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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 exceeds supply.
> 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 > second.
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. </soapbox> ====================================== Tom Wier | "Cogito ergo sum, sed credo ergo ero." ======================================