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Is it wise to pursue a doctorate in linguistics with student debt?

asked 2015-05-03 19:25:27 -0400

Alesha127 gravatar image

I have just completed my BA in Romance Languages and currently have about $35,000 of debt to pay off. I am proficient in Spanish and working towards proficiency in French, and have a passion for all language structures. There is no doubt in my mind that I wish to pursue a doctorate and eventually a career in academia, and I would prefer a stronger focus on research than teaching. Specifically, I would like to study sociolinguistics with a concentration either in Romance linguistics or gender studies. I am aware that it takes time and a lot of hard work to establish a stable career in academia, and I look forward to the lifelong challenge. I understand that even after obtaining a doctorate, it often takes many more years to find job stability, especially if you have a specific goal in mind and do not wish to settle. I worry about being able to support myself and pay back my debt as I work towards that end goal.

  • What entry-level jobs are available for linguistics doctorates, and how much do they usually pay?
  • Will I be qualified to translate/interpret as well with a doctorate in linguistics?
  • What kind of graduate program do you recommend that I look for? A program in Romance languages with an emphasis on sociolinguistics or the other way around? Are there specific programs that you can recommend?

Thank you!

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BTW, there's also this article. TLDR version: don't go to grad school. Linguistics isn't in the humanities (more like a humanistic social sciences) but romance languages are, and both are pretty much in the same situation job-wise.

ShiroKuro gravatar imageShiroKuro ( 2015-05-04 16:16:51 -0400 )edit

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answered 2015-05-03 20:26:03 -0400

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Wisdom (or pragmatism, for that matter) has nothing to do with it. Passion on the other hand...

But at the same time, I can imagine that you can't find peace if you are constantly worrying about money. Don't worry, there are options:

1) PhD scholarships : the majority of students who get into graduate programs get a scholarship for the duration of their studies. It's either automatic or you have to make a separate application. It's competitive, but in any case, you'll definitely be eligible.

2) Doing your PhD in France : your near fluency in French is a really good asset in your case. Why? Because graduate education in France is free (ok you pay a little something when you apply, like 400$, but that's nothing!). And as an international student, you are also eligible for a PhD scholarship there (no discrimination). I'm French and doing my PhD in sociolinguistics without a scholarship : no big deal! I don't have student debt, I work 10 hours per week to pay my rent, and that's it! That would be something I would consider if I were you. Je peux t'en dire plus si tu veux! ;)

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answered 2015-05-14 05:14:30 -0400

My suggestions are:

      a) Settle in India for your professional goals for five years and teach Spanish or French to sustain your earning
      b) India is a country of more than 1000 languages with 20 popular languages. So, you can learn variety of language structure, and learn the process of analysis.
     c) Get admission in PhD Linguistics from EFLU, Hyderabad, India and turn your professional and personal dream into reality.

If you want further details, you can contact me on [email protected] or leave message on FB account - COMMUWAY TRAINENT.

Hope, these suggestions might help you theoretically, but the end result is how you execute them in the real classroom environment.

Awaiting your response,

With regards


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answered 2015-05-03 22:07:09 -0400

I can't speak to work outside of academia, so what I have to say is only relevant for future work in academia. Also, are you in the US? Assume that my advice only counts for a US context.

First, let me say that jobs in academia are very hard to come by these days. Positions for tenure-track professors (which would allow you to do research in addition to teaching) are few and tend to have a huge pool of very qualified applicants. Non-teaching research-only positions are not common in general linguistics (though maybe in neuro-linguistics, cognitive linguistics and those kinds of fields). Lecturer positions (where the sole duty is generally to teach foreign language classes) are available but don't pay as well, and again have a big number of applicants. So this means you need to think very carefully about how competitive you would be, not just for entrance to graduate school but also once you go on the job market after grad school.

Second, you say you are proficient in Spanish, well, so are a lot of people. You need to make yourself stand out somehow. Just how proficient are you in Spanish? How proficient are you in French? Am I correct in assuming that English is your first language? And you have just finished college, so you've never lived abroad (not counting a study abroad semester or year), is that right? These would not make you a good candidate for a teaching assistant position at a university (which is one way to fund a graduate education).

My advice to you would be to live abroad for a few years (perhaps you could teach English) in either a Spanish or French speaking country and improve your language skills while you learn more about the culture first hand. Besides giving you a chance to learn a lot about the language and the culture firsthand, it would also give you some time to pay off some of your student loans. And, by really polishing your language skills, you would have a better chance of funding your graduate studies as a language TA. Getting funding though is only the first step, you really need to be thinking about how best to make yourself hire-able after completing the graduate degree. And for that as well, having a significant time living and working abroad will be a big advantage.

I also suggest you look at university programs in linguistics, applied linguistics, foreign and/or world language education, second language acquisition, and maybe translation studies. Try to see what kinds of coursework students do in those programs, what kinds of MA and PhD theses students are doing, and what kinds of funding the institutions offer its students. Be wary of scholarships and fellowships that are only one year long also!

A career in academia is not impossible, but there are a lot of variables and you need to really stand out to get a tenure-track position, so think very carefully about how ... (more)

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Asked: 2015-05-03 19:25:27 -0400

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Last updated: May 14 '15