Tuesday, November 04, 2014

Path to a PhD

I get a lot of emails from people asking me whether they should get a PhD in translation studies and, if so, what they should research for their dissertations. I’ve already written quite a bit about that on this blog (see Getting a PhD and What Can You Study When You Do a PhD in Translation?, for example).

One of the most common recent questions has been what path you need to take if you know for sure you want to get a PhD in translation studies one day. People ask me whether they should study languages, literature, linguistics, translation studies at the undergraduate or MA level, or some other topic entirely.

This is a very individual choice, and I’m loathe to tell people how to shape their lives and their careers. Obviously, to apply to and get accepted to a PhD program in translation studies, you need to show that you have the requisite level of skill in your chosen language/s and literature/s and other relevant subject area/s. You’ll need to prove that you have the scholarly background necessary for doing strong critical work in the humanities (i.e. a BA in sports science probably won’t help). You may also need to show your expertise as a translator, especially if you want to do a creative-critical PhD. But how you get these skills and how you show them in your application will vary.

Personally, my BA is in literature and creative writing and I have an MFA in creative writing. I also worked as a practicing translator for some years before applying for my PhD studies. That pathway worked for me, but I also know people who went for BAs and MAs in translation first, then directly on to a PhD, and still others who did undergraduate degrees in fields such as law or medicine and then switched to languages and translation for their MAs. Others focused on language at the undergraduate level and then came to literature and literary translation as MA students. There is no one right way.

So my simple advice is to consider what your interests are and where you eventually hope to end up. If you want to become a pharmaceutical translator, then an undergraduate degree in medicine might serve you very well. If you know you want to be an academic who researches the translation of opera, then studying languages and music as an undergraduate might be a good choice. And so on. Think about who you are and what will inspire you, and take it from there.

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