This Spring I have been giving a workshop with linguistics students around the country called Bringing Linguistics to Work. It is designed to get students thinking about the transferable skills they are currently acquiring and to call their attention to the problems and challenges that are already calling their attention as expressed through the classes and research projects they choose and the things to which they devote their free time. One of the refrains of the workshop: “The skills, interests, and abilities as they apply to the challenges which call your attention have probably been expressing themselves in many ways and for many years already!!”
Why this workshop
As a linguist who has spent the last few years of my professional practice focused on framing, I have come to recognize a fundamental disconnect when it comes to students’ thinking about career having to do with the way that it is framed. For college students, career seems to be something that they don’t need to think about until the semester right before they graduate, and those who are thinking about it sooner are doing so because they aren’t “enjoying” or “taking full advantage” of their time in college. One of the major implications of these ways of thinking are that linguistics, something that most people choose to study because they are passionate about it, is not going to be something that you get to take with you, and thus “savor it while you can.” Which only serves to reinforce the perceived disconnect.
….and we linguists are asked ALL THE TIME “what are you going to do with that?”
When our answers to that question are “I don’t know!” or “I just need to figure out which path to take!” we actively construct a distancing and a disconnect for those with whom we are talking between what we are doing in school and what we will do with that training later. These are wasted opportunities to share our passion with the world.
The world (of work) needs us!
There is no telling where any linguist might take her training. And from my perspective, that is because the world (including the world of work) needs people who are trained to be critical thinkers who deal in abstractions and ambiguity. The world needs our cross-cultural competency and our lack of prescriptivism, our flexibility and adaptability, the ways that our discipline trains us to embrace change and complexity. But perhaps more than anything, the world needs people who are trained to think in systems – people who see the underlying patternings and processes that structure visible and apparently chaotic surface representations. The world needs people who can see and deconstruct assumptions, and crucially, people who can see the ways that inequities get perpetuated through language.
We can take our skills and training anywhere, but only to the extent that we can make these better understood. And if anyone is trained to do that – it is a linguist (as I like to say: “there is no absolutely no reason why linguists’ resumes and coverletters shouldn’t be the very best ones out there!”)
Our task as linguists:
So the opportunity, as I see it, is to bring:
- An improvisational mindset (test things out)
- A story approach (pay attention for opportunities to find, listen to, and tell them)
- A linguistic practice (bring your linguistic skills and training to the texts and interactions that structure your job search)
In other words, linguist be a linguist for yourself!!