As quoted in what color can your parachute be Roger Shuy framed the problem thusly at the 1974 Georgetown University Roundtable in Linguistics (GURT):
“As a result of its isolative behavior, linguistics is now beginning to suffer from not having a natural apprenticeship domain, making it difficult for graduates to find work”
He suggested a solution, namely that linguists must overcome feelings of: “elitism and discover methods of breaking into such areas as information processing and retrieval, medicine, psychiatry, lexicography, publishing, the communications industry, and educational consulting.”
Writing in 2015 and from my vantage point as a professional linguist, I would frame the problem a bit differently. For me, it is that:
The world of work needs linguists, but most would-be employers don’t know it!
…and to compound the situation:
- Many linguistics professors aren’t sure how to help. While of course, there are some professors who wouldn’t want to because they participate in the elitism noted above by Professor Shuy above, by and large in my two decades of engagement with our field, my experience is that professors are overwhelmingly eager to help. They are interested in seeing their students succeed and see the value of having connections to a range of professional contexts, however, they simply aren’t sure what it is that they can do.
- Conversely, those who would know how to help – career counselors and other experts in professional development – by and large don’t know what linguistics is, much less how it could be applied.
- Finally, those who have found professional expression of their skills and training in linguistics might feel undervalued because they don’t see their perspective being represented or celebrated in the field.
But here is where I start to see a broader solution: those who are already “inside” can help with the “breaking in” by “bringing in.”
Certainly, this is a systemic problem having to do with (as Professor Shuy illustrates) decades of decisions and decision-makers who have shaped our field to undervalue being outward-facing and being oriented towards application in general, so the burden of the solution can’t be on the heads of those who are also trying to work out what they want to do as they are trying to work their way in to this “range of contexts.” But I happen to know, from having conducted years research about careers for linguists, that for just about any context that someone might be interested in “breaking in” there are already linguists there who can help!!
So, for those of you who are “in” and who currently have jobs that you love which involve the application of your linguistics training (or know people who do), I invite you to:
- share stories here, and in other venues like Superlingo, All Things Linguistic and the Business of Language.
- Get plugged in with established platforms for sharing resources, information and building community through groups like the Special Interest group for Linguistics Beyond Academia through the Linguistics Society of America.
- Create your own platform – we will help you spread the word!
- Share information about job openings on Linguist List and on blogs, Twitter and LinkedIn.
- Join the google group “Ling-Outside”
- Take advantage of mentoring opportunities organized through the LSA, and other academic associations and conferences.
- Are you a member of professional associations? Can you reach out to linguists who might be trying to break in to your field through communications channels established there?
- Contact your university’s alumni office, career center, and linguistics department to identify yourself as a resource.
- Help me share these career resources
To the community: What other ideas / resources are out there needing to be shared?