Course Feature

Students Explore Career Opportunities in LING 280

September 03, 2020

This summer, Dr. John Alderete taught LING 280: Interdisciplinary Topics in Linguistics with a focus on Career Pathways for the Language Sciences. Students were given a unique opportunity to explore several different professions that undergraduates in linguistics are qualified for.

Through a mixture of lectures, articles, group activities, guest presenters, and career-development assignments, students engaged with four major fields throughout the semester: health, research, education, and technology. A brief overview of the topics and careers presented in the course is provided in the sidebar.

Alderete highlights that his course focuses on experiential learning, allowing students to discuss articles, communicate with workers in the world, solve complex problems, and try some activities that are done in academia and industry. For example, when discussing data analytics and statistics, many students were exposed to the statistical software R for the first time. This style of teaching has immediate benefits. “I had never considered being a data analyst before, but found I really liked working with R and linear regression models”, a student says. “Most courses I've taken are designed to teach theory. I like that this course gives an introduction to multiple sectors of linguistics as it may help students discover interests they maybe hadn't considered before.”

Several guest lecturers were given the opportunity to present information about their careers. Given a rare opportunity, students were able to talk with Dr. Bozena Pajak, Director of Learning and Curriculum at Duolingo. With this unique guest, insights into the different jobs available at a company like Duolingo were discussed, alongside some examples of career pathways at the company, and a list of skills necessary to work in a company that requires the knowledge of both linguistics and computing technology. Students were given some insider tips to get themselves into the industry too!

Other guest speakers in the course include Camilla Le Flem, a production manager at Globalme in Vancouver, who discussed the core elements of localization and current trends in the field. SFU alumnus Celine Reyes talked about her experience with the TESL program at SFU, how she became an English language teacher in Vancouver, and gave some advice on how to job hunt with a certificate in TESL. Dr. Mandeep Gurn, who recently graduated from SFU’s graduate program in Psychology, talked about her work with respect to language function in the autism and development disorder lab at SFU. Gabriela Raymond gave a guest lecture about SLP. She is an SFU alumnus who is now a speech-language pathologist at The Centre for Child Development in Surrey. Additionally, Dr. Heather Bliss volunteered her time in LING 280 to discuss Indigenous language revitalization and shared her experiences over the past years.

Tuesday Infante, a computing science and linguistics joint major, enjoyed these presentations and found them helpful. “Speakers were good because they gave some insight into a wide variety of fields (both in the sense of the process of getting a position, as well as what their jobs entailed once they were actually working).” Another student praised the course and speakers for “surveying different careers that [she] normally would not have considered. [The] interviews with people in their careers were really helpful.”

Penny Freno, career education manager for FASS, school of communication, and SCA, also contributed to the course through four development exercises directly related to career skills. Independent of linguistics, her assignments allowed students to explore their own strengths, weaknesses, and personalities to decide what types of working environments and jobs may be suited towards them. This opportunity was also appreciated by many students. One student writes, “It helps you to branch out. Sometimes you can go into school with tunnel vision as to what you THINK you want to do, but this course can help expand your possibilities.” No doubt, it’s common to get tunnel vision when most of your courses focus on particular theoretical skills rather than showing you the many jobs that you could apply for once you’ve received your bachelor’s degree. Alderete supplemented these discussions by providing relevant resources, such as linguistlist, a website that posts jobs and opportunities specific to the field.

LING 280: Interdisciplinary Topics in Linguistics changes on a regular basis. In Fall 2020, Dr. Heather Bliss is teaching the topic “Indigenous Language in Canada”. For more information, see the syllabus here.

Dr. John Alderete plans to teach this course again, “new and improved”, in Spring 2022. Whether you are starting as a new student in linguistics or wrapping up your degree, this course should help sort out your career path and give you a push in the direction you need.

In Summer 2021, LING 280 is being renamed to “Linguistics in the Real World”.


Health: Aphasia, language acquisition, vocabulary development, and autism.

Education: Teaching English as a second language, language revitalization, and life as a university professor.

Research: Data analytics, statistical software (R), regression analysis, network sciences, and neural networks.

Technology: Computer assisted language learning, natural language processing, and localization.