Is grad school necessary?
July 1, 2009 3:49 AM   Subscribe

I know this is my last year for my Hon. in Linguistics. I think I'm doing pretty bad. Many of my friends are going for grad schools or research programs in cognitive linguistic-issues. It feels like I'm left behind very much. Now I feel very stupid compare to my friends. Feeling very humiliated. I don't know what to think. Does going to grad school really help one's career? I don't think I can go to grad school with a terrible mark I have and I think I will have an unusually difficult roadmap for my possible career without having an MA. Are people like me doomed because we don't go to grad school? Are there any alternatives to grad schools for further education?
posted by sanskrtam to Education (8 answers total) 2 users marked this as a favorite
I hate to break it to you, but if you want to do linguistics as a career, yeah, you do need to go to graduate school of some kind. And to be honest, an MA is nice, but a Ph.D. is probably where it's at.

As to alternatives... no, not really. They don't call 'em "advanced degrees" for nothing. You want education beyond college, you go to graduate school. That's pretty much all there is to it.

Still, this may be time to re-evaluate. It doesn't sound like you're enjoying your program very much, or at least you aren't doing as well as you'd like. It's hard to give specific advice without knowing where you are and how well/badly you've actually done, but regardless, graduate school isn't for everyone. In fact, it isn't for most people. Basically, you shouldn't go to grad school unless you can't see yourself doing anything else, because we're talking about anywhere from a year or two to seven-ish years of slogging through academic drudge work. Graduate students are the modern equivalent of academic slave labor, and the system really is pretty abusive.

But that aside, you aren't going to graduate school this fall because it's way too late to start applying. Applications are usually do around December or January, with interviews in February and March and offers in April. We're way beyond that.

It's time to start looking for something else to do, even if it's only until you can get your applications together.
posted by valkyryn at 4:40 AM on July 1, 2009

One possibility for further education is to do some hands-on technical training in something. For example, you could be a speech technician -- not something I know much about, but this link indicates that the education required would be either a BA in linguistics or a speech technician program.

I guess what I'm saying is, don't think your options are limited to "linguistics professor" or "linguistics researcher". After my linguistics degree (which included a CS minor, admittedly), I got a job doing technical writing. There are lots of (non-linguistics-related) jobs out there that require a college degree in something, but for which training happens on the job.

And please don't feel stupid compared to your friends. Grades only mean so much, and you can be happy and successful without stellar college grades.
posted by cider at 5:04 AM on July 1, 2009

In the last year of college, especially in small humanities programmes where half your class is apparently destined for a doctorate before they're 26 and a professorship before 30, it feels as though that's the only option out there. It's really not. You don't mention a career path you're interested in, which suggests that you're also unclear about what to do next.

It also sounds as though you've lost your way a little in this field. You're not doing well academically, which creates a hideous self-reinforcing cycle of hating or resenting your subject which makes you less likely to score well and so on. But there must have been a point when you were interested by the subject. And it's possible that peripheral involvement in linguistics - not full-on research - is what will bring that interest back.

So I'd say, don't worry about graduate study and without actually slacking, don't worry about your grades: it's possible that without the stress and concern they'll pull up a little anyway. Instead, go away if you can, just for a day, to clear your mind. Even if it's to a park you don't usually go to, or treat yourself to a nice meal. After that, start thinking about fields where you could maintain your interest in linguistics. I don't know your specific area, but you might be interested in teaching, journalism or other forms or writing, or therapy, or any of a number of things. Your department and career counsellors may also be able to help. Find out what other graduates from this department have done, use your university's alumni network and 'interview' people who graduated in linguistics and went on to other fields.

And if at the end of it you find you still want to continue to further study - there's nothing wrong with taking a year or two off and getting real world experience that will help to counter-balance your grades.
posted by tavegyl at 5:31 AM on July 1, 2009

Get some real world experience! It's never too late to go to graduate school. I got my PhD from Cornell at 46, my sister got her MD from Duke at 45.

Have you considered teaching English to immigrants? It can be very rewarding.
posted by mareli at 6:46 AM on July 1, 2009

You may well be better off doing something else for a while. If, in a few years, you have a burning desire to go to grad school then you should apply. A lot of people who have gone to grad school straight out of undergrad have problems, and as mareli says, real world experience is a good thing.
posted by ob at 8:15 AM on July 1, 2009

You're thinking seems to be: you're getting a BA in linguistics and therefore pursuing a career as a linguist, and to be a linguist you need to go to graduate school. And since graduate school is a poor choice for you, your career is in danger.

This logic is flawed. When you are finished your degree in linguistics you will not be a(n underqualified) linguist in need of greater qualification. You will be a person with a BA. A person with a BA can pursue thousands of careers. You need to figure out which of those careers you are interested in. Nothing you say suggests that you're interested in being a linguist. Stop thinking "What can I do with a BA in linguisitcs" and start asking "What do I want to do?" There won't be many answers to that question that are closed to you. Do some vocational testing, if necessary. I did this test in high school and then forgot all about it..turns out that what I do now is a combination of the three top things it suggested for me!

And though it may seem like everyone you know is going to grad school, this just means your friends are a bunch of grad-school-going types. I assure you, most people who finish BAs in linguistics (like most people who finish BAs in any field) do not go on to grad school.

You've already posted an AskMe about what to do with a BA in linguistics. This seems like virtually the same question again: I don't want to go to grad school, so what do I do now?Can you explain a little more about what you found wanting in those answers?
posted by If only I had a penguin... at 8:30 AM on July 1, 2009

Well, I apologize for making being very confused. In fact, I don't know what I'm going to do after university. This was why I didn't specify it in the question. Who am I kidding? I'm merely confused about everything.

Sorry for being an idiot who can't express things properly.
posted by sanskrtam at 10:58 PM on July 1, 2009

You have every right and reason to be confused and in a mental fug at this stage. If you are thoroughly confused about what to do after university, that's both a cause and a result of your funk. Again, take a look at what alumni have done. If you have a professor who is your mentor in the department, talk to them about what other people have done. You're not the first, nor the last.

Thinking back, here are some careers people I knew of in linguistics ended up with:

- lawyer
- human resources in an opera house
- journalist
- high school teacher
- psychotherapist

Best of luck. It's a tough time, but you can make sure it gets better.
posted by tavegyl at 1:09 AM on July 2, 2009

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