Caveat emptor

Mike Klein kdogg36 at GMAIL.COM
Tue Sep 17 18:08:51 UTC 2013

I'm definitely one of those who are pursuing a linguistics Ph.D. for its
own sake. Having worked in a different field for many years, but always
taking copies of linguistics journals to the beach as summer reading, I'm
glad to have the opportunity to participate in linguistic research. If I
end up going back to something like my old job, I will have enjoyed the
years I spent getting my Ph.D. and be proud of the achievement.

I know there are folks who are counting on getting great jobs (academic or
otherwise) after graduation, but from my own experience I suspect there are
quite a few Ph.D. students like me who view the degree as a worthy goal in

On Tue, Sep 17, 2013 at 10:14 AM, Donald Stilo <stilo at> wrote:

> Dear Dan,
> It seems to me that the trend in the 21st century education is that
> students now go for university degrees in those fields leading to
> “show-me-the-money” careers, even though the individual’s passion may be in
> the humanities or certain social sciences that produce close-to-nil chances
> of employment. How many MBA’s, LLD’s, DDS’s are we going to produce before
> the house of cards collapses the way the banks did five years ago? A
> certain trend in the 90’s (and maybe now too) was that MBA’s went into the
> work force in business positions, were soon disillusioned, and went back to
> get degrees in education to become teachers. I know countless Iranians
> whose passion may have been for, say, anthropology but whose families
> forbade that and forced them into engineering or medicine (the *only* two
> choices) and produced successful ($) but unfulfilled sons and daughters.
> Or take the American friend of mine who went into Information Technology
> but lamented that he would like to have done English literature instead and
> now in his 50’s feels it would be too hard to start all over again. If he
> had studied English lit, he may have ended up in the same job in IT anyway
> but may have been more fulfilled “on the side”.  (Don’t many linguistics
> students go into IT?)
> I am not trying to say we should play ostrich and stick our heads in the
> sand. So what if someone studies linguistics out of pure drive
> and innate love for language(s) but doesn’t find a job in the given field?
> That doesn’t mean they won’t find other fulfilling ways to exercise that
> passion and, say, work on documenting some endangered language on their own
> time and perhaps with some money from their more lucrative profession. We
> have an obligation to young people in two directions: A) warn them that
> there are very few real jobs in linguistics (and the like) and B) encourage
> them to pursue their true interests with the knowledge that they may not be
> able to make a living in that field and will have to look for a salary
> elsewhere and stick with your interests as an avocation.  (In rereading
> this I just saw Sebastian’s e-mail.) I’ve given that advice to various
> students who then followed their hearts in their studies, worked in other
> fields less interesting to them, while continuing their passion as an
> avocation and they came to me years later (even 30 years later!) and
> thanked me.
> Opportunities sometimes come from strange directions, often seemingly out
> of nowhere.  Paul Frommer (PhD in linguistics from USC with Bernard) was
> teaching writing and communication skills to business students and
> eventually created the Na’vi language for the movie *Avatar* and is now
> all over the web ('vi_language).
> I myself left academia for 12 years out of disillusionment and pursued
> being a chef, a bartender, a word processor temp in lawyers’ firms and
> Lehman Brothers on Wall Street, ESL teacher, etc. but never gave up my
> passion for endangered Iranian languages.  I doggedly stuck with that
> pursuit (and reading typology books) *on the side* and after a wild and
> complex course of twists and turns of fate ended up at EVA in Leipzig for
> 11 years which allowed me to publish more than I ever had before and do
> field work in Azerbaijan, Armenia, Israel, Los Angeles and New York (with
> the last speakers of an Iranian Jewish language), and Germany (often with
> speakers of languages I had only read about in books and never dreamt I
> would actually meet, but Cologne's got 'em...).
> Yes, we have an obligation to make prospective students aware of the
> problems in our fields but we are also charged with encouraging the human
> spirit, not dampening it.****
> **My best to all,**
> Don
> On Sep 17, 2013, at 1:03 PM, Everett, Daniel wrote:
> Sebastian,
> I think that the joy of doing the PhD fades for people when they see what
> they have received in exchange for it.
> On the one hand, there  is this positive article that agrees with you:
> But it sidesteps the main issues. And it in effect admits that we have
> always admitted too many.
> A more realistic piece:
> And yet another popular-level blog:
> The main observation for me, however, is the adjunct professor situation.
> And that is what happens to too large a number of bright young PhDs in the
> humanities.
> -- Dan
> On Sep 17, 2013, at 5:59 AM, Sebastian Nordhoff wrote:
> On Mon, 16 Sep 2013 18:59:24 +0200, Everett, Daniel <DEVERETT at>
> wrote:
> I am posting this because linguistics is one of the disciplines I think
> needs to consider this seriously. There are too many academics in the
> liberal arts with no chance of full-time, secure employment in the area in
> which they have done their PhD.
> I might note that there are job possibilities outside of "the area where
> they have done their PhD". Getting a PhD in Typology does not necessarily
> mean that the only career opportunities are within the, indeed restricted,
> field of academic linguistics.
> Best wishes
> Sebastian
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