Book announced at https://linguistlist.org/issues/33/33-1002.html
AUTHOR: Anna Marie Trester
TITLE: Employing Linguistics
SUBTITLE: Thinking and Talking About Careers for Linguists
PUBLISHER: Bloomsbury Publishing (formerly The Continuum International Publishing Group)
REVIEWER: Jenni Maria Räikkönen, Tampere University
If you are scanning through job advertisements for a linguist in the hope that you might find something interesting for you, you might be discouraged by what you find. If one’s dream does not involve staying in academia after graduating with an MA or a PhD in linguistics, the alternative is usually to find a job either as a teacher or as a translator. However, as we can learn from the book “Employing Linguistics: Thinking and Talking about Careers for Linguists” by Anna Marie Trester (who is also the author of “Bringing Linguistics to Work”, 2017), there actually are more opportunities for us. We just need to expand our horizons to find them.
The book is built around career stories of people that are either trained as linguists or work like linguists. There are almost 40 stories from people working in different sectors (plus a few stories from the author herself), and the stories focus on what these people are doing now and how they employ their linguistic ways of thinking in their day-to-day work. At the end of each chapter, there is a “catalyst” for the reader, in which the author encourages the readers to think about their own career stories from different angles.
In the introduction to the book, the author talks about the metaphor that she used as the base for the book: charting the stars. Through this metaphor, she urges the readers to start thinking about their own career paths as stars that eventually form a constellation. At times we can only see one star here and another there, and there are even times when we can see no stars at all. But the stars are there, and little by little, by connecting the bright spots, we can start seeing the complete picture – the constellation.
The author says that the book is for anyone who is interested in a linguistic approach to a career, and she especially targets the book for students who want to know what their future prospects might be and professors who want to help their students (or themselves) in finding their place in the world. The author adds that the book might also be useful for those who wonder what linguistic thinking has to offer for work in different sectors.
In Chapter 1, “Reckoning your own Intentions”, the author shares stories from three linguists in their career-defining moments. In this chapter, the author wants to emphasize that once we have been trained in seeing things through linguistic lenses, we work like linguists, even if we are not working as linguists. The stories come from Charlotte Linde, whose career-defining moment was saying “yes” when she was offered a job at NASA, where she would focus on communication at the cockpit; Samantha Beaver, who had to use her linguistic skills when she had to think about how to present her business idea to attract clients, and how she would introduce herself, a linguist, when only a handful of people know what linguists do; and finally, Anne Charity Hudley, who has been involved in projects focusing on fostering diversity in linguistic sciences and encouraging speaking up for racial justice.
In Chapter 2, “BRIGHTEN while you Work”, the author introduces the acronym BRIGHTEN that stands for Business, Research, Innovation, Government, Healthcare (Communication), Technology, Education and Nonprofit World. These are the major sectors in which the ten people whose stories are shared in this chapter – all of whom are the author’s former students – work. The stories focus on where they work, how they have use their linguistic training in their work, and how they and their employer have benefitted from their training.
Chapter 3, “How Linguists BRIGHTEN”, focuses on stories from four linguists working in the research sector, mostly as user researchers. However, the chapter begins with a look at a professional portfolio of a user researcher and then introduces the method the author calls “D.I.E”, short for Describe, Interpret and Evaluate. This method, according to the author, helps us better understand our own meaning-making processes, as we should first describe what we see, then make an interpretation of it and only after that evaluate the situation. The problem is that we often jump over the description phase and go straight to interpretation or even evaluation, in which case we will not properly understand why things or people work the way they do.
In Chapter 4, “Decide to BRIGHTEN Here and Now”, there are stories from people who are involved in social justice work, and they talk about how linguistics is a factor in their day-to-day work. The author urges the readers to think about what we could do as linguists (or working like linguists) that would matter to us and make a difference. She says that helping others is always a good place to start, and we should think about how linguistics could help us in making the world a better place.
Chapter 5, “BRIGHTEN around the World”, includes stories from linguists working in different sectors (second language testing, e-commerce, entrepreneurship, activism and advocacy). The connecting factor is that they have all worked outside the United States.
In Chapter 6, “Navigating your Career with WHY”, the stories focus on the question of WHY people do what they do the way they do. There are stories from six people (plus one from the author) working in different sectors, and they talk about why they have decided to work in that specific field and why they think knowledge of linguistics is useful in their workplace.
In the Conclusion, the author goes back to some of the stories and reflects on how the stories have affected the way she thinks about her own career. There is also one remaining story from Jeremy Rud, and that story further emphasizes the idea that language is an important factor everywhere, and that the linguistic skill set is useful in many sectors. At the end of the conclusion, the author brings up questions to which I, too, have wanted to hear answers: in a job interview, should I mention that I have a PhD or not? Should I say that I am a linguist? The author shares her advice: try calling yourself a linguist or try not doing so and “listen to the response”. We cannot escape the fact that some people do have misconceptions about what linguists do and are capable of, and they may also have their own views about people that have a PhD. It is a cold fact that we cannot change people’s attitudes and preconceptions all at once, but we can start, if we want to. Recognize that you have choices in this situation.
Anna Marie Tester has written the book that many linguists have been waiting for: the one that explains what we can do and what opportunities there are for people who are trained as linguists. We might at times be a bit skeptical about our own usefulness outside academia, but as the stories in this book show, linguists have acquired skills that are wanted and needed in many sectors and in many different types of workplaces. This gives hope for many linguists struggling to find their place in the world and helps the readers to get the mindset that there are plenty of opportunities. The tone of the book is positive, encouraging and optimistic, and for that reason, the book is a valuable resource.
The language, as is pointed out by the author herself in the Conclusion, is very informal. This gave the book a certain flow and made it very easy to read. Furthermore, the stories that the author has chosen, and the way she has written them, suck the reader in and made it difficult to stop reading.
Even though I understand that the book is not meant as a career coach, per se, but more as an inspiration, I expected there to be more discussion on how to land a job and more practical tips on how to convince employers of the varied skills that linguists have. Some stories touch upon that topic, but only very briefly. Also, the career paths described in the stories sound very smooth and easy (even though I am sure they have been anything but). For the readers that have struggled to find a job and have turned to this book for advice, I would have wanted there to be more tips on how to survive setbacks and even failures. As many of us know, job hunting is more than just finding one’s passion.
Furthermore, as the author herself points out, almost all the people whose stories are shared in the book work in the US. Even though, Chapter 5 exclusively focuses on people that have worked internationally, perhaps more stories from people working in other countries – or at least discussion on how other countries might differ from the US in this regard – would have been welcome.
For me, the best thing about the book was the inspiration that I got from the stories. I often found myself googling the job titles mentioned in the book, many of which were completely new to me or at least I had not realized that linguistic training could be useful in those contexts. Finding more information about them gave me many eureka moments: there actually are people that do this, and I could be one of them. So, again another job title to add to my list of opportunities to explore further when the time comes!
While reading the book, it became clear why the author had chosen “Employing linguistics” as the title instead of “Employing linguists”; the main point in the book is that even though we are not working as linguists, we can work like linguists, employing linguistic ways of thinking in our work. And this, as the stories of the book show, can have many benefits to the employer as well to society at large.
The book does what it is intended for: it helps the readers in finding their “bright spots”, i.e., to have a clearer picture of what they are interested in, and eventually form a constellation that guides them towards their dream job. The varied stories certainly have something for every reader, and after reading them, the readers probably start seeing more opportunities and more places in which they could make use of their knowledge of linguistics.
Trester, Anna Marie. 2017. Bringing Linguistics to Work: A Story Listening, Story Finding, and Story Telling Approach to Your Career. Lulu Publishing Services.
ABOUT THE REVIEWER
Jenni Räikkönen, MA, is a doctoral researcher at the Faculty of Information Technology and Communication Sciences, Tampere University, Finland. Her research interests include critical discourse analysis and corpus linguistics. Her research has mainly focused on analyzing political and media discourses. She writes a blog (in Finnish) targeted at other early-career researchers, sharing tips on how to survive in the academic world.