Interview with a Linguist: Data Scientist Nick Gaylord

This post is written by guest blogger Patrick Goodridge a linguist, language teacher, and writer based in Philadelphia, PA. Read more about Patrick below or on the Career Linguist guest bloggers page where you can also learn about being a guest blogger for Career Linguist yourself!!

Who are you and what is your profession? Nick Gaylord

These days, I work in data science, which is a field that seems to be attracting quite a lot of Ph.Ds with various backgrounds. I’ve been doing that for about three years now, with a few different companies. I started off working for an NLP startup, so very “languagey”, but now I work in the healthcare industry and do stuff less related to my degree, which I’m actually just fine with. Before data science though, I started out working in the branding business where I spent about a year and a half helping to name some companies and products that you might have heard of.


What has turned out to be the biggest professional advantage of having a linguistics background?
I think the most valuable thing linguistics taught me was how to construct and scrutinize datasets representing a wide range of phenomena. There’s lots of other stuff on top of that though — formal logic (semantics), basic graph theory (syntax), and the need for stable representational schemas (IPA) all factor into what I do. Linguistics also taught me a much greater sensitivity to the different ways in which people around the world speak and communicate. Part of my job involves interviewing, hiring, and managing people and I like to think I do that with a less biased and more open mind because of my linguistics training.


What’s one fond memory you have, professionally or academically, related to linguistics?
The LSA summer institute at Stanford, in 2007. My roommate and I ran an underground bar in the Papua New Guinea sculpture garden for most of the duration of the institute.


What is the role of linguists in shaping the future?
The most important part is probably around embracing/preserving diversity. Studying linguistics really made me more aware of both how diverse humanity is, and how bad we are at recognizing that fact and what we can gain from it. Bringing humanity together sounds like a good thing. Homogenizing it, not so much. Language factors in heavily to both sides of this.


Why should younger students consider studying linguistics?
No joke here, learning about the interdental fricative was one of my top 5 most mind-blowing moments in college. I remember actually trying to make a /t/ sound followed by an /h/ sound as quickly as a could, and wondering why it didn’t ever come out as “th”. I’ll never forget the revelation that the “th” sound is not actually a t plus an h, but a completely different articulation that we just don’t have a letter for. So much complexity lies in this thing that we all do so effortlessly but only barely understand. Anyway, I was hooked and never looked back. Mind-blowing revelations are kind of what college is supposed to be about, so I recommend linguistics mainly on those grounds.

Nick Gaylord will be one of the linguists featured in the upcoming Campfire chat series. The series begins NEXT FRIDAY, September 1st!


Thank you Patrick for this great interview, and thank you Nick – very much looking forward to chatting with you at the campfire on Friday, Sept 8th!!!  🙂

Join us at 1pmPDT/4pm EDT:



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