Brice Russ – Part II

Career Profile: Digital Science Advocacy

The Career Profiles in Linguistics section regularly highlights career paths taken by linguists. If you would like to recommend someone (including yourself) for a future profile, please contact Career Linguist.

Brice Russ is the Social Media Producer for Science at the American Association for the Advancement of Science (AAAS) and Assistant Director for Yuri’s Night, an annual worldwide celebration of humanity’s past, present and future in space.

Brice Russ
Brice Russ

Guest blogger Anna Dausman had the pleasure of speaking with Brice. The interview is being presented in several parts.

Below is Part II of the interview with Brice Russ (click here for part I).

Anna: How did you find your way into linguistics?
I didn’t really know much about linguistics as a field until I came to college at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill. I had read this book in high school that I loved, “Le Ton beau de Marot” by Douglas Hofstadter. It was an (English-language) book about translation and the many problems that can come up when translating. Is there such a thing as one word in a language that means the exact same thing in another? Is one person’s understanding of a word the same as another person’s?

This was from more of a computer science perspective than formal linguistics, but it was one of the first books that piqued my curiosity about how language is such a complex phenomenon. Just because we all speak the same language doesn’t mean that we all understand a language in the same way.

Then in undergrad, we had a great linguistics program at UNC. I took a couple of classes because my friends were taking them; I was the kind of person that wanted to learn about everything, so I wanted to be in linguistics classes because I quickly realized that in these courses, you do learn about everything! If you major in linguistics, you can study sociology, psychology, logic and computer science, history, literature, and so on. Language is this phenomenon that shapes how we go through every day, how we communicate, how we understand. As linguists know, it’s a lot more complicated than how many people understand it firsthand.

I saw how sociolinguistics – the interaction of language with all aspects of society – combined with my interest in social media, ultimately giving me my graduate research on how language varies in different online contexts. (Incidentally, sociolinguistics is, to a certain degree, the linguistic subfield that studies variation and change across the rest of linguistics – so, in a way, I still got to study ‘everything!’)

Anna: Where do you see the closest link between sociolinguistics and your current work?
Sociolinguistics made it clear to me that how you craft your message is your key to reaching the right people with that message. In communications, you have to always be aware of who your audience is. If you’re working with a younger audience or older audience, this speech community or that speech community, you have to assess: what’s their jargon level? How will sounding more formal or more informal come off — and how much does it matter that this is coming from, say, a corporate social media account, versus a friend or a different source altogether? You have to make sure that the language you’re producing is going to be perceived in the way you want it to. Everyone – everyone – has their own idiolect.

I also gained a great exposure to data analysis at The Ohio State University. Although I’ve always been a data nerd, I had the opportunity at OSU to really dig deep and get a lot more comfortable with statistics. It’s been great, especially with social media, where you have all of this quantitative data – 500 likes, 700 clicks. You need to take this huge flood of data and turn it into something more actionable, like making posts longer or shorter, what type of visuals to add, and so on.

It’s something I still work on every day, though, how to best take what I learned in my linguistics background and apply it to social media and communication. Everyone in the industry has their own unique history. I never had an official internship or full-on mentor, not one specific to the industry that a lot of people have in their given career — though there are several people who have been so generous with their time and support that I’m incredibly grateful for. But sometimes you have to make your own way, and find out what works for you. When I joined Yuri’s Night I wasn’t looking for a job in communications, but I wanted to help out this organization. Then I realized years later that I was more of an advocate than a researcher, and the experience I had picked up here gave me skills that I could apply.

As the ‘communications director’ for the Linguistic Society of America – that means I was basically the communications guy, wearing so many different hats. One day, I’d be working on press releases for an ongoing issue. Another day, I’d be working on policy – meeting with folks on Capitol Hill on the importance of funding for social sciences. Another day, I’d be meeting with the management director to promote the Annual Meeting, write Facebook ads, and so on. It’s still the same basic connection with linguistics — how do you craft your message to your audience to achieve your goal? — but in a much broader range of contexts.

…..more to come!

Stay tuned for Part III of the interview with Brice next Wed!

Guest Blogger: Anna Dausman is a linguist and storyteller based in Philadelphia,  Pennsylvania. Anna earned her BA in English and Linguistics from the College of William & Mary, and is pursuing an MS in Public Administration from Fels Institute of Government. You can reach Anna at

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

If you would like to recommend someone (including yourself) for a future profile, please contact Career Linguist.

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