I have found myself taking a lot lately about this tweet from Lauren Collister at the LSA conference earlier this month:
I’m really struck by how “we’ll miss you” while likely well-intended, functions so clearly as performatively othering when given in response to career news. It unambiguously places the addressee outside. And just as simply, effectively invizibilses career paths other than the academic, making it seem as though a choice to work beyond the academy means that you will never again have any contact with academic colleagues.
As someone who has spent the last twelve years doing outreach – for the first six years from within a university “out” to the working world, and now for the past years from the outside “in,” I am convinced that a big part of the problem is that out being out of practice thinking and talking about work reinforces this metaphorical spatial distance. In this post, I offer just a few examples of some small, simple practices that we can start adopting and which would serve to talk a more inclusive culture around career into being for linguistics, benefitting not only individual students and alum, but also our institutions and communities at large.
I’ll begin with a networking event that I regularly attend – and which I also have noticed myself talking about a lot lately – called Ethnobreakfast – a networking group that brings together academics and practitioners to discuss issues pertinent to ethnographers in industry. It is organized by Jan English-Lueck a faculty member and Jeffrey Greger a recent alum of The Applied Anthropology program at San Jose State University via a listserv, which gets promoted (among other venues) on the Anthrodesign email list and the Ethnography Hangout Slack message board. They use the list to ask for a different host each month to organize a get-together on a Friday morning at their place of work from 8:30 -9:30am (chosen to not cut into the workday). The host finds a conference room, chooses a reading, invites colleagues, and facilitates a discussion tied thematically to some current issue they are thinking about in their work. As Jeffrey Greger one of the organizers described in a recent article for the EPIC conference proceedings:
It is difficult to overestimate the importance of having informal spaces for collaboration, mentorship, and friendship, spaces where barriers are thin between academia and industry, student and experienced professional, designer and anthropologist. They allow for personal, open sharing of knowledge across disciplinary and organizational boundaries that can give birth to new knowledge and transdisciplinary collaborations.
I’m focused on organizing local networking events on behalf of employers these days. I aim to bring together: 1) linguists who are currently employed by an organization who happens to be hiring together with 2) folks who are considering submitting an application. Such an interaction is empowering to both participants:
Next one will likely be in Berkeley in Feb – stay tuned at careerlinguist.com for information about that, and if you’re in the area (or you know someone who is), help build the career linguist community and contribute to promoting career conversations by getting the word out about this event. BUT ALSO, I’m looking for people to host events in their local communities, and I’m even developing a hosting kit that will help you do it! If you’re interested in learning more, please reach out!
Or, more departments can do like UT Austin does in the Industry Spotlight section of their newsletter, and celebrate the career paths of alum – in this case Nick Gaylord – by asking them to share the details of working contexts which may be less familiar to the community and readership.
Activities and events like these are win-win-win! We all get to support one another in generating and sharing ideas about the myriad possibilities that our training affords, inviting more conversations about how we can support bringing our analytical skills and training to the challenges facing the world. Part of the work of figuring out your next steps professionally, like the ikigai tool.
Current students and alum benefit from learning about specific ways that others have brought linguistics to solving important challenges when they have a ready answer to the question: “linguistics, what can you do with that?”
Our institutions, our field, and the people working to address the wicked challenges faced by our world all benefit when more of us are given the support we all need to investigate where our interests align with our sense of purpose.
Just a few small ideas, beginning with greeting the news that a student / colleague has just gotten a job with a nod to staying in touch.
How can you help make some time to create more spaces for reflecting deeply to help our community reflect so that each of us can really ask ourselves where it is that we can devote our energies and our talents as linguists.