Where should I apply to go for my Ph.D.?
July 18, 2006 5:11 AM   Subscribe

Okay, so I'm hoping to apply this winter for Ph.D. programs in computational linguistics. (Thanks for the encouraging advice, guys!) The question is, where?

I'd like to study someplace with a strong linguistics program and a strong CS program, and I'd prefer someplace without an ideological attachment to a particular theory (e.g. MIT's devotion to Chomsky).

For the sake of argument, let's assume I'm willing and able to relocate anywhere in the world. I'd especially love to hear about English- or Spanish-speaking programs outside the US, since I don't know much about them. But I'd also like to hear about programs in the US — I'm sure there are some good ones I'm overlooking.
posted by nebulawindphone to Education (10 answers total) 2 users marked this as a favorite
(Hmm... Just to clarify, I'd find a department full of dogmatic anti-Chomsky fanatics — or, hell, any other kind of fanatics — just as annoying as a department full of dogmatic pro-Chomsky ones. I'm trying to find a place that values free inquiry and open-mindedness, not one that avoids teaching a particular theory.)
posted by nebulawindphone at 5:22 AM on July 18, 2006

You could have a look at the department of informatics at Sussex University. It's at/near Brighton on the south coast of the UK, so a decent place to be a student too.
posted by biffa at 5:39 AM on July 18, 2006

Lancaster is fairly strong in corpus linguistics in the UK. As a place to live as a student, I think it's probably rather nice - I have only visited, but my friends who did their postgrad there (in other subjects) had a good time.

It's probably worth mentioning that on a UK PhD you aren't required to do any taught courses. So the idea of a "Program" doesn't really make sense. It's all just research and thesis. This may or may not be a bonus for you.
posted by handee at 5:53 AM on July 18, 2006

The best advice that I ever received about applying to a Ph.D. program (currently 4th year in Anthropological Archaeology) was this: You're applying not to a department, but to a professor. Over the course of your time there, a few years will be spent on classes, but the bulk of your work and time will be spent with one person who will shape your academic mind and influence your work and ability to get a job more than any other person or idea.

Thus, it is a very very good idea (that worked for me, and has worked well for many other people I know) to, rather than choosing departments and applying, first make contacts with the professors with whom you would like to work, as well as do background research on those professors. Ask other linguists about their reputation. Talk to their grad students (the profs should be glad to refer you to a student or students to talk to), and talk to other students in the department. If the professor has a reputation of being a complete dick to his students, well, it doesn't matter how good the department is, because you'll be miserable. Sometimes personalities just clash, so meeting your potential future advisor is crucial. And, moreover, when the grad chair passes on applications of students that would want to work with Future Advisor, the Future Advisor will have a face and personal connection to go with your name, as opposed to the other faceless kids that just sent in their apps and crossed their fingers. What departments want to hear is how you will mesh with the department, so talk in your statement of purpose about how you will work with Future Advisor and do this, that, and the other research on X, Y, and Z topics. And hopefully, you'll be accepted.

As far as departmental bias goes, a lot of departments are indeed skewed like that, but so it goes. If there's a prof you want to work with at MIT, don't discount it out of hand. You'll be working with one person anyway, so the departmental bias is far less important than individual bias, and every single person's theoretical basis is biased in some way. It will be nice to have some other profs around teaching different vantage points, but you'll come out far closer to your advisor's school of thought anyway. Buy a theory reader and be happy =)

One last thing: the word on the street is that UK degrees are far less valuable if you want to get a job in the US academic system. Skimming your previous thread, maybe you don't want to do that, but just FYI. I would check with companies that hire computational linguists and make sure that you would not be handicapped by going to the UK.
posted by The Michael The at 6:08 AM on July 18, 2006 [3 favorites]

The Michael is right -- you're not looking for a department, you're looking for a professor.

Is there anyone that you enjoy reading? Start a correspondence with him or her.

And I'd advise against getting a PhD in the UK. There is almost no funding for PhDs, whereas there is tons of funding in the US.

I am doing my PhD the cheapskate way - I got my MA in the UK and am starting my PhD in the US. (I am a US citizen.)
posted by k8t at 6:38 AM on July 18, 2006

Oh, and if you do get an MA in the UK, make sure that your PhD program in the States will allow it to count. Some universities won't count foreign MAs toward a PhD.
posted by k8t at 6:41 AM on July 18, 2006

I have to say that I think you are applying to a university, a department, and a professor (the last also the most forgotten). Pick a school with a good reputation for what you want to do and one that holds the department in high regard. Make sure the department spends money, time, and consideration on its Ph.D. students. Then, make sure there are a few professors there that you could see yourself in a mentoring relationship with. Remember though, that professors retire, move on to other interests, move on to better jobs, etc.

I think the best thing you can do that you probably aren't already doing to find a program is to find an upcoming conference in the field this summer/fall and go there. That was a real watershed moment for me in my own Ph.D. search.
posted by mrmojoflying at 7:00 AM on July 18, 2006

I've worked with some of the people at the Sussex University department of informatics on the development of a natural language processing-based software tool, and my experiences have all been very good. Good people, and seems like a good place.
posted by bifter at 7:02 AM on July 18, 2006

Just a side note to point out that there's at least one pretty well known professor of computational linguisticy type stuff who's a mefite. That's probably not very helpful, is it?
posted by flashboy at 9:57 AM on July 18, 2006

I just took a course in Psycholinguistics here at Cornell, which was computationally based. Not sure how it is in the actual linguistics department, but we've got a huge CS department, too. If you'd like, I can pass on your query to my professor; though he's on sabbatical now so I don't know how long it would take to get a reply. I do know he collaborates with a professor of psycholinguistics at the University of Warwick in the UK, so he's definitely got international connections.
posted by Eideteker at 11:51 AM on July 18, 2006

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