By Sharon Wiatt Jones
Do you know more languages than you can count on a single hand? Do you read Wikipedia articles for fun in your spare time? We need outstanding people to help solve the following problem: How to organize ALL of the world's data.
Data Specialist, Factual. Do you dream in MapReduce? Can you imagine ways to predict the downfall of civilizations or the next American Idol winner from internet traffic? Can you herd yellow elephants to solve Big Data problems?
Senior Big Data Developer, Dell. If you have a unique combination of language and computer science or mathematics skills, computational linguistics (sometimes called human language technology or natural language processing) may be the perfect degree—and career—for you.
Newer and additional applications: Voice biometrics to authenticate identity and prevent fraud for financial services and healthcare industries. Reduction of noise distortion for terrorist surveillance, air traffic control, law enforcement, and emergency response. Clinical and biomedical natural language processing for patient records and question answering in diagnosis.
In my last blog I listed ideal criteria for a master’s degree program: new and emerging occupations; positive job market outlook; good breadth and depth; interdisciplinary with focus on return on investment; experiential (internship, co-op, or capstone component).
Interdisciplinary: Like most new and emerging careers, computational linguistics is interdisciplinary. Main Disciplines: Computer science + linguistics + cognitive science. Other Courses: psychology (cognitive psychology, psycholinguistics), anthropology, computer or electrical engineering, mathematics/statistics, human-computer interaction, neuroscience, philosophy, biomedicine.
A few universities offer an undergraduate major in computational linguistics. Others offer a terminal master’s degree, a Ph.D., or graduate certificate. Preparation for jobs in industry and government tend to require a graduate degree, and here I will focus on the master’s level. Universities show wide variation in their admissions requirements and length of their master’s degrees in computational linguistics. The University of Washington offers a 12 month program and expects applicants to be fluent in programs such as Perl, C++or Java and to be familiar with Windows, Unix, Linux, or Macintosh. Other institutions’ comparable degrees are 18 or 24 months, some allowing one or two semesters for students to take a linguistics foundation or computer science and programming courses. Typical prerequisites tend to be a bachelor’s degree in linguistics, computer science, mathematics, or a related field; proficiency in a spoken language other than English; and coursework in statistics, probability, and programming. Some job titles for professionals with a computational linguistic background include: Translational technology specialist; Research linguist; Speech scientist; Embedded software engineer; Voice user interface designer; Search engine software development engineer; Natural Language Processing modeling research engineer; Scientific/computational linguist; Text analytics software tester; Knowledge management engineer.
Location, Location, Location. To maximize your opportunities for internships and employment, give special consideration to universities located near technology hubs. In addition to Computational Linguistics, search for these degree programs: Language Technologies, Language and Cognition, Intelligent Information Systems, Machine Intelligence and Cognition. Silicon Valley: Stanford University, University of California-Berkeley, UCLA, Carnegie Mellon University's Silicon Valley Campus. Seattle (called the “Silicon Forest): University of Washington. New York City: The City University of New York. Washington, D.C.: Georgetown University, George Washington University. Boston: Brandeis University.
Compensation. Although salary surveys for emerging occupations are not easy to find, many positions requiring a graduate degree are cited online in the range of $88,000-120,000.
Additional Information. Professional associations: Association for Computational Linguists, Linguistic Society of America. Job listings: Linguist List; Dice.com.