reflected my own job-hunting experience. I got my current position, a fellowship at a strategic communications agency, through getting in touch with the firm’s president, telling him who I am and what I like to do, and asking if they needed anyone with that profile. As it turned out, they did. In the emails and phone calls and interviews that followed, I worked with the team to essentially write my own job description, based on what I could offer and what they were looking for. The agency features job listings on its website, but I couldn’t have leveraged my skills in quite this way had I applied through the conventional channels. Now I’m working with the full-time team on various projects, but also carrying out my own independent analyses that inform and offer a new perspective on what the company is doing.

Even in companies like this one that ‘do language’ professionally, we will still likely be the only ones with a formal background in linguistics. We should get used to being outsiders, if only just a little bit. But this can be a strength. We offer new ways of seeing and thinking. That’s valuable. We just have to get a little more comfortable with answering, ‘So, what can you do for me?’

MLC Speaker Series, 2/19: Aviad Eilam

“A Linguist in the World of Digital Marketing”

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Please join us for the second MLC Speaker Series event of the semester!

**Note that this event is scheduled for Thursday evening in ICC**

Date, time, location: Thursday, February 19th, 5:30-7pm, ICC 450

Aviad Eilam, Social Media Marketing Specialist at Rosetta Stone

A Linguist in the World of Digital Marketing

Abstract:
Though social media is no longer a new phenomenon, it continues to change and evolve at an extremely rapid pace. Over the past few years, many social media channels have transformed into digital marketing platforms, where a wide range of businesses and organizations can now advertise their products and services. Thus, running a social media channel nowadays involves not only creating and curating content of interest to your followers, but also managing paid advertising on the channel. This includes everything from selecting images for ads and coming up with ad copy to analyzing results and optimizing accordingly. In this talk I describe how someone with a linguistics background such as myself got into social media and why I think it is an appropriate field for people with this background, and I suggest ways in which I believe linguists can make themselves more relevant for social media and digital marketing jobs.

Bio:
Aviad Eilam is a social media marketing specialist at Rosetta Stone. In this capacity he manages all organic content and paid advertising on multiple social media channels, including Facebook and Twitter, and is responsible for a multimillion dollar budget to drive revenue, email signups, and mobile app installs. A linguist by training with an expertise in Semitic languages, he graduated with a PhD from the University of Pennsylvania in 2011 and has since written and spoken widely on alternative careers for academics.

About the MLC Speaker Series:
Speakers in the MLC series are linguists and practitioners in a broad range of industries, from academic research to market research and user experience design. The MLC events are focused on highlighting how practitioners apply linguistic training in their chosen fields, as well as on practical career development topics tailored to linguists.