A parachute for jumping off the Ivory Tower
March 17, 2014 10:20 AM   Subscribe

Another humanities-grad-student-meets-real-life question. Finishing a linguistics Ph.D., have a classics M.A.; my academic job search is drawing a blank, so I'm looking further afield. What are some specific skills I could acquire that would make me more employable, and how do I go about acquiring them? Complications: I'll need visa sponsorship for any kind of employment, and time is a factor.

I'm an international student from Israel in my seventh year of a linguistics Ph.D. program. I'm in the US on an F-1 visa, which expires in mid-December, so I'll be filing my dissertation by then. I want to either stay in the US afterwards or else move to Europe; I'll need employment-based visa sponsorship for either option. The academic job market is not being kind to me (twenty-odd applications so far this year, zero interviews). What can I do to make myself more employable outside academia, specifically to the kind of employer that might be willing to sponsor me for a visa?

Time frame: I can apply for OPT, which would give me another year to stay in the US after I file, if I can find employment related to my degree. So best case scenario (file in December, get a continuous OPT job for a year), I have until December 2015 to find long-term visa-sponsored employment; worst case scenario (can't get an OPT job), I have until this December.

I'm in northern California, and ideally would like to stay here, but would consider moving to another part of the US, another English-speaking country, or most anywhere in western Europe.

As a potential employee my strengths are mostly in the language field. I'm bilingual in English and Hebrew, speak fairly passable Spanish and French (not quite fluent in either), and know Latin and Greek. I write well and I have some academic copyediting experience. I've worked as a Hebrew to English translator before.

My main weak point is probably that I've never had a real job. I'm in my mid 30s and have basically been in school all my life, apart from a short stint pre-grad school as a translator working from home. Also, I don't have any computer skills beyond the basics (Word etc.).

Temperamentally I'm an introvert, and am not great at teamwork, nor at dealing with open-ended or ill-defined tasks. (Don't worry, I wouldn't say this at a job interview.) I work best when I'm given a clearly defined task that's within or at the edge of my skill set and the freedom to complete it in my own way.

Some options/fields I've been thinking about:
- Teaching high school: I could teach Latin or Hebrew at the high school level. I don't really know that I want to deal with obnoxious teenagers on a daily basis, but I'm at the point where I'll take what I can get. However, I doubt most high schools would consider doing visa sponsorship (nor do community colleges, which rules out that option); also, I don't have a teaching certification, so would be limited to private schools.
- Publishing: I don't really know what kinds of careers there are in this field or how easy or hard it would be to find sponsorship, but it seems like it might be a good fit. Any inside knowledge would be much appreciated.
- Digital humanities: I have the humanities part, but not the digital part. What are some specific IT skills I could acquire in a reasonably short time if I wanted to look for work in this field, and where/how would I get them?
- Computational linguistics: same question.

Other ideas welcomed, including farfetched ones. (I don't necessarily have to work in a language-related field; hell, if it turns out there's a massive shortage of plumbers in California such that they're first in line for greencards, I'll go to night school for plumbing.) The more specific the better: I'd ideally like answers of the type "Here is a particular certification you could get that would make you attractive to employers in field X".
posted by zeri to Work & Money (16 answers total) 9 users marked this as a favorite
The people who I know employed in digital humanities are basically doing web programming, so, that whole skill set would seem to be desirable. But there are other roles; that's just who I know.
posted by thelonius at 10:38 AM on March 17, 2014

I know nothing about this field, but it looks like Straker Translations offers services in Hebrew and they have an office in San Francisco. Why not email them and set up an informational interview? They seem like the kind of place that might value a PhD in linguistics along with your language abilities. Couldn't hurt!

Edit: And now for the life of me I can't find the link that listed a San Francisco office and their FB page says they're located in Auckland. But I swear I saw it - I'll keep looking around.
posted by pretentious illiterate at 10:46 AM on March 17, 2014

Try googling SellOutYourSoul and visiting the facebook page. He has an ebook for finding a career as a Humanities major. You may also find some free advice if you scroll through his posts. (It was easier to find in his original site, which has disappeared to 404 error land.)

If you are not opposed to another degree, solar energy is an emerging field in California, as I understand. You may want to look into degrees that will let you work as a technician (google solar energy technician). Tech work can open doors to let you in on all different aspects of the business like sales, management, even designing with the engineers.

If you want to travel, work hard, and make big money, project planning for construction is a good field to get into. Look for Primavera P6 training courses (I almost went to one in San Francisco a few years ago.) It's especially beneficial if the instructors can hook you up with employers shortly afterward (this does happen, so inquire). The tricky part of P6 and related projects software is getting a job shortly after your training so you don't lose what you learned. The certification can be a bit pricey, but totally worth it once you're in. P6 doesn't require coding knowledge; it's a good program for basic computer users. Since you are in liberal arts, you'll find it easy to ask questions and communicate with the craftspeople who will help you build your P6 schedules. If you go this route and are successful, do shoot me a memail. This is a field I've been interested in for several years.

Good luck with it all :)
posted by glass.hourousha at 11:15 AM on March 17, 2014

What kind of linguistics are you trained in? If you have a quantitative background, you could find work in many statistical fields. Add a basic sampling theory class, or even one of the summer classes from the University of Minnesota on sampling statistics, and you'd be qualified for entry level work in companies that do survey research. In this case, entry level would pay in the neighborhood of $50k.
posted by OrangeDisk at 11:31 AM on March 17, 2014 [2 favorites]

What was your dissertation? California makes me think silicon valley, which makes me think "what humanities stuff does a techie company need?"

Could you work as an accent reduction therapist?

There is a silicon foundry based in Israel that has many silicon valley clients, could you work as a translator?

Can you teach writing classes or some other artsy-but-I-have-a-PhD-so-listen-to-me classes? Google is big on artsy type stuff, makes the engineers feel less pigeonholed.
posted by St. Peepsburg at 11:34 AM on March 17, 2014

Best answer: Ms. Next kindly found the link for me. Straker is located in both Auckland and San Francisco and according to their website, they are currently looking for Hebrew translators. Their contact page is here and here is where they say they're looking for Hebrew translators.
posted by pretentious illiterate at 11:48 AM on March 17, 2014 [1 favorite]

I'll tell you what I told someone else here.

Learn Microsoft Excel. Learn it well.

Learn Salesforce.com. Luckily, they're headquartered in San Francisco, and there's a huge user community.

I'm self-taught on both, and I support myself quite nicely. Also, these are skills that will get you jobs, pretty well instantly.
posted by Ruthless Bunny at 12:12 PM on March 17, 2014

Linguistics? There are multiple three letter agencies in Washington DC that have a need for people with skills in languages that aren't English.
posted by COD at 12:18 PM on March 17, 2014 [1 favorite]

COD, note that what those three letter agencies mean by "linguist" (= translator, code breaker) is generally very different from what a linguistics degree trains for. So, a possibility for use of Hebrew skills, but then again, there may well be some hiring issues.

In any case, marketing agencies might be a possibility; Lexicon Branding is located in SoCo, and they hire linguists.
posted by damayanti at 1:28 PM on March 17, 2014 [3 favorites]

Linguistics? There are multiple three letter agencies in Washington DC that have a need for people with skills in languages that aren't English.

Less so for non-US citizens.

However, just in case you didn't list other languages you speak though, if you speak any of the following at the 2/2 level you may be able to enlist in the military(pdf) as a non-citizen holding an F-1 visa:
Albanian Amharic Arabic Azerbaijani Bengali Burmese Cebuano Cambodian-Khmer Chinese Czech French (with citizenship from an African Country) Georgian Haitian Creole Hausa Hindi Igbo Indonesian Korean Kurdish Lao Malay Malayalam Moro (Tausug/Maranao/Maguindanao) Nepalese Pashto Persian Dari Persian Farsi Portuguese Punjabi Russian Sindhi Serbo-Croatian Singhalese Somali Swahili Tagalog Tajik Tamil Thai Turkish Turkmen Urdu (with citizenship from Pakistan or Afghanistan) Uzbek Yoruba
posted by Jahaza at 1:29 PM on March 17, 2014 [1 favorite]

I was issued a visa to teach in High School but that was a long time ago. Does CA still have massive shortages? If they are doing massive hiring, you are definitely in with a chance. What about a private HS that wants a Hebrew speaking/multi-lingual teacher with a PhD- that definitely sounds like a candidate that some schools would be very interested in.
posted by bquarters at 1:55 PM on March 17, 2014

What about working for a group like JDC Entwine?
posted by whimsicalnymph at 2:16 PM on March 17, 2014

Best answer: I have a linguistics PhD and just got a job in Digital Humanities. I have also frequently been able to support myself between academic stints by web programming, statistical analysis contracts, and database building.

So if you are looking for IT skills to make yourself more employable I would suggest learning html, and once have have that under your belt, other scripting languages come easily. And then I'd suggest an actual programming language, like java, or python (those seem to be the most popular for linguistics-related work). The best way to learn is by doing, so jump right into a simple project you would like to do. Build yourself a professional webpage to stick your CV and publications on. Play around with simple markov-chain text generators. Try creating a really simple chatbot (the first one I wrote basically said, "I don't think that [x]" in response to any [x] people typed in. (Obviously it produced nonsense a lot of the time!)

I suggest those particular projects because they are the sort of thing linguists enjoy, but if you have other interests that tickle you, go with them instead.

You should be able to learn a basic competence in programming in three or four weekends.

If you like structured learning instead, try enrolling in a Coursera or similar course, but make sure it is practically oriented rather than too theoretical. At this stage, you just want some real life skillz.

Once you have even basic programming and scripting skills and have built a website or two, you can bootstrap yourself into all sorts of cool more niche IT stuff, and you can already market yourself in Digital Humanities just with enough IT skills to be able to talk sensibly with programmers. Most DH projects are team projects with computer scientists on board, so you just need to be able to liaise and to know what is possible, difficult, easy and impossible.

I assume you are checking the LinguistList for jobs. I notice the last couple of years that there are a ton of jobs advertised there by Google (and other tech companies). I expect your PhD in linguistics would be appealing to them already, but add on some basic programming, and you could start applying for those adverts.
posted by lollusc at 4:09 PM on March 17, 2014 [5 favorites]

Oh, and the "experience" in Digital Humanities I have on my CV mostly came from poorly paid research assistant work (at first data entry for database projects, proofreading of texts for interactive websites), or even offering for free to help out with interesting sounding projects other people were doing. At the time it felt like I was being exploited a little, but in recent Digital Humanities interviews being able to discuss actual projects I have contributed to was GOLD.
posted by lollusc at 4:12 PM on March 17, 2014

Response by poster: Thanks, all -- some good suggestions here. I'm definitely going to take lollusc's advice and learn some HTML and Java and/or Python. A follow-up question: it looks like there are a ton of sites online offering such courses (Coursera, Udacity, Codecademy, ALISON, MIT OpenCourseWare...), some with certificates, some not, some free, some not. Any specific recommendations as to which to choose? Do some of these have more cachet with potential employers, so that it's worth shelling out some $$ to be able to say on my resume "Certified by XX"?
posted by zeri at 7:10 PM on March 17, 2014

Best answer: zeri, when you are ready for some python and NLP (natural language processing), this site may be of some help:

posted by linear_arborescent_thought at 10:32 PM on March 17, 2014

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