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PhD admissions in Linguistics with unconvential credentials

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Hi all,

I had a question about gaining admission to PhD programs in linguistics with unconventional credentials. I am currently a JD student at a top 5 law school, and was hoping to complete a PhD either alongside or after the JD. I completed a dual degree in undergrad with BAs in humanities and a foreign language, as well as a minor in linguistics, and won most outstanding student in the language department my last two years. I took multiple grad-level linguistics courses, and worked as a research assistant for one of my ling professors. My overall GPA was a 4.0. After undergrad, I taught English abroad for a year before going to law school.

My question is, without an MA and other normal qualifications, how feasible would it be to gain admission to a good PhD program in linguistics? I am planning on following the normal recommended advice of reaching out to potential advisors and carefully crafting my personal statement to each individual department, as well as casting a wide net to different programs, but was wondering if that would be enough. If not, what specific things might I do to help strengthen my case?

Any thoughts would be greatly appreciated. Thanks in advance :)

Edited by SONYAUDIO
wanted to provide more information

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Since linguistics are many times combined with English programs (was at my UG/MA school), I feel somewhat qualified to answer. You're in a top 5 law school. Why do you believe you would need a master's in linguistics to be admitted to a PhD program? I assume you will be applying at the same university where your law school is located. You will need to take the GRE because you took the LSAT for law school. I got a master's after my BA in English (minor in foreign language) because I felt that I needed more time to develop my CV even though I had excellent grades (3.82 UG, 4.0 MA).  It turns out I needed the master's because I was admitted to a PhD program that required a master's to be admitted. I was a paralegal for years before I decided to go for a PhD. Honestly, many lawyers have BAs in English. What do you hope to do with a PhD in linguistics and a JD? While the language/English BA comes in very handily in understanding the law, and perhaps communicating as a trial lawyer, I'm trying to imagine how you would need a PhD in linguistics if you are going to practice law. If law isn't turning out to be your cup of tea, then I can completely see the PhD in linguistics. 

Edited by cowgirlsdontcry

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28 minutes ago, cowgirlsdontcry said:

Since linguistics are many times combined with English programs (was at my UG/MA school), I feel somewhat qualified to answer. You're in a top 5 law school. Why do you believe you would need a master's in linguistics to be admitted to a PhD program? I assume you will be applying at the same university where your law school is located. You will need to take the GRE because you took the LSAT for law school. I got a master's after my BA in English (minor in foreign language) because I felt that I needed more time to develop my CV even though I had excellent grades (3.82 UG, 4.0 MA).  It turns out I needed the master's because I was admitted to a PhD program that required a master's to be admitted. I was a paralegal for years before I decided to go for a PhD. Honestly, many lawyers have BAs in English. What do you hope to do with a PhD in linguistics and a JD? While the language/English BA comes in very handily in coming to understand the law, and perhaps communicating as a trial lawyer, I'm trying to imagine how you would need a PhD in linguistics if you are going to practice law. If law isn't turning out to be your cup of tea, then I can completely see the PhD in linguistics. 

Thanks for the reply :) . I probably should have clarified that I don't want to practice law (as for why I went to law school in the first place is a valid question and long story); linguistics is my true passion, and while some of my research interests overlap between law and linguistics, others are solely linguistics-related. While my dream job would be an academic position, my motivations for pursuing the PhD are not chiefly pragmatic; I simply believe I would be happy as a graduate student (I know that might sound naïve, but I'm pretty confident about that), to the extent that it would be worthwhile regardless of the outcome. As for where I'd be applying, I will definitely be applying to the program at the same university as my law school, though I'm also planning on applying to other schools whose interests likely match up better with my own.

Edited by SONYAUDIO

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I would say that my experience was somewhat similar to yours. I had multiple undergraduate degrees from a top university. I then started a PhD in a STEM field which ended up turning into a terminal master's. I did also get an MA in French as a secondary degree, but my decision to pursue a PhD in French was nevertheless a very unanticipated change in disciplines, and my MA program hadn't been preparing me, teaching-wise or research-wise, as they would have any other grad student, under the assumption that this wouldn't be my path.

Things I discovered during my application season:

  • If you have the qualifications and the correct motivation (and it looks like you do), the admissions committee generally doesn't care what other interests or pursuits you've had in the recent past. All the faculty I've talked to during my own application season were only curious about my future research interests and my experience within the field. No one ever questioned my dedication, intent, or ability to focus based on my scattered academic past.
  • PhD programs typically do not require a master's and often actually hold those with a master's to higher standards when it comes to admissions.
  • Statements of purpose are very, very important. Make sure to explain what attracted you to linguistics. Not some abstract idea, but what in your experiences, your research, your studies, etc. inspired you to pursue this field or your subfield. And how does it fit into your future goals?

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6 hours ago, SONYAUDIO said:

Thanks for the reply :) . I probably should have clarified that I don't want to practice law (as for why I went to law school in the first place is a valid question and long story); linguistics is my true passion, and while some of my research interests overlap between law and linguistics, others are solely linguistics-related. While my dream job would be an academic position, my motivations for pursuing the PhD are not chiefly pragmatic; I simply believe I would be happy as a graduate student (I know that might sound naïve, but I'm pretty confident about that), to the extent that it would be worthwhile regardless of the outcome. As for where I'd be applying, I will definitely be applying to the program at the same university as my law school, though I'm also planning on applying to other schools whose interests likely match up better with my own.

I have been really happy as a grad student and if you are happy as a student of law, then you will be happy as a grad student in linguistics. If I had known early enough as an UG that history fits so well with literature, I would have done a dual major, both as an UG and in my master's. Then headed for the PhD in literature. I do understand your desire to do this and sometimes we get sidetracked into other dreams and interests. That's the pitfall scholars can find themselves in. I believe Thousands is correct about there being higher standards to admissions to a PhD program if one has a master's. I am going in as first year PhD, but it's not the same first year PhD as the combined programs (no terminal MA), because it is like I am a third year PhD in one of those combined programs (with full teaching load immediately). The program will bring in 18 hours of my MA and I will have 30 hours left of class room time. In effect, I will have 60+ post BA hours on the road to my PhD. My program only exists as a terminal MA and PhD, so the master's was necessary. Depending on how long it takes me to write dissertation, I will finish in approximately six years (post BA), which is low to average.

Obviously, you have excellent credentials as you are in law school in a top school. Your background is geared toward obtaining a PhD in English/Linguistics and admission committees will see that you have what it takes to complete a program as indicated by dual majors and a law degree in progress. That is a big concern of committees--whether a student will have the necessary drive to complete a program. You don't mention any conferences and should try to pick up a couple of those, if you can. One last thought, is that you want as high of GRE scores as possible. You should do well in any event, with your background, but to be on the safe side, take the practice tests ETS has to make sure you don't need to review for the GRE. Linguistics is humanities and possibly a track within English depending on the University. Verbals are the most important score and you want to aim at 90%+. The AW score is also important, but not as much so. It's geared toward analytical writing, rather than the argument, which I learned the hard way. My score was only average because I wrote an argument.

Good luck.

 

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Linguistics is a field that routinely accepts PhD applicants who don't have an MA in the field, and even applicants who don't have a BA in the field, since there are still quite a few schools that don't have a linguistics program that's independent of English/languages/cogsci/etc. That by itself shouldn't be a hinderance to being accepted to a PhD program. I'm not sure what you mean by lacking "other normal qualifications". It sounds like you can show continued interest in the field both through academic venues (grad courses) and otherwise (teaching English abroad, though you'd have to tie it directly to linguistic theory/practice for it to be really relevant). The main thing you might be missing is a strong writing sample and/or recommendations from people in the field, the former is more easily tended to than the latter at this point in the year. I'll refrain from offering more thoughts until I know they're relevant. Generally, as always, you want to have a strong and focused SOP and you want to choose schools that can support your research interests. You'll probably also need to discuss your less than direct path to the PhD (which shouldn't be a problem to explain, but I'd do it because otherwise people might be curious and/or suspicious). Any other, more specific, questions? 

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Thanks for the reply thousands. Your advice is helpful, and your experience is encouraging :) 

cowgirl, I really appreciate that information. I'm hoping to spend most of August studying for the GRE. Thankfully, I'm a decent test taker, and I'm hoping to score as high as possible, even though from what I understand it's usually more of a weed-out factor than something that will tip the scales in your favor.

4 hours ago, fuzzylogician said:

Linguistics is a field that routinely accepts PhD applicants who don't have an MA in the field, and even applicants who don't have a BA in the field, since there are still quite a few schools that don't have a linguistics program that's independent of English/languages/cogsci/etc. That by itself shouldn't be a hinderance to being accepted to a PhD program. I'm not sure what you mean by lacking "other normal qualifications". It sounds like you can show continued interest in the field both through academic venues (grad courses) and otherwise (teaching English abroad, though you'd have to tie it directly to linguistic theory/practice for it to be really relevant). The main thing you might be missing is a strong writing sample and/or recommendations from people in the field, the former is more easily tended to than the latter at this point in the year. I'll refrain from offering more thoughts until I know they're relevant. Generally, as always, you want to have a strong and focused SOP and you want to choose schools that can support your research interests. You'll probably also need to discuss your less than direct path to the PhD (which shouldn't be a problem to explain, but I'd do it because otherwise people might be curious and/or suspicious). Any other, more specific, questions? 

I really appreciate the reply. To address a couple things you pointed out:

  • my recommenders should be pretty strong (6 professors in the lang dep't reached out to me my during my last semester of undergrad, urging me to go to grad school, and many of them either wrote my law school recs or explicitly told me they'd write one if I went to grad school). Unfortunately, not all of them are linguistics-related, and idk how many are "big names" that will be known to the admissions committee, so that may be an issue
  • writing sample could be potentially strong, but will require significant edits or (in the case of certain departments) perhaps a new paper aligning more with my expressed interests.

As for some specific questions, to what extent should I mention interdisciplinary interests into my SOP? For example, although many of my interests are solely linguistics related, some of my interests overlap b/w law and linguistics, and I've thought about mentioning my interest In applying a potential advisor's work to a particular area of law (I feel this would also help explain the less than direct path to the Phd, like you mentioned), but I've also heard that interdisciplinary work is often ill-advised. Perhaps this is a case where I can reach out to profs beforehand and directly ask them how open they would be to this type of thing.

Thanks in advance :)

 

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Hi:  I am a lawyer and teach at a law school, and i also have a PhD in linguistics.  I have a staff of six teachers who teach Legal English to our foreign LLM and JD students -- each of the Legal English faculty has a PhD in linguistics, a JD, or both.  Once you finis your PhD program, send me an email.  :)

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