Barbara Clark

Career Profile: Consulting

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Barb Clark PicDr. Barbara Clark is a UK-based linguistic consultant with over 10 years of experience in civil aviation.

Guest blogger Lauren Johnson had the distinct pleasure of talking with Dr. Clark via Skype and the two-hour long conversation covered so many great topics that they couldn’t all be included in just one write up! Instead, the interview is presented here in several parts:

  • Part One (below) discusses Dr. Clark’s consulting firm, You Say Tomato, how she decided to become a consultant rather than work in academia, and her future goals for her business.
  • Part Two is Dr. Clark’s background, including her experiences leading up to her career as a flight attendant, and how her experiences while flying led to her pursuing a PhD in Linguistics.
  • Next is a series of posts focused on Dr. Clark’s experiences and suggestions for being a consultant and includes topics like gaining experience and finding clients while in school, making yourself memorable, and why you shouldn’t fear failure.
Below is Part One of the interview with Dr. Barbara Clark:

Lauren: Can you talk about your decision to form your own consulting firm, rather than choosing to pursue a degree in academia? How did you make that decision, and how did you first launch your consulting business?

Dr. Clark: As far as consulting, I knew I didn’t want to go into academia full-time because I never felt like a part of the academic community. But more than that, I knew I wanted to work with industry to affect change.

When I started my Masters there was a learning curve getting back up to speed reading academic texts, almost like learning a different language. I think that’s a barrier for a lot of people, and one of the things that promotes this idea of the ivory tower, along with research that doesn’t have a readily apparent impact outside academia. And I know that my work does. In my dissertation I talk about an experience I had as the lead flight attendant, where a pilot was rude and contradicted all my safety training and federal regulations. And that made me think, “I want to do something that is going to change the experience that I just had. I know that hundreds if not thousands of people have been in my situation.” And I wanted to make it better.

Also because my other half was a consultant, I was exposed to a different world where I could get paid to do research, which was my goal. Because I love research. I love finding and reading the data and doing the analysis. Another benefit of my other half being a consultant was his advice to start establishing relationships with potential future clients while I was working on my PhD, to form a bond when I wasn’t asking them for anything. Because when you’re done, it’s too late.

I started consulting by working on various free projects to show people what I could do, and to build my portfolio. Then, a few months after I completed my viva (PhD oral exams in the UK), I received an email from my contact at the UK Civil Aviation Authority (CAA) saying, “We have a project you might be interested in: researching pilot/air traffic controller communication and language proficiency and how it impacts the safety of the public.” That has led me into a whole new area of research under the umbrella of aviation, but different from the cabin crew side of operations I was familiar with. And it’s opened a lot of doors to other areas of future research. At the end of June I’m going to Warsaw to give a talk and then a workshop at the International Civil Aviation English Association (ICAEA) and I was just in Orlando speaking at the World Aviation Training Symposium (WATS).

Recently, someone contacted me from the CAA and asked for my opinion about a pronunciation standard they were proposing to change with the European Aviation Safety Agency, concerning the word “eleven.” I did some research and my contact was very pleased with the amount of information I provided. A couple of weeks ago I heard from my contact that the proposal to have a dual standard for the pronunciation of “eleven” was accepted. And part of that was because of me.

Lauren: What are your future goals for your consulting firm?

Dr. Clark: That is a very timely question because I’ve just finished writing a five year plan for You Say Tomato. I’m trying to re-evaluate what I’ve been doing, what I can do differently, how to get more clients, and how to market myself more broadly. I love aviation, but I also know that what I can do can be applied to various industries. So I’ve expanded the explanation of what I do to include intercultural communication and miscommunication, and change management. I’m still learning the business jargon terms, primarily through the various Meetups I attend.

I would say in five years I see myself with a handful of publications in trade and industry journals, because that’s one area I feel I’m weak in. But I’ve been invited to contribute a chapter to the Routledge Handbook of Language in the Workplace, so that’s very exciting.

Ultimately I want to be known as an expert in the industry and my goal is to have people coming to me, with three or four different projects going at once. And I’d like to be not just making a profit, but out-earning my other half. That’s my goal: to make more than him.

Check back Friday for Part Two, where Dr. Clark shares story about her path from anthropology student to flight attendant to linguist and entrepreneur.

  • Find out more about Dr. Clark’s consulting firm, You Say Tomato on her website.
  • Follow her on Twitter:
    • @infoYST (more aviation oriented)
    • @drjavafox (more linguistic, anthropological, and informal tweeting)
  • If you’re a professional looking for help with making your Twitter presence more effective, check out her course: Twitter for Professionals
  • If you’re a current, potential, or future PhD student looking for advice, Dr. Clark welcomes you to contact her at info@you-say-tomato.com!

This interview has been edited and condensed.

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Lauren Johnson is a linguist and theater artist, based in upstate NY. She currently works as a consulting researcher examining humanitarian intervention and violence against women in Darfur, Sudan. A highly accomplished binge reader and trivia buff, she is always accepting recommendations for what to read next.

You can read more about her here: http://plainspokenlinguist.wordpress.com


Sectors profiled in the “Profiles in Linguistics” series: Corporate Social Responsibility, Healthcare Communications, Library Science, Knowledge Management, Program Evaluation, Publishing, Social Media Marketing, Naming, Tech, User Experience Research.