Schools for Psycholinguistics/Aphasiology
July 24, 2007 10:49 AM   Subscribe

I want to attempt a doctorate or masters in psycholinguistics (specifically aphasiology, or, failing that, a pragmatic concentration).

What schools (preferably on the east coast of the United States of America) have decent psycholinguistic programs that are not too difficult to get into?

Personal background:

I graduated with a B.S. in English Writing from Northern Michigan University, minor in psychology, in Jan 2003. I took the only linguistics course offered while I was at that college; after I left they added a whole program. The psychology courses I took were physiological psychology, behavioral psychology, abnormal psychology and the labs for each. I studied creative nonfiction writing and poetry. I also studied voice and diction and the International Phonetic Alphabet.

I am monolingual, but I hope this is not a stumbling block for this particular concentration.

In college I worked in public radio and television as an announcer and was Opinion Editor and columnist for the newspaper.

After graduating I worked at a number of county weeklies as a reporter and features writer for two years. I then moved to D.C. and did temporary work before my current job doing database maintenance and clerical duties.

My wife is a teacher and would be able to help support me if I went back to school, but I would still want to try for a TA or similar position to help pay my own way. I am confident I could teach a basic writing course or a introduction course in classic poetry; if not I wouldn't be above getting crap hours at the campus cafeteria.

I read books in and related to the psycholinguistics field, and am very interested in and motivated by these topics.

If you don't know of any specific schools, any books, journals or publications you could suggest would be appreciated.
posted by JeremiahBritt to Education (7 answers total) 3 users marked this as a favorite
I'm a graduate student in psycholinguistics, so I feel I may have some good advice for you. However, there is one important piece of information missing from your post:

What do you hope to do with a Master's or PhD in this field? Your end goal will have a huge effect on the kinds of programs that may be appropriate for you. Some possibilities:

1. You want to help people with aphasias or other neurological language disorders. You might be a therapist, speech-language pathologist, or other medical specialist.

2. You want to do research. You want to devote your life to the study of the cognitive and neural bases of language. You might be a professor or research scientist. This is my chosen path and involves a lot of capital-S Science.

3. You think this stuff is cool but do not want to make a career of it.

Please correct me if I am wrong but I'm going to assume option 2 for the moment. If you really want to pursue research as a career, joining a "decent" program that's "not too difficult to get into" is not a very good idea. The job market for academics is tough.

A better idea would be to build up a stronger background in the field and then get into a great program. The first step might be taking some additional college coursework in cognitive psychology, neuroscience, and linguistics. A more important step is getting some research experience! This will also help you determine if research is really what you want to do with your life.

I would advise spending a year or two as a paid (if possible) or volunteer (if necessary) research assistant in a lab in your area of interest. Generally this involves directly contacting the person or people running the lab and asking for a job. If you're still in DC, you may be quite lucky as there are a boatload of universities and research centers near you that you could look into.

In my experience, at least, who you are working with is way more important than where. You could start just by checking out the Psychology departments of schools near you. What are the faculty doing research in? Anything resonate with you particularly?

It's hard to make specific suggestions without knowing more about your interests and goals. It's entirely possible that you aren't exactly clear what your interests and goals are either. That's ok! It just means that you might want to ease yourself into the field before starting a graduate program.

I'd be happy to make more specific suggestions to guide your search if you have more specific questions. Email's in profile.
posted by miagaille at 12:25 PM on July 24, 2007

Response by poster: My goal would most likely be research/academic. The main reason I said "not to hard to get into" is because I was not sure how marketable I am/will be.

My personal history is plagued by half-finished projects, due more to getting distracted by another project than laziness.

(The top page of my notepad at work is currently covered with a doodle of a man turning into a croissant, a typography cat, an attempt at a mathematical progression of time perception as one ages, and a diagram of a possible electromagnetic array for manipulating ferrofluids to create real-time music visualizations.)

Language, however, has been something that I have never grown tired of. Every aspect of it fascinates me, from its evolution and psychological development to its philosophical implications. It would probably be best for me to do the "ease into it" route, but I also don't have the means to entirely give up work for curiosity, and I rather need, emotionally, to find an area of employment that I enjoy.
posted by JeremiahBritt at 1:19 PM on July 24, 2007

Best answer: Thanks for the update! Given what you've said, I definitely stand by my suggestion that you try to get some research experience in the field before applying to graduate school. The work that you do in graduate school will determine your ability to forge a career, so getting into a good program is important.

Not having a strong undergraduate background in psychology or linguistics won't really hurt your chances, but not having lab experience will. Admissions committees are mostly looking for evidence that you are dedicated to and competent in the conduct of experimental research.

Jobs for full-time lab technicians and research assistants are, luckily, pretty abundant, especially if your interests are broad. Most have looser requirements than grad school admissions, because they expect to have to teach and train you certain things. The pay is usually comparable to a grad student stipend - low but livable. Here is a job ad for the kind of thing I have in mind.

The trouble, of course, is that they're often hard to find. Really the best way is to directly contact the researchers/professors running the lab. Often if there is a lab webpage it will have information about applying for research jobs. (Example) You could also contact your old university and see if anyone there has colleagues looking for assistants, or is otherwise in the know.

The method is basically as follows:

- make a list of all the research universities that you would be willing to work at, based on location, prestige, whatever

- identify, at each school, the relevant department; this is probably psychology but may be linguistics, cognitive science, cognitive neuroscience, or some kind of hybrid program with a fancy name

- look up interesting faculty; see if it says anything about research jobs; email an inquiry or statement of interest

My husband (also a grad in a related field) and I both got 2-year stints as RAs this way, then went on to grad school. This is really the ideal thing to do if your background is lacking. (In my case I had a degree in linguistics but no psych/cognitive experience at all; my husband had been out of school for 5 years working for The Man and needed to get his foot in the academic door again.)
posted by miagaille at 2:37 PM on July 24, 2007

Best answer: First: yay Marquette! One of my favorite places in the world. I'm not sure if it's one of yours, but where do you want to live once (if?) you "settle down"? I would love love love to live in Marquette, but due to the choices I've made academically would not have an easy time finding a satisfying job there (or even in Michigan, for that matter - but I'm not ready to face up to that possibility yet!). Keep this in mind when you're thinking about what to do (academia, research, and/or applied work). The choices you make will structure your life in many ways; the more you can think things through prior to committing, the better.

Also, given your self-admitted tendency to drop old projects for newer, shinier ones (not a criticism...I tend to do this sometimes too), please make sure you think through this decision in every way that you can. Then, think it through again. Talk to family/friends, listen to their input, and then think things through once more.

A master's degree is one thing, but working on a PhD is something that you shouldn't start on a whim. Most people (in my program, anyway) dropped out after investing 2-3 years and a lot of money, and I'm not sure what they have to show for it other than a master's degree in a liberal arts field (not very helpful in terms of careers, though your field may be different in this sense).

Also, there are lifestyle considerations. Apart from the money issue, it can be frustrating to be in school while those around you are buying homes, raising families, and living life without feeling guilty that they're not hold up reading academic articles. I sometimes feel like everyone I know is moving forward with their lives, but here I am, still living the student lifestyle 10 years later. I imagine that having a supportive partner (with a real job!) would be a huge help.

I began my PhD program when I was young and idealistic, and my advice to anyone considering this path is to

(1) question why you want to do this,
(2) look at the realities of:
(a) the percentage of people who actually finish and
(b) the state of the (academic) job market for those who
(3) think about how you will deal with things when you end
up changing your research topic partway through (e.g.,
will the program you selected be one in which you can
pursue your revamped research topic?), and
(4) ask yourself if you are honestly willing to put 5-10 years into "training" for a position that (if you get one) may not be particularly well-paid, well-respected, or as wonderful as you thought it would.

Apologies for the negativity, but the PhD is a long road, and things change along the way. The more you have thought through the choice through beforehand, the better off you'll be.
posted by splendid animal at 3:08 PM on July 24, 2007

*That would be "holed up"...strangely, I've noticed an inverse relationship between the amount of academic reading I do and my ability to spell. Beware, lest you encounter the same fate.
posted by splendid animal at 3:12 PM on July 24, 2007

I need to point out that at most universities you CANNOT be a TA outside of your department. If you're a linguistics grad student, then you'll be a linguistics TA. You can't TA in the English dept regardless of your undergrad or post-grad experience.
posted by ethnomethodologist at 10:22 PM on July 24, 2007

ethnomethodologist - that is not the case at my university. Students in my department have TAed in a range of departments. I think this is due in part to the fact that many of the departments don't have enough TAs/lecturers/faculty to teach the classes required for undergrads.

JeremiahBritt - this is something I'd ask each department you're considering.
posted by splendid animal at 11:02 PM on July 24, 2007

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