Sociolinguistics Pre-Grad Intern Kim Hoffman

Kim HoffmanMy interest in the Pre-Graduate internship began in the spring semester of last year. My Plan II major requires me to complete an honors thesis, and as I approached the end of my junior year, the first deadlines for this project loomed large. I was suddenly all too aware of how little time I had left at UT. This realization prompted me to consider my post-graduation options. Many of my friends were already talking excitedly about signing bonuses and benefit plans; though I had considered becoming an English teacher, I found that my developing thesis project was far more interesting to me than I had anticipated. I knew that a PhD would allow me the chance both to teach at the university level and to continue to conduct research, but beyond that I knew nothing at all about graduate school. I felt lost; I needed to know where and how to apply, how to finance the rest of my education, and whether the lifestyle would even be a good fit for me. The Pre-Graduate internship seemed to be exactly the kind of guidance I was looking for as I explored my options and attempted to determine whether I wanted to pursue a PhD.

Beginning my thesis not only awakened my interest in large scale research projects, but also helped me to understand what sort of options I would have if I pursued my studies in the field of linguistics. I learned that the questions that interest me most fall under the label of sociolinguistics. Accordingly, my first goal for the internship was to network with faculty members to learn more about which schools participate in the types of sociolinguistic research that I want to pursue. I began by talking with my faculty supervisor about linguistics graduate programs in the US. We discussed my academic interests, and he suggested schools that might be a good fit for me. Once I had a preliminary list, I approached other faculty members, including the undergraduate advisor for the department, with the same questions. Each professor reinforced the picture of sociolinguistics in the US that I was just beginning to understand. At the same time, each also had a new suggestion. The faculty member interview assignment served as a conversation starter and helped me to structure these informal "interviews."

After comparing the suggestions of each of the professors who had helped me, I began the task of narrowing down the list of graduate programs to which I was considering applying. To do this, I visited the online faculty pages for each program and noted the names of professors who specialized in subfields related to my interests. I then used online databases to find and read their most recent articles. This afforded me a much better idea of the type of research projects going on at each location, which in turn helped me to understand the focus of each program and the type of work I might be able to do at a given school before beginning my own dissertation. What surprised me was the realization that the academic world - or at any rate, that of linguistics - is much smaller than I had ever realized. Many of the professors I read about had published papers together, and I began to see that even within sociolinguistics, there are many different niches.

As I read papers and talked to faculty members to learn more about my chosen field, I became increasingly convinced that becoming a professor would be a rewarding career choice for me. However, I still knew very little about getting there. Although I did not have a graduate student mentor for this internship, I began networking with graduate students in linguistics -- both students in the UT program and UT graduates studying at other schools. These contacts helped me to understand that graduate students operate within an entirely different paradigm than undergraduates do. I was surprised to learn that graduate students take only a limited number of classes; in fact, in the programs I looked at in the UK, PhD students take no classes at all. Instead, the focus is on independent research and publications. While the prospect of being given free rein of my own education is a little frightening, I learned about various types of support systems in place for graduate students as they learn to navigate within their fields and eventually tackle their own dissertations.

My goal for this internship was to learn about grad school and ultimately decide whether it was something I wanted to do. Looking back, I know I've come a long way from that point. Before this year, I never felt that graduate school was within my reach. I will be the first member of my family to graduate from college; graduate school was a complete mystery to me, and it seemed way beyond my own potential to achieve. Now, however, I feel confident in my decision to apply to PhD programs for sociolinguistics. My personal statement is in the final revision stages, and my first application deadlines are approaching. I am excited about the next semester, and, with any luck, the coming years as a PhD student.