Do linguistics grad students have time to breathe?
February 23, 2011 5:35 PM   Subscribe

Lifestyle of a Linguistics Graduate Student? I am starting a Ph.D. Program next fall, and I want to have an idea of how much time I will be spending on campus, working, studying, etc. Will I have time to sleep? Will I be burnt out and hating myself after one semester? What about money?

So, I am probably going to be at certain university on Long Island or a certain university in New Jersey for my linguistics Ph.D(Both second tier, similarly ranked). My undergraduate major was not linguistics, but two languages. I did a post-bac year in Brain and Cognitive Science and Linguistics.

I am aware of a funding difference between the two schools, it appears that New Jersey School's base stipends are a good $4000 dollars better than Long Island School, and have similar costs of living. Long Island school has faculty that are connected with my recommenders and I would have the opportunity to work with Favorite Undergraduate Professor/Fairy GodMother in a academic setting(which excites me very much) so I want to go to Long Island School over New Jersey school but I also want to eat and not die on the street. I'm hoping that maybe the actual $$$ difference won't be so bad, but I don't have any information about my funding package yet(or really, official acceptances yet.).

If anyone knows anything about these two places and the stipends and if I am going to starve(hopefully I've given enough identifying information without totally outing myself), it would be appreciated.

But my main question is, how much time am I going to be spending at school, especially after my coursework is finished. My only experience with graduate level work load is through my boyfriend and his roommate, who are Chemistry Ph.D students. He's basically always at lab, although he goes through cycles of being burnt out and not going to lab, sometimes for two days at a time. His roommate is a first year, and she is basically out of the apartment from dawn till midnight. They have group meetings, and making-molecule meetings, and meeting with professors, and research and papers and problemsets and all sorts of things. It seems really jam packed. But he only had one year of classes, where it looks like I will be having three, if I take a full load every semester. (And the thing is, I don't mind if it's insane, I just want to know beforehand).

But Linguistics is not Chemistry. What are you expected to do? What is your everyday life like since you don't have a lab to go everyday? I know that sounds like something I should know going into it, but I don't really know who to ask. If it helps, I am going to specialize in the phonology/morphosyntax/semantics end, not so much the pragmatics, psycholinguistics, computational linguistics end. Am I going to be able to sleep and maybe have a hobby I occasionally pursue, or will I be like my boyfriend's roommate, basically running on empty constantly(I do not know how she does it)?
posted by lettuchi to Education (15 answers total) 3 users marked this as a favorite
My only experience with graduate level work load is through my boyfriend and his roommate, who are Chemistry Ph.D students.

I actually almost started laughing here. Chemists are a uniquely workaholic bunch, even for scientists. Here, for example, is a letter an organic chemist wrote to his postdoc. There is no way that a linguistics professor is ever going to send you a letter like that. You'll be fine.
posted by en forme de poire at 5:51 PM on February 23, 2011 [2 favorites]

create your committee on paper from fhe current faculty.

Are you happy with that arrangement?

Go to both schools and ask grad students what pace is like. It really varies by program.
posted by k8t at 6:02 PM on February 23, 2011

Best answer: Why hello, linguistics grad student here! Congrats on getting accepted to grad school!

I came into my Ph.D. program pretty well prepared in that I already knew a lot of the first-year material. If you only had a BA in languages under your belt I'd be a little worried for you, but with that post-bac year in there I bet you'll have a similar experience. So here's what I predict about your lifestyle next year:

You will have a lot of time on your hands. A full courseload will present you with enough work to keep you busy for pretty much the rest of your life, but in reality you'll be able to scrape by just fine by doing a tiny fraction of it. And you will come in all bright-eyed and bushy-tailed in September, and then you will have day after day and week after week where you don't need to be on campus for any particular reason because you only have class maybe three days a week, or only for an hour in the afternoon sometimes. And you will become less bright-eyed and less bushy-tailed, and getting out of your pajamas will start to seem entirely unnecessary most days. No one will notice if you don't show up around the department, your work will all be reading and problem sets that you could do from pretty much anywhere in the world including your bed, and it will get colder and people will get less social and quite honestly, it will kind of start to suck. I got very lonely and very bored during my first year of grad school, and I felt frustrated because I thought it was supposed to be a challenging and engaging experience and instead I was napping more than ever before in my life.

The lack of structure is something that you will struggle with throughout your entire Ph.D. in linguistics. Everyone I know has a hard time with it. As you seem to suspect, it's not at all like those science students who are kept running around from dawn till midnight. I used to crave that kind of demanding schedule. This year being a TA is providing some of that structure (undergrads are good at being demanding!) and it's making a big difference. I'm still in my coursework though, and believe me, I dread the day I no longer even have classes to bring me to campus and force me to interact with other linguists. But for what it's worth the first year is the worst by all accounts and right now I'm very happy with my lifestyle and feel good about having decided to come to grad school!

One thing the lack of structure means is that if you're allowed to work by the terms of your funding (some fellowships prohibit it), you might want to consider taking on a few hours of work a week to ease your money worries and introduce some structure into your life. Another thing it means is that if you want to pursue a hobby, you not only will be able to but really should. It will do wonders for your mental health when some days you have no other reason to leave your apartment.

I'm also going to MeMail you. I have a comment about one of the programs :)
posted by ootandaboot at 6:13 PM on February 23, 2011 [5 favorites]

Best answer: ootandaboot is quite right.

You can fill up all or none of your time. All will drive you insane. None will fail you out. You need to find your own happy medium.

I have found that linguists have one of two hobbies: music or baking. Find a hobby. Figure out a way to meet people in OTHER departments. If you can work, you should work. Learn computer and programming skills.

I usually went to campus 3 or 4 days a week.

When you look into rankings, look into dropout rates and where students get jobs especially.\

I have specific info on one of those two campuses and will memail you.
posted by jeather at 7:39 PM on February 23, 2011 [1 favorite]

Best answer: I have a cousin who did her Linguistics PhD; lots of the same issues ootandaboot mentioned - her program didn't have a whole lot of structure. However, she had to do a lot of interview-type work and travelling was an issue.

We had compared notes regarding out respective workloads in PhD programs, hers was very very very lax and... she should have spent much more of her time networking. In the few years after her graduation, most have been spent unemployed and the rest have been in underpaid short-term contracts doing boring stuff. Still, lots of "down time." A lot of that time could be used productively - ie., networking and reading/writing.

Knowing what you want to do with a Linguistics PhD should be something that you should know and help answer your questions. Look towards what job you want, and what you'll need to do to get into that career.

en forme de poire - another, but from a Neuroscientist from Berkley in 2002. I get a feeling, though, that these kinds of things level off once the PI gets tenure and mellows out a little bit a little bit over time.
posted by porpoise at 7:44 PM on February 23, 2011

Response by poster: Thanks, everyone.
posted by lettuchi at 6:56 AM on February 24, 2011

Best answer: So just to give you a sense of how this plays out in practice:

In the research group I belong to (formal semantics, not at a school you're considering) there's one meeting a week that everyone is required to attend. Subsets of us will meet up as needed if we've got some collaborative thing going on. We recently started up a voluntary second weekly meetup for discussing student-led projects. (Note: I highly recommend doing this! Forcing yourself to frame your work as "presenting cool shit to my peers" rather than "justifying my existence to my advisor" is a really good thing.) Even still, I'd estimate that I spend maybe five or six hours a week in the physical presence of my "labmates."

And we're one of the more cohesive groups in this particular department. The documentary linguistics students, I think the only time they all show up in the same place at the same time is if someone throws a party.

When I was doing coursework, that meant another 12-ish hours a week of mandatory physical presence. Colloquia and other talks (Go to these! Even if the other first-year students don't! Being That Guy Who Shows Up For Talks is a good thing.) are 2-ish hours a week. The semester I was a TA in a discussion-section-heavy class, I spent four hours a week leading discussions and another two or three holding office hours. So, okay, that was 26 or 28 hours a week of needing to be present, awake and fully clothed in a particular room at a particular time — and that was during the single heaviest semester of my grad school career.

Long story short, ootandaboot is right. Unless you are highly disciplined or a total insomniac, you will take lots of naps.
posted by nebulawindphone at 7:15 AM on February 24, 2011 [1 favorite]

Response by poster: Awesome, that helps quite a bit. Thank you.
posted by lettuchi at 7:49 AM on February 24, 2011

Best answer: My experience may be irrelevant, being over thirty years out of date and not at either of these schools, but for what it's worth: when I was a linguistics PhD student, it took up basically all my time and everyone I knew was constantly frazzled. Mind you, this was historical linguistics, so we actually had to learn languages; I don't know what is involved in your program, but it may not be as intense.
posted by languagehat at 9:06 AM on February 24, 2011

Response by poster: What about summers? Are you expected to be on campus?
posted by lettuchi at 11:39 AM on February 24, 2011

Best answer: What about summers? Are you expected to be on campus?

No. Everyone disappears for the entire summer. I stuck around last summer and it was like the concentrated version of the most undemanding parts of the semester, only it was too hot in my apartment to enjoy napping. All I had to do to get summer funding was fill in a single page form stating in several sentences what research I was planning to do, and no one ever asked me whether I was doing it or had done it. I really wish I had used those four months better. Four months! I did nothing!!

Learn from my mistake, as I hope to do this year: come up with something real for yourself to do over the summer. Get an internship, travel to do research, whatever. Do not delude yourself into thinking you're going to use that time to get a gazillion tons of reading done because you aren't.
posted by ootandaboot at 4:21 PM on February 24, 2011

Best answer: (to confirm jeather's point about linguist-hobbies: it's midnight and I just pulled a chocolate cake out of the oven)
posted by ootandaboot at 9:06 PM on February 24, 2011 [1 favorite]

Best answer: It depends on the program. The places that I and my friends went to, after the first summer, you were certainly expected to get research done in the summers, though not necessarily on campus.

Finding out about summer funding from the schools would be a good idea.
posted by jeather at 6:21 AM on February 25, 2011

My experience may be irrelevant, being over thirty years out of date and not at either of these schools, but for what it's worth: when I was a linguistics PhD student, it took up basically all my time and everyone I knew was constantly frazzled.

I think this is still true. It's just not the same OH GOD I GOTTA PUT IN SEVENTEEN HOURS IN THE LAB TODAY OR THEY'LL FIRE MY ASS kind of frazzled as the chemists get.
posted by nebulawindphone at 2:09 PM on February 26, 2011 [1 favorite]

Response by poster: Is there a pretty big difference in work-load between Historical Linguistics and theoretical stuff, generally as language hat mentioned? I like Historical a lot and would love to do some work with PIE at some point too. :) Mmm, PIE.
posted by lettuchi at 10:48 AM on February 27, 2011

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