Consulting Advice from Dr. Barbara Clark, Day 2

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

In June, guest blogger Lauren Johnson had the distinct pleasure of talking with Dr. Clark via Skype.

Last week we brought you Part One and Part Two covering Dr. Clark’s background, including her experiences as a flight attendant, how that led to her pursuing a PhD, and how she’s making her expertise available via her consulting firm, You Say Tomato.

Every day this week we’ll be presenting a series of posts, where Dr. Clark shares her experiences as a consultant and offers suggestions on topics like finding clients, making yourself memorable, and why you shouldn’t fear failure.


Building Client Relationships While in School:

When I was doing my PhD I tried to make contacts and network with industry people, like stakeholders and gatekeepers, because while I enjoy chatting with cabin crew (whom I love) these are rarely the people who hold the budget strings. And that was a hard lesson to learn.

Getting to the point where I’m sought out to do a job is the result of many years of relationship building. And yes, there is a certain amount of luck but it’s a lot of hard work and it’s a lot of explaining what you do. I think it’s being able to draw from the linguistic norms of other industries where you want to work and then applying them to what you want to do.

Presenting at Industry Conferences:

As soon as I could, I started presenting at conferences. And that was incredibly helpful. It forced me to stand up in front of people and talk for 45 minutes about academic research to an industry audience, which was scary as hell, because in my head I was thinking that every single person in that room was a potential client. And it was really intimidating to think, “If I mess up, or misspeak, or if I put something out there that I think is wrong or that ends up being wrong, that’s going to reflect on me.”

At my first conference I did two presentations the same day—the same talk to two different audiences—and it was really helpful. I still do that presentation to new clients and to different audiences because it explains linguistic anthropology, interactional sociolinguistics and Hymes’s SPEAKING grid, and we look at some data. It’s a nice way of introducing language in context to a non-academic audience.


Advice for People Who Want to do a PhD:

Pick something you love doing, even if you think it isn’t PhD material, because you’ll be wedded to it for at least 10 years, both during your PhD program and post-PhD. You’ll be mining it for as much as you can, for things like publications and conference talks. And if you’re planning to go into a PhD program straight out of undergrad, realize that it is not the same experience. I had a stellar undergraduate academic career, which set me up very poorly for my PhD, because I thought a PhD program was a longer version of undergrad.

On the Difference Between Academia and Consulting:

When you’re an academic you think, “Oh that’s a really interesting problem,” but when you’re consulting nobody cares about interesting, people care about money. I still struggle with that today: how can I balance my research interests with making money? How can I work with clients? How can I sell myself? How do I convince clients that they need to hire me and how can I show them their problem is one that only I can solve? I wish more PhD departments focused on that instead of grooming students to go into academia.


  • 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!


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:

%d bloggers like this: