Linguistics Researcher for a Movie Website

Today’s post is by a grad student who networked her way into her side job – but not networking as you might usually think of it.

Name: Anna Marie Trester

Institution: Georgetown

Department: Linguistics

1. What was your side job?

Linguistics Researcher for the website which accompanied the film: Do You Speak American?

2. How much did you earn?

Was abt. $10/hr (and this was more than 10 years ago)

3. How did you balance your job with your graduate work?

Job started during the summer, and then continued part time (about 10 hours/week) once the school year started. This was a significant commitment on top of my fellowship responsibilities, and my advisor told me to give it up (actually, she suggested that I give the opportunity to a classmate who had recently not gotten funding), but I had always wanted to work “in film” and this was the closest I had ever gotten, and hello!?! that’s not actually how hiring works out there in the world, so no – I argued for and fought to keep the job that I had secured for myself! 🙂

4. Did your job complement your graduate work or advance your career?

The experience was a turning point for me as an advocate, and it changed the way I approached my studies and how I taught moving forward. Up until that point, although I had been feeling a real calling to “bring linguistics to work” I had absolutely no idea how to do it, nor any sense for how deeply challenging it would be!!!

Some background: this film was produced by Robert MacNeil (of PBS Newshour fame), who is passionate about language, and is an expert journalist, but is not a linguist. One of the first things that slowly started dawning on me is that the linguists who had been interviewed for the film must have been telling them (probably repeatedly) that they needed to hire a linguist because they had constructed a film using a decidedly journalistic frame, such that for every point, they had sought out a counterpoint, so something along the lines of: “while this language expert says that bilingualism is good, this one says it is bad.” For a linguist, language is neither good nor bad. We are scientists, so that means that we study how language changes and how languages influence one another. We describe these processes, we would never evaluate them positively or negatively or prescribe how change or contact should happen. (It would be sort of like asking a physicist to say whether they liked gravity or not, or whether they thought it was a good thing for children to have to experience it).

So, what had resulted in their pursuit of journalistic “neutrality” was a film that actually gave a platform to some rather bizarre folks with some pretty strange ideas about language (and to be frank, some of them quite xenophobic). With the website, they saw an opportunity to remedy some of these problems, so I focused on developing resources for them that would bring forward the incredible social and cultural benefits of bilingualism, immigration, linguistic innovation and change, technology, etc.

5. How did you get started with your job?

It’s a funny story, actually!  And one that I tell in my book Bringing Linguistics to Work because I think it exemplifies something really important about apparent randomness in networking. I had been applying for months to work on the film project through all of the official channels and by networking like crazy at conferences and every other chance I got to talk with anyone who I knew who had been involved in the film (as a consultant, interviewee, etc). But in the end, I got the gig because of a connection that I made randomly at my Graduate Student Association happy hour. Upon arriving at that event, I sat down with a group just as one man was laughingly telling the group “so today, my boss asked me if could help her find a “SOCIOLINGUIST!?!?”” (with a tone that suggested: can you even imagine!??!!)  So while I got the job through networking, it was not the networking that I had been doing focused on getting me the gig. But of course that previous networking absolutely helped me get the gig, because I showed up at the interview knowing a great deal and all fired up about what I could bring them, since I had already been thinking about it and talking about it for months!  So, yeah, I got started because I network, and I now also approach networking differently.

6. Is there anything else you would like to share about your experience?

Even though I had worked for several years before graduate school, this professional experience was very different from previous ones because not only were my tasks, duties, and responsibilities not at all clearly defined, I had to be the one to decide what needed to be done, often having argue for and defend these decisions and ideas while simultaneously navigating a complex web of office politics. It was the hardest job that I had had up until that point, but it took everything up a notch for me professionally, and I think this experience was instrumental in setting me on my current entrepreneurial path, so I am tremendously grateful for it!!

Anna Marie Trester is the founder of Career Linguist, a blog and resource center for linguists interested in exploring careers beyond academia. She helps linguists figure out how to bring their unique skills and training to the world of work (beginning with the task of applying for jobs), and the world of work understand why they need linguists!

Want more ideas on how to generate a side income? Check out our seven-part video series!

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