Graduate school: Linguistics or Publishing?
June 1, 2005 10:22 AM   Subscribe

Grad school: Linguistics or Publishing? My sister will be graduating next year with a B.A. in English and an interest in both linguistics and publishing graduate school programs. I don't know these fields very well, so I offered to hit up the AskMe crowd for advice.

She's coming from a smaller midwestern liberal arts-type university and she's equivocating about where to go/what to do. She's been looking pretty closely at a writing/book publishing program in the Pacific northwest and a linguistics program in the southwest. The linguistics program doesn't require a BA in linguistics, and doesn't require taking the GRE.

She thinks she's more interested in linguistics right now (in addition to having a natural aptitude for it), but she doesn't know if she'd be able to fashion a career out of it as readily as publishing. And she'd really rather move northwest than southwest.

She thinks she'd really like to do both ultimately, but she just can't decide on the order in which to pursue them, which career she'd prefer, whether this is even feasible or advisable, etc.

Has anyone been in this situation or does anyone know about these fields? Should she have more preparation for linguistics? Is a graduate program that doesn't require you to take the GRE worth attending? What other programs should she be looking at? As you can tell, any sort of direction, guidance, advice or ideas would be helpful.
posted by gramschmidt to Education (15 answers total) 3 users marked this as a favorite
The linguistics grad program at my university (which is pretty damn good) doesn't require a linguistics undergrad degree but they make new grad students who don't have said degree take undergraduate courses until they're caught up on the basic material. This wastes time and mucks things up.

Unless your sister is interested in aspects of linguistics that don't have too much of a technical/theoretical emphasis (e.g. sociolinguistics, but even that requires stats and basic linguistic knowledge), I think not having a linguistics degree, or at least having taken courses in linguistics is quite a hindrance, so I'm recommending publishing. And jobs in publishing are definitely more plentiful.

That said, there are some great introductory linguistics textbooks that your sister might enjoy reading. I used (and recommend) O'Grady and Archibald. Email me if you need any more info.
posted by greatgefilte at 10:49 AM on June 1, 2005 [1 favorite]

I say it depends on the extent to which grad school = career preparation for her. I did a B.A. and master's in linguistics, and don't regret it. However, there is little to nothing you can do career-wise with it: even the job market for Ph.D.s is dismal (as far as I can tell). The (lucrative) career possibilities widen if she's interested in computational linguistics. It gives you an interesting edge over competition in (less lucrative) applied fields such as ESL teaching, proofreading, copy editing, etc., even though the fields aren't really all that much related. Me, I ended up getting a second M.A. in speech pathology, which has far better career possibilities.

I also worked in publishing for five years and have an interest in it -- but I can't speak to how a degree in writing/publishing would help her in that path. She'd probably learn more working your way up the ladder in a real publishing house.

So, if she is determined to do both, I'd say grad school in linguistics with part-time work doing whatever she can at any publishing operation that will take her.

Oh, and my linguistics grad program didn't have prerequisites as far as I can remember. Nobody else in my program had a B.A. in linguistics. So as to the "does she need more preparation": depends highly on the program, I suppose, but probably not.

Likewise, feel free to e-mail me.
posted by kmel at 11:18 AM on June 1, 2005

Speaking as someone who's been in publishing for 10 years, tell her that there's not a lot of money to be made here, and the majority of jobs aren't the glamorous ones you think of (editor for well-known writers, or editor of a major magazine), but rather tediously boring ones (like in reference publishing, or entry-level copy-editing at a technical journal). Not to mention long hours and eye strain. ;) Admittedly, I haven't had a wide variety of publishing jobs, but I don't know a single person who's happy in publishing, no matter what kind they're in.

I have no knowledge of careers specializing in linguistics, besides becoming a linguistics professor, so I'm not much help there. However, if this is what she's more interested in (and has some proficiency), she'd be much happier in the long run if she followed her passion.

Welcome to the world of interesting but useless majors! (I'm a former communications major myself.)
posted by MsVader at 11:41 AM on June 1, 2005

Thanks for the answers so far. I'm sure she'll have further questions, so thanks for the email offers.
posted by gramschmidt at 12:20 PM on June 1, 2005

As a former English major who worked as an editorial assistant at one of the big New York trade book houses, I can't see any use in a publishing graduate program whatsoever. Publishing is still very much an apprenticeship system where you start out at the bottom and work your way up. I suspect very few publishers would be willing to hire you at anything more than entry level if you only had academic and not real on-the-job experience. And if you have to take the $19K/year gofer job it's best not to compound your misery with a ton of student loan debt. Plus you'll feel less guilty if you decide after a year and a half that you're in the wrong industry. (And this is coming from someone who had very few illusions about the publishing industry going in, and had two years of experience at my university's press during school, and still decided to quit.)
posted by MsMolly at 12:28 PM on June 1, 2005

And jobs in publishing are definitely more plentiful.

Which isn't saying much, and I live & work in NYC, the epicenter of US publishing. Particularly for entry-level jobs, the competition is fierce.

...and yet...

I don't know a single person who's happy in publishing, no matter what kind they're in.

Me neither. I myself am a 10-year veteran and am digging an escape tunnel as we speak, and in my office the attrition rate for entry-level assistants and the like is pretty high. Most of them go into teaching, and we all know how prestigious and well-paid those jobs are.

In short, I'd say proceed with caution, little sister.

On preview:

I can't see any use in a publishing graduate program whatsoever.

Our director periodically harvests assistants from the NYU summer publishing course, fwiw.
posted by scratch at 12:33 PM on June 1, 2005

I got bachelor's and master's degrees in lingustics: loved the coursework, hated grad school and teaching, and bailed out before the PhD, a decision I've never regretted for an instant. Like kmel said, job prospects are terrible, and what jobs there are probably won't be in her specialty. So I'd say do some work in linguistics for its own sake if 1) she doesn't have to borrow money, and 2) she's not counting on having it turn into a career. Publishing I presume she can get into at any time if she really wants to. But hell, she's a college student, she doesn't know what she wants. Good luck to her!
posted by languagehat at 1:52 PM on June 1, 2005

I have an MA in linguistics and have spent the last year working as a technical editor and looking at careers in publishing. Neither field is easy to find a job in.

So, if she is determined to do both, I'd say grad school in linguistics with part-time work doing whatever she can at any publishing operation that will take her.

Since she wants to go to grad school, I think this is good advice. For one thing, she will learn something about academic publishing simply by being in graduate school. For another, having a real career focus might help her choose classes and maintain focus.

Specific things she might do while in grad school:
- Get involved with the department's "working papers" group or journal
- Wrangle an assistantship at the writing center
- Ask to read drafts of papers and books by professors whose work she likes. If they trust her, they may ask for editorial advice.
- Try to publish something: write a book notice for Language, for example

She should definitely apply to more than just the one linguistics program. And she should not attend a school that doesn't offer her a full assistantship. Good luck to her! Like the other posters, I offer my email if she has any questions.
posted by climalene at 3:07 PM on June 1, 2005

Also, to answer your last few questions, the lack of undergrad classes shouldn't be a problem as long as she knows what linguistics involves (sounds flip, but lots of people don't). The lack of a GRE requirement is a little weird...but if it's a good school overall and she isn't planning to go on for a Ph.D., it shouldn't be a problem. If she might want to go further, she's probably going to want a fancier program.
posted by climalene at 3:18 PM on June 1, 2005

I don't know a single person who's happy in publishing, no matter what kind they're in.

I am! I like my job in publishing! I'm a dictionary editor.
posted by Mo Nickels at 4:43 PM on June 1, 2005

Me too--Production Manager/magazines. It's not a bad industry, and the people are usually good.

I don't know anyone who's gotten a grad degree in Publishing--seems silly. You work your way up, and all the people you meet along the way help you get your next jobs and move up. She could start working somewhere and go to grad school at night here in NY.

How about broadening it out? Media? Communications? etc?
posted by amberglow at 5:17 PM on June 1, 2005

I like my job in publishing too, and it's trade book publishing. Not so crazy about the pay, but hey it's publishing. I have worked with people who have done either the certificate program or the higher education route and it may help getting a foot in the door to a editorial assistant position, but then it just means you've spent x thousands more dollars than the person in the next cube to make almost the same and slog through unsolicited manuscripts. I suggest the easiest way to fingure out about publishing is to intern at a house. If you still find yourself enthusiastic after the internship is over than maybe publishing is for you. These days I honestly think an MBA would be the most helpful higer degree to make a living in publishing. And our publisher actually has worked towards a linguistics degree before he started in publishing.
posted by rodz at 5:29 PM on June 1, 2005

Should she have more preparation for linguistics?

Not necessarily. The program I'm in (and many others) do accept people with very little background. However, in my experience these people are much less likely to stay with linguistics, simply because (like climalene says) they don't actually know what they're getting into, and find something different than what they expected. She may have to take a few undergrad courses before she can enter the grad sequence.

Is a graduate program that doesn't require you to take the GRE worth attending?

Yes. Most of the top linguistics programs just don't care about GRE scores. They are not a significant predictor of ability to do linguistics.

I personally think that linguistics would be much more rewarding than publishing, but of course, linguistics is what I do, and publishing is not. I see a few jobs open each year at academic publishers that involve working exclusively on linguistics, though I don't know that there are a lot of these positions. If it's arizona that she's interested in, it is a very good department (some alums from my dept are professors there).
posted by advil at 6:59 PM on June 1, 2005

I work in publishing, and I like it. But it truly isn't worth it to invest tens of thousands of dollars in a graduate level program - you will still only make a very modest salary.

I took a one year community college program in publishing in addition to my university degree, and that paid off - it gave me the skills I needed to get in the door. For my first job, when I just had two years of college, I was hired in preference to someone with an M.A. in comparative literature.

So if your friend wants to get into publishing, a university program is overkill - look into community college courses, or the kind of courses offered by a professional organization such as EAC (Editor's Association of Canada).
posted by orange swan at 8:29 PM on June 1, 2005

This is gold. Thanks again, everyone.
posted by gramschmidt at 10:51 AM on June 2, 2005

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