Tag Archives: Administration

Faculty Money

Just a month into my faculty contract and I’m already taking full advantage! I just got awarded a Flex Grant for Teaching and Faculty Development by the Center for Teaching and Faculty Development and the union (MSP), to start building a multilingual audio and text database for our interpreting courses.

UMass Amherst runs interpreting courses that are multilingual, include both students who are native speakers of English and those who are non-native English speakers, and have students who are at different levels of language proficiency (they are courses in interpreting studies with a heavy practical component, but not designed to be primarily interpreter-training classes). A significant part of the class is dedicated to readings and discussions about issues in interpreting, from linguistic and skill-set questions to debates on ethics and best practices to historical analyses of the role of interpreting. But about half the classes are set aside for practical work.

As such, it’s often very difficult to find materials for practice sessions. Right now, my class has five languages (Chinese, Japanese, Korean, Polish, Spanish), only one of which I know (Spanish). I have a collection of sites with audio in various languages (international news sites, language learning online, etc.), but I can’t be confident about the level of difficulty of any of the texts but the Spanish. I’ve found and created a number of monolingual exercises designed to train and reinforce particular skills associated with simultaneous interpreting (this semester’s focus is on simultaneous), and obviously, I can find audio in English that I can select for vocabulary, speed, and complexity. But this course needs a coherent component moving into English as well, and that’s been harder. (It was apparently also a difficulty for the designer of the course, for whom I’m substituting this semester while she’s on research leave.)

A possible solution: an in-house audio bank. Texts chosen for non-technical vocabulary on a variety of topics, recorded in English, translated into the languages we need, and recorded in those languages as well. It’s not the same as working with “authentic” texts or situations, but this is training, and the “authentic” texts that are available are difficult to sort through and often problematic in one or more ways (problematic accents, technical vocabulary, mumbling). I know that if my students go into interpreting, they’ll need to be able to deal with those issues, but this course is intended as an introduction to interpreting, not a finishing school. Choosing texts and then having them translated and recorded means that the whole class can work on the same topic (roughly the same text) at the same time, address the cultural issues that arise as a class, and even be able to check their understanding of the text with the written versions in either language.

I’m trying to choose texts that are not so specific that in a year or two we’ll have forgotten the context. General-knowledge, on topics that might be relevant to interpreting, with minimal vocabulary demands (this isn’t the place to challenge their vocabulary while they’re working on their interpreting- vocabulary building can happen outside the practice session), spoken clearly and a tiny bit slower than normal, with decent pauses.¬†Given a solid corpus of audio to use at the beginning of the semester, we can then try to work our way up to authentic texts (also giving the instructor time to find some in all of the languages!) by the end.

The grant will go to pay translators and speakers to record the translations. I’m first trying to find graduate students in the department or college who are native speakers and have some translation experience; if I can’t find the languages I need that way, I’ll look further afield. I’m aiming for four (short) texts translated and recorded in each of the current five languages by the end of the semester; it’s not a huge grant, and my contract ends in May anyway. But it’s a start, and a neat project that can keep getting built little by little.

Hirnea vermium

So I had this lovely idea for a post on pseudotranslators (as opposed to pseudotranslations) that I was going to write, and then decided a) that I wanted to make it a conference paper first, and b) that this was a little more timely, if less pleasant.

We all know that the academic job market is… difficult. This is about one particular aspect of it: scheduling.

Here’s my situation. I’m trying to negotiate between the deadlines for informing the Graduate School about my intent to graduate and the fact that I won’t hear about any postdocs before those deadlines have passed. So if I tell the GS that I’m graduating, and then don’t get any jobs, I’m in a bit of a jam for next year. If I don’t notify them (and hence don’t graduate in May), and then I do get a postdoc, that’s awkward, because many of the postdocs want you to graduate by midsummer (i.e. not in the August graduation).

I went to one of the job counsellors at the MLA Job Center, who was very friendly and knowledgable, and gave me what is simultaneously the most and least practical advice: graduate. Most practical because it is, in fact, time for me to graduate, and least practical because if I do and then don’t get something, I’m stuck in a part of the country with pretty high saturation of college grads, competing with them for short-term jobs that don’t require a Ph.D. and probably would prefer someone who might stay a bit longer, and doesn’t need time off to go to conferences.

The purpose of this post isn’t, however, to whine about this. It is what it is and I’ll make a decision about it after getting as much information as I possibly can about my options.

What the post is about is interrogating what’s happening with schedules. I’ve heard from many people that one of the big changes in recent years in the job market is the fact that more and more jobs are being listed post-MLA, which puts interviews and acceptances much later spring and even summer than I assume used to be the case. Presumably postdocs have always been later, although I do know that postdocs are a sort of recent development in the humanities too, so “always” for us isn’t very long.

The University of Massachusetts Amherst (my school) requires that for May 2013 graduation, paperwork (including the dissertation) must be filed by April 16, 2013. Assuming that you file after your defense (so that you can incorporate any changes the committee recommends), this means that, cutting things impossibly and impracticably close, the latest you can defend is April 15. You must notify the graduate school one month in advance of your defense date (March 15, appropriately enough). If we are more practical about things, then we allow perhaps a month for editing and submission between the defense and the April 16 deadline, which puts the defense at March 15 and notification of the defense in mid-February. I know of some postdocs that will be notifying people by mid-March. I know of very few notifying people by mid-February.

This all means that if we are defending in the spring, it’s not early enough to talk about at MLA as a done deal, but also on a pretty tight timeline. And if we defend in the fall, there’s still that unpleasant chance that we won’t get a job, maybe not even any interviews, and that we’ll be expected to graduate in the spring anyway, because, after all, we’ve defended already.

Again, I’m not posting this to complain about my situation. I’ll make a decision and that will be that. But the situation remains, and is something I think that we should at least discuss. So the questions become: how do other schools handle these scheduling issues? What advice have people gotten from professors and search committees? Are any schools shifting their own requirements to compensate for changes in the academic hiring calendar? (Accompanying question: have I been misinformed about the increase in post-MLA hiring?)