Career Profile: Cara Shousterman

Career Profile: Media Impact

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CaraShoustermanCara Shousterman is the Partnerships and Engagement Manager at Harmony Institute. She earned her PhD in Linguistics from New York University.

Guest blogger Anna Dausman had the pleasure of speaking with Cara, and their conversation covered a broad range of topics – from graduate school, to job seeking, and workplace transitions. They covered so much, in fact, that rather than remove any valuable content, it seemed fitting to feature their discussion as a series on Career Linguist. The interview is presented here in several parts:

  • Part I explores Cara’s path through linguistics to her current position at Harmony Institute. Here, Cara offers insight into the skills and responsibilities of professionals working in ‘media impact’ and the emerging field of text analysis.
  • Part II is the story of Cara’s search for a job outside of academia by creating a collaborative career support group of women linguists.
  • Part III features Cara’s take on applying skills from her PhD to the workplace at Harmony Institute, and what it looks like as a linguist to leave the field of academia.

Below is Part I of the interview with Cara Shousterman.

Anna: What was your path to Harmony Institute?

Cara: I received a fellowship through the ACLS Public Fellows program, which is designed to place recent Humanities PhDs who want to work outside of academia in nonprofit and government positions. From the start, I really liked what Harmony Institute (HI) does: social science research that’s very interdisciplinary. They’re doing really interesting and progressive research on media impact, and they have this tech-focused startup culture. That was the kind of career I wanted.

Anna: What does a typical day look like as the Partnerships and Engagement Manager?

Cara: There isn’t really a typical day – but the easiest summary is that I do a lot of outward-facing work. I communicate with our partners for different projects, which happens over email. Since our work at HI is so collaborative, I meet with my coworkers to talk about different projects. A portion of my day is dedicated to doing research (which I love), and also product management: tracking our progress, and figuring out what needs to happen to keep product creation moving forward.

I assist with user research, which I’ve been mentored in by HI’s ‘user experience designer.’ I’ll also interview people about our product interfaces (essentially, what they see when they’re using our products and how they use them), and these interviews look a lot like sociolinguistic or ethnographic interviews. I also speak on panels, go to film festivals, and give workshops. The work is always changing, it’s usually pretty collaborative, and I spend a lot of my time interacting with people and groups outside of our office.

Anna: What’s one project you’re currently working on?

Cara: Right now I’m working on a text analysis tool. We’re developing an automated technology to analyze large volumes of media text to try and quickly get at certain insights in media conversations. If we want to look at how a certain social issue is being discussed, and how that’s been changing over time, then we could do that quickly using that automated process.

Anna: Let me make sure I’m getting this right. So, for example, you could take in data from media streams and track – over a few months or a year – what public perception looks like for something like, ‘use of police force’ or ‘police bruality?’

Cara: Yes – exactly.

Anna: That’s so cool.

Cara: I think so!

Anna: What emerging trends do you see in your field?

Cara: There’s huge interest right now in text analysis and artificial intelligence. The private and public sectors are making big advancements in these areas, but there’s a lot missing. We need to take linguists’ deep knowledge of how language works and marry it with technological skill. This will be the next step for text analysis and machine learning.

Anna: Are there additional skills you’d recommend to linguists interested in media impact?

Cara: Research skills. Employers are looking for these skills in different capacities, so the more diverse your skillset and experience are (ie- working with small data sets, big sets, different groups people, etc), the better. With this comes effective project management – to set deadlines, and always keep a finger on the moving parts of a project. People who have written a dissertation or master’s thesis have these skills.

Anna: What are the best parts of your job?

Cara: The ‘number one’ best part of my job is the people that I work with. This is a really interdisciplinary job, so my coworkers come from all sorts of backgrounds and have a really wide range of skills and talents. I also love that I can still do research at my job. This means that I can still feel challenged, and I’m solving problems that are intellectually stimulating. Because of the interdisciplinary work, I’m getting exposed to a whole set of conferences and film festivals that I would never have been involved with before. I’m developing a whole new skillset!

Check back for Part II of this interview, where Cara takes us into the process of job searching post-PhD, and how she founded her successful “Job Club!”

This interview has been edited and condensed.

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Anna Dausman is a linguist and storyteller based in Washington, DC., with a background in training and curriculum development for service learning programs. She loves the W&OD trail, and the National Parks. You can reach Anna at adausman@gmail.com.

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Sectors profiled in the “Profiles in Linguistics” series: Corporate Social Responsibility, Healthcare Communications, Library Science, Knowledge ManagementNaming, Program Evaluation, Publishing, Social Media Marketing,Tech, User Experience Research, Training and Facilitation and many more!