Professional Development, Professional self-presentation

Understanding Why Linguistics is Misunderstood

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.

Linguistics is the scientific study of language, though many who have heard of linguistics usually underestimate just how scientific it is. Those many are also sometimes unsure of what it is.

This is despite the advent of linguistic-based technology like Dragon (speech recognition), Google Translate (online machine translation), and now “smart speaker” devices like Amazon Echo. Even though the general populace uses these products regularly and with sincere fascination, the interest consumers have in these advances doesn’t extend to the field that originated them.

For instance, when I tell people that I study linguistics, they usually say something like “That’s interesting, but…what exactly is linguistics, anyway?” I get the question often enough that I’ve even begun to couple my response with a definition: “I study linguistics, the science of language!” Skeptics will greet my answer with “Sooo what do you want to do with that?”, a question that can be uncomfortable and will seem painfully familiar to students in the humanities.

For young linguists, myself included, this lack of widespread understanding can be initially confusing and frustrating. In the past, I would even become somewhat offended by what I perceived as ignorance toward a field meaningful to me. When questioned about my interests or motives regarding linguistics, I’d launch straight into some pompous speech expounding the diversity in job offers, everywhere from Washington to Silicon Valley, that I’ve received because of my understanding of language and communication. The disconnect between fact and myth about the role of linguistics in the world seemed irreconcilable. How could (nearly) every human on this planet use language and yet be so oblivious to its study?

Truthfully, however, such a radical response was really a defense. It was a defense against feeling misunderstood, against feeling undervalued by society, and against the inevitable responsibility of defining for myself what linguistics means to me. But it is our task as scholars and professionals, not the task of everyone else, to define what it is the field means to us, and how we believe its principles can be best applied to the world.

Though this task is different for all of us, whether we work in educational, theoretical, or historical linguistics,  we can nonetheless support one another. Some of us see our gifts as relevant to national defense, intercultural harmony, or diplomacy. Others see their gifts as relevant to technology, industry, and education, or to the crossroads of the three. For others, the goal is simply an understanding of language for the sake of knowledge itself. Those in this group seek to provide linguistic insight to others, whether that be deep insight provided to a graduate advisee under their tutelage, or broader insight to an undergraduate business major taking LING 101 to fulfill a science credit.

Such roles are meaningful to many in academia, and stimulating linguistic coursework in universities large and small will continue to be a vital part of informing the world about our field. Not all of us can teach, however, and so it will be essential for the rest of us to blaze our own trails in whatever area of technology, business, media, or government we feel language can most strongly impact.

I no longer resent others for not understanding linguistics or even for outright criticizing it as a choice of study. Instead, I realize that what makes the field valuable is not how well others understand it, but how well they understand what it can do for them. As a result, our goal should ultimately not be to make linguistics itself understood, but rather to make understood what exactly it is capable of. It can transform technology like it has in Google Translate’s new machine learning system. It can make learning the world’s most popular languages not only easier, but more enjoyable. It can even help us better understand our minds and, as a result, ourselves. The potentials are endless, as are your opportunities to make them a reality, and perhaps also to make linguistics better understood in the process.

Much thanks to Patrick for this tremendous post!!

imagePatrick Goodridge a linguist, language teacher, and writer based in Philadelphia, PA. He will earn his BA in Linguistics from the University of Pennsylvania this May, and hopes to enter an MA program in Russian, East European, and Eurasian Studies thereafter. He also works as a linguistic adviser for, a new Russian language learning site  You can reach him at or find links to his other work on LinkedIn.

Want to meet the other guest bloggers? Have thoughts that you would like to share? Thinking of becoming a guest blogger yourself?  Contact Career Linguist.


Career Education, Career Paths for linguists, Professional Development, Professional self-presentation

Making time for thinking about career

making time for yourself

It can feel daunting to make time for the thinking about career given how busy we all are, and it is very tempting to kick this particular can down the road – to look ahead to a particular moment when things are going to “quiet down” when there will finally be time to “focus” and then we will start doing things for ourselves. Unfortunately, this can often ensure that career thinking aligns with jobsearching – meaning that instead of time to think, and develop, and learn, you are in “go-time” needing to actually be finding that job, in which case, doing so puts all the more pressure on a process that is already fraught and stressful.

Begin now. Begin small. Make time to build momentum for your career.

For folks who use the Pomodoro writing technique, I advocate for finding time for just one or two pomodoros a week.  When done consistently, over time, these accrue knowledge and momentum that set you up beautifully for that moment in which you will need to leap for the next job, take that next opportunity!!

Make time for:
You are making time for activities like: Research, Writing, Talking, Reflecting. So maybe this week, it is reading an article, researching an organization, and working on your resume.  Next week: setting up an informational interview, and journaling about the experience. The week after that: finding a networking activity to attend, and attending it.

Your goal:
You are looking to find: People, Organizations, Events, Resources, Job announcements

The outcome:
And while these things that you are focused on are wonderful, the process itself generates not only information but connection and clarity – as you go, you are building your network and conversations with these people help you to narrow in on your “asks.” And hopefully you are now starting to see how this is all iterative: With more knowledge and better people, the “ask” will be better as will the answer be, AND your ability to act on it!!

A recent example:
I am currently interested in learning about applications of storytelling. Over the course of a recent conversation that I set up with a professional whose work sounded interesting to me (a.k.a. an informational interview), I received the suggestion of a storytelling consultant with whom this person had worked. That started me doing some research about that storytelling consultant, which led me to some information about who is “like her” (“people also searched” through LinkedIn), which led me to find a few other organizations which inspired a blog post about professional applications of storytelling (in development – and will be coming shortly here on Career Linguist).

And then, I got an email – advance notice about a webinar that I am going to be attending on Wed (hosted by Flexible Academics) a great resource BTW – check them out) – the presenter wanted to know whether we had any questions that we wanted her to address on the webinar.  Because of the recent work I had been doing, I was ready with “my ask:”

I want to talk about how to use your academic background as a differentiator. So in my case, I am looking to apply storytelling to business. There are many consultancies who do this, but few who bring the linguistic toolkit / mindset.

This ask is much more narrow and focused than “applications of storytelling” and thus likelier to yield better information, connection, and perhaps opportunities!!

Make the time to find your asks (and ask them!)  Amaze yourself with what comes next! 🙂

Career Education, Professional Development, Professional self-presentation

Rethinking expertise

This is the perfect response to some reflections I had been having at some of the career-oriented sessions at LSA this past weekend, when folks would be careful to explain which aspects of their jobs “really” used linguistics. From my perspective, many of our skills become relevant – often in surprising ways – some of which we call “linguistic” skills and some of which we don’t, but realy what I may have been observing was the policing of boundaries of knowledge and navigation of expertise – beautifully observed!!! Am definitely going to be subscribing to this blog! Thanks Nick!!!


I spend a great deal of my professional life coming to grips with impostor syndrome. Of course, empirically I appear to be doing just fine — I have a good and by all accounts hard-to-get job, and people I look up to find my ideas worth their time. Who knows, maybe I’ll even find myself working with some of them one day. But still, when I sit down with my scientific peers, I feel consistently sure that the person across the table is much smarter and more qualified than me.

This is not an uncommon feeling. Anyone with the ability to introspect feels some degree of insecurity about how they stand relative to those around them. I find it’s especially common, though, among academics. This is probably due to a variety of factors including a competitive job market and being held to very high standards. But today I want to focus on…

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Career Education, Professional Development, Professional self-presentation, Resources

Most viewed 2016

Image result for 2016As 2016 draws to a close, reflecting back on the five most viewed pages and posts of the year here at Career Linguist.

#5  What skills are cultivated by studying linguistics?  A re-posting of some of the core skills cultivated by studying linguistics. Share your favorites using #lingustics #skills

#4 Resources for jobseekers  I pulled this page together on a writing retreat this summer in the Blue Ridge mountains of Virginia. It is a one-stop-shop for exploring the range of career resources available here on Career Linguist.

#3 “”linguistics, animals, and writing” a post detailing Linda Lombardi’s journey from linguistics professor to zookeeper to writer. Find the series using

#2 the Career Profiles home page where we hear about all the exciting things that linguists are out there doing with their degrees. Check out the most recent post in the series, Tom Carrol, folklorist and ethnographer. Stay tuned for new posts weekly on Wednesdays. Next up: Brice Russ (communications and Science Advocacy) and Emily Pace (Knowledge Engineering).

#1 50 organizations  A resource featuring the names of 50 organizations who have advertised for and/or have hired linguists and language/communication experts. So far, I have heard from one person who got a job by using this list as a resource.  Any more of you out there?  Please be in touch – would love to hear your story!

What other organizations belong on this list? Clearly this is a useful resource given that it has been in the top 5 for the past two years – how can it continue to be made more useful?

So those were the most viewed of 2016.

Other fun recent happenings here at Career  I re-started the WaLK series (What A Linguist Knows) with a series on the work interrogatives: the WHO, WHAT, WHEN, WHERE, WHY, and HOW of work.  Tom Carrol’s career path interview also follows this format. Let me know what else you jobseekers would find useful so we can get to work on finding/making it!!!

Here’s to a professionally rich 2017!!!  And as ever: Here’s to what’s next!!


Job Interviews

jobs: summer internships with ETS

2017 ETS English Language Learning Summer Institute: Paid Internships Available


The English Language Learning (ELL) group in the Assessment Development Division of Educational Testing Service (ETS) expects to hire approximately 35 interns for the summer of 2017.




ELL summer interns will produce materials for use on large-scale, high-stakes standardized tests of English language proficiency. Each intern will work on one of the following:

  • TOEFL iBT® Test

The TOEFL iBT test is taken by nonnative speakers of English who are planning to apply to a college or university in an English-speaking country.

  • TOEIC® Tests

The TOEIC tests are taken principally by people who need to communicate with both native and nonnative speakers of English in the context of the global workplace.


The test development work is intellectually challenging and rewarding. The work may include:

  • writing items that test knowledge of grammar, vocabulary, and reading comprehension
  • identifying academic texts which are suitable for testing reading comprehension
  • creating conversations and talks that test listening comprehension
  • developing scenarios and prompts that allow candidates to demonstrate their speaking or writing skills




The six-week program begins on Monday, July 10, and ends on Friday, August 18. Interns are expected to work 8:30–5:00, Monday through Friday, for the whole program, and will receive attractive compensation. All work is conducted at the ETS Rosedale campus in Princeton, New Jersey. Interns must provide or arrange their own housing and transportation.




The TOEFL iBT test and the TOEIC tests are global measures, so ETS actively seeks candidates who can bring diverse experiences and perspectives to the work. The ELL summer internship workforce includes people from a variety of backgrounds, such as undergraduate students, graduate students, teachers, and professors. Applicants must have completed at least some undergraduate work in order to be considered.


All interns must have appropriate authorization to work in the United States. Some candidates who receive an internship offer may be able to apply for a CPT or an OPT work authorization visa if enrolled at a U.S. university: check with your university’s international student services office or program coordinator for eligibility before applying to the ELL Summer Institute. CPT visas can usually be acquired quickly, while OPT visas typically take longer. Candidates who receive an internship offer and who need a CPT or an OPT visa should apply for one of these visas immediately upon accepting our offer.


Interns must have a very high degree of fluency in English but do not need to be native speakers. Additionally, interns must have excellent writing skills. The work requires verbal precision and sensitivity to nuance, analytic skill, attention to detail, and receptiveness to instruction. Interns must be able to work well individually and collaboratively, carefully consider constructive feedback, and manage their time effectively to meet targets.




Each of the test sections hiring for the summer is associated with a specific work sample. You will need to complete and submit a separate work sample for each test section for which you would like to be considered. Directions for completing and submitting your work sample(s), along with a cover letter and résumé, are available on the ELL Summer Institute Web site at


Applications are due Tuesday, January 31, 2017. Applicants are selected mainly on the basis of their performance on the work samples. Work samples will be evaluated in February and March, and you will be notified of your status by Friday, March 17. For questions, please contact Recruiting Consultant Monica Hopkins at

Professional Development, Professional self-presentation

Linguistics and Documentary filmmaking

Natalie Schilling, Associate Professor of Linguistics at Georgetown University and Member-at-Large of the LSA Executive Committee, was profiled on the Linguistic Society of America website for her participation in a Documentary Filmmakers’ Retreat hosted by the National Academy of Sciences as part of their Science and Entertainment Exchange program.

Natalie was the only linguist in the group of scientists in fields ranging from geology, chemistry, physics, molecular biology, parasitology, neuroscience, bioethics, space systems engineering, virtual reality, communication, marine conservation, rhinoceros preservation, and traffic engineering. Projects of the attending documentarians included films on issues in gender and ethnicity, the interrelation of humans and wild animals, wrongful convictions, nature conservation, and the controversies surrounding GMOs.

Natalie’s presentation was titled ‘The case of the mystery dialect: Applying linguistic science to criminal investigation’. The presentation was positively received, and scientists and documentary filmmakers alike left with new knowledge about linguistics and dialectology, and how the regular patterning of dialect variation can enhance our understandings and make positive real-world differences. In turn, Natalie returned home with renewed inspiration for continuing efforts to bring linguistics to general audiences in engaging and meaningful ways.

Job Interviews

Tips and tricks for smashing an academic job interview

Some wonderfully concrete ideas for thinking through the HOW of job interviews


It only seems like a few weeks ago that I was almost dejectedly wondering about whether or not I was going to get a job for the next academic year. I’ve now got one. I’m not saying this to gloat. I want to contextualise what’s happened so I can pass on what I think are useful tips. Of course, all this stuff comes with a caveat, as we’ll never *know* what really worked. But, I applied for six jobs, was shortlisted for half, and got one of them, so I must have done at least one or two things right (although I am sure I got a few of them wrong as well!). I’ll deal with interviews here, as I am confident my prep helped me succeed, but we’ll deal with applications another time, as I’d like more experience (though not right now!) before I decide to pass on my…

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