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.  

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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?

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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. Many of these positions are described in one of my previous blogs (http://bit.ly/MoTxUH).

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:

  1. New and emerging occupations
  2. Positive job market outlook
  3. Good breadth and depth
  4. Interdisciplinary with focus return on investment
  5. 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.

Are you Eligible to Apply?

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 masters 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 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
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