CHAT: University Advice (was Re: A bit of advice)
|From:||Thomas R. Wier <artabanos@...>|
|Date:||Friday, September 8, 2000, 7:42|
<Tom gets on soapbox for LONG speech>
Robert Hailman wrote:
> Several months ago, if you had asked me what I wanted to take, I would
> have told you either Electrical Engineering or Computer Sciences of some
> sort. I've gotten advice either way on the field of Electrical
> Engineering, and I haven't heard too much bad about Computer Sciences.
Computer science is obviously a big field, and a growing one. There's
a lot of room both for making money and for theoretical work. One of
my best friends is currently thinking about doing research on finite automata
(he's absolutely brilliant: he got a 1600 on the SAT twice -- the second time
just to see if he could do it -- and got his first B in a class just last semester
for the first time since, I think, fourth grade, and he's my age, 21).
> Now, in terms of interest in the three right now, Linguistics would be
> #1, Comp. Sci. #2, and Elec. Eng #3. This could all change, of course.
> In terms of difficulty getting accepted, Linguistics is probably the
> easiest. The U of T website
I'm assuming this means University of Texas (not University of Tennessee, nor
University of Toronto). About these others I can't say much, but much of
the following will apply in very general terms.
> says that the minimum average required for a
> linguistics major is always above 70%. Not too hard. Also, the only OAC
> (grade 13) course I specifically need in English, but I need 6 in Total.
UT Linguistics is very competitive. My professor, Robert King, told me
once that we're supposed to have the 3rd best undergrad program in linguistics
in the country, although he didn't say what year that was, nor how it was evaluated.
But I can say from personal experience that all the professors here in linguistics
are great: they're all very friendly and open, yet also know their stuff *very*
well. If you come, the first semester you want to take LIN 306, the introductory
course, from Dr. King, whose student ratings are very high (about a 4.5 on a scale
of 1 to 5, where 5 is excellent, averaged from five categories).
But UT is competitive all around, too. The school has a massive endowment --
I can't remember how much exactly (supposedly, around 8 billion dollars), but
it's second only to Harvard, I think. This means the school has a lot of money
to spend on programs and scholarships. We've recently been going on this
massive spending binge, with a new biochemistry and computer science building
and lots of new dormitories. Housing can be something of a problem -- the number
of students hovers annually around 50 thousand students, which in any event means
that most people, including a good many freshmen, must live off-campus. That is
not necessarily a bad thing, since the campus is situated right in the middle of
downtown Austin, within sight of the state Capitol, with lots of housing very close
by if perhaps pricey. In terms of admissions, it can be tough for out-of-staters
to get in because the State Legislature and Governor Bush recently required that
the top ten percent of every highschool class gets automatic admittance to the UT
system (not necessarily UT Austin) as a way of circumventing the affirmative
action rules that the Federal courts struck down two years ago. This means that
the few spots left for out-of-staters are increasingly competitive and expensive:
for me, it costs about 3000-4000 dollars per year for tuition; for people from out
of state (including of course Canada), that figure can go up to 12 or 15 thousand
a year. This is still fairly inexpensive by national standards: when I was searching
for colleges, the University of Virginia charged about 26,000 dollars a year for
out-of-staters. I know that the Federal government offers many grants (e.g. Pell
Grants) and loans, both subsidized and unsubsidized (e.g. Stafford Loans), especially
for the needy; I do not know, however, if this available to people from out of the
country. You should check up on that if you are looking for colleges in the US.
The Federal government can be pretty stingy, especially with wide-spread demand
for fiscal restraint.
> I don't know about the other two, but my guess would be somewhere around
> 80-90%, and the course requirements are much more difficult,
UT's EE dropout rate is pretty high -- but I don't have any precise figures.
It's supposed to be similar to the ChemE department, which I know is about
66%. They can do this because (a) they're fascists :), and (b) because there
will always be more to fill the place of those who left. The demand way way
> but their
> courses I'm talking anyways, so it doesn't matter. Only the performance
> expected in them does.
> So my main question is: What applications of a B.A. in Linguistics are
> there, career wise? My ultimate goal would probably be a professorship,
> however likely that may or may not be, but what can I do with a B.A. and
> a Masters degree in the Interim.
There aren't as many jobs out there for linguistics degrees that require more
than just a college education. However, I know the UT linguistics department
always has lots of signs in the department from Internet start-ups and big computer
industry firms like IBM that need linguists to help on computer processing
of human language. These can pay pretty well, especially since Austin's
unemployment rate is around 2% right now. Among other jobs, there's:
audiology (working with the hearing impaired), speech pathology (same but
speech), the teaching of English as a second language, among others. There's
more information about this here:
> I don't want to get a degree in
> Linguistics if I wouldn't enjoy any of the careers I can get with it,
> although in a land without consequences I'd take Linguistics in a
Well, maybe telling you what my plans are may help. Right now, I'm nearly finished
with my undergrad degree, and will (hopefully) graduate this up coming May. To
make myself competitive, I started in highschool taking lots of advanced placement
tests from the College Board. I took US government, US history, European history,
German, English language, English literature, microeconomics, macroeconomics (two
different tests, but you pay for them as one), and some others I can't remember offhand.
The first two were really important, because the state legislature has required that to
graduate every student must pass two courses of US government and two of US
history, as well as English language and literature. In my highschool, we had courses to
prep us for this, but you won't obviously for the first two, being from out of country .
You can, however, go to your local bookstore and probably buy a study guide for each
for about 20 US dollars apiece. These are often good enough. A good study guide will
have several sample tests in them, along with all the actual material that will likely be on
the test. They will not, however, have the requirement in Texas government that you would
have to take were you to get credit for the AP test here. There are local tutoring services
that will help you with that. The AP courses allow you a lot more freedom in your schedule,
and allow you to avoid the possibility of fail-out courses: the courses required by the state
have a built-in demand, so professors often feel they can get away with murder by making
their courses well-nigh impossible. AVOID THESE COURSES LIKE THE PLAGUE.
Investigate all of your professors beforehand -- UT has an online service that tells students
how past students evaluated professors. Check these for every course you take. Remember:
to get into gradschool, you need to keep up your GPA, typically above 3.6-ish for your major,
and a little lower for your overall-GPA but a good GRE score might help if that's lower (this
is graduate school equivalent of the SAT college entrance exam, which you will also need
to take to get into most any US university).
Once you get into the university, I would advise you not to take more than 12 or 15
credit hours per semester. It used to be the case that students could take much more
than this and survive. My own grandfather took 26 credit hours in chemical engineering
at Rice during his senior year back in the '40s. That was, however, excessive even in
those days, and mostly because he could handle multiple labs at once. Since then,
the amount of work that goes into every credit hour has increased significantly, so you
don't want to overburden yourself. Moreover, if you're going to have to hold down
a job during these years, you want to be as flexible as possible in not taking too many
hours. You just never know what could come up to screw up your grade. (I know
one Russian guy from my highschool takes 22 hours now, but he's insane, because
aside from the fact that he's a Stalinist he gets about two hours of sleep each night, plus
lots of catnaps. This is no way to run your life! Good ol' Ilya, he can quote Eugene
Onegin and master astrophysics, but can't order his life. He's quite, quite nutty.)
Naturally, also, you don't want school to be your life. You want to have fun
and time for relaxation. This is not only natural, but necessary: the quality of
the work you put into your classes will be directly affected by external factors
like the amount of exercise and sleep you get, as well as simply not being stressed
out. Burn-out is bad. You don't want it. I get around this in a lot of ways.
I'm a member of the UT College Bowl club, which is something like a jeopardy
game except for teams. I'm also a member of the *Mimung Society, an Indo-
European language and culture group. Getting together in groups like these is
a great way to meet new people and broaden your horizons. Also, I try to
vary the kinds of work that I do. If I get bored or tired of, say, Greek, I go
on to anthropology or history or something entirely mindless, like TV. Mindlessness
can be a good thing sometimes. Or I hang out with friends. Anything, really,
just as long as you feel satisfied that you aren't overdoing yourself.
So, what about after that? Well, right now I'm planning on doing a 30 page honors
thesis in linguistics about the Indo-European Urheimat. That's a good thing for grad-
school, just to have it, no matter what grade you actually get on the thing. (Well, no,
that's not quite true: if your thesis is that, you know, the IE peoples were originally
Atlanteans, you won't get in.) Gradschools usually like to see some original work by
the student applying, and so I'll be sending that along with my application. I'll also be
sending along some work I did on Mam. I'll also be taking a free prep course for the GRE
offered by the university here, since I'm not a terribly good test-taker when it comes to
standardized tests. That's something I neglected to do back in highschool for the SAT,
and I regret it. One thing I've noticed a lot of gradschools require is extra foreign languages,
above and beyond the one you take in undergrad school. I've already taken German
and Ancient Greek, so that's might satisfy it, but they might require a non-IE language
(UT does), so I'm thinking I'd like to take Chinese or something (I've always wanted
to be able to read Zhuangzi or Li Bai in the original). UT does have programs in lots
of languages: everything from Gujarathi to Classical Maya. That last would be real
fun to take. I do know that UT used to have the best Mayanist in the world, Linda Schele;
sadly, she died of cancer recently. So, I don't know if UT even has a Maya-program
any more, to be honest.
As for good gradschools, that depends on where your interest lies. I like grammatical
theory and historical linguistics, and one of the few places that's strong in both
those areas is UPenn, so that's my first choice. I'm also thinking about UCLA,
MIT and Berkeley and UT. The last I'm doing as only a backup, because you don't
to want to have intellectual incest with the same place for both your undergrad and
PhD. MIT I'm not sure I like, nor that I could get in, because everyone there seems
to take Chomsky's diktat as gospel, and I've heard that Berkeley has had some really
seriously negative infighting in the department in the last couple years -- something about
two professors refusing to teach the other's students or something. Really bad and
unprofessional. But I've heard only good things about UCLA and UPenn. Anybody
want to give *me* advice now? :)
Well, I'm getting jittery, and my sentences are seeming to ramble into Nietzsche-like
obscurantism. It's almost 3am, and I need to get some sleep before my class tomorrow.
Tom Wier | "Cogito ergo sum, sed credo ergo ero."