My Path to the GRE and Graduate School – From Astronaut to Linguistics

Isaiah Scroll

Yup, I can (sort of) read that!

Hello there! My name is Rachel, and I’ll be one of the new bloggers responsible for providing you, prospective or current graduate students that you are, with the tips, tricks, information, and stories that will help you be better prepared for what lies ahead. I’m a recent college graduate myself, and will be walking you through the process I’ll be going through to apply for the graduate program in linguistics I’m interested in.

My own path to the GRE and graduate school has not exactly been a straight one. When I was a kid, whenever I was asked what I wanted to be when I grew up, the answer was always easy – an astronaut! Pretty far from graduate school in linguistics, right? It gets better: fast forward to my senior year of high school and my answer was completely different – forensic chemistry, inspired in part by my love of CSI (and all its various incarnations). By the end of my freshman year, my interests had shifted again, this time towards Christianity and the ministry. I followed through on that one, and graduated with a B.A. in Christianity.

Oddly enough, it was the minor I chose that really ended up sparking my interest. To go along with my major in Christianity, I chose to minor in Biblical Languages, which involved taking classes in ancient Hebrew and Greek. It was pretty intimidating at first, but the farther I got in to the classes and the more I learned, the more I fell in love. There was something captivating in the way the languages were shaped and interconnected. That and it was pretty cool to be able to look at something that most other people would see as random scribbling and find meaning in it. Of all the classes I took in my undergraduate career, my language classes were the ones I enjoyed the most.

So I started doing some digging. I read up on the possible avenues I could follow with this new interest. It didn’t take me long to realize that it wasn’t just those specific languages I liked, but the whole experience of studying language. While I had heard of the field of linguistics, I had never looked into the potential for graduate school in linguistics seriously before. I had never realized how many different, fascinating ways there were to study something as seemingly simple as language!

The field of linguistics is usually broken down into three big categories:

  • Form looks at the building blocks of language: morphology, phonology, grammar, syntax, and much more.
  • Meaning looks at how language works to convey ideas and thoughts between people.
  • Language in context refers to how language fits in to the wider scope of human experiences, and often crosses paths with other professional fields in topics like neurolinguistics, psycholinguistics, and sociolinguistics.

My particular interests tend towards language change and growth over the course of history – a field which is, appropriately enough, known as historical linguistics – and the ways in which languages growing in close proximity can share common elements, which is known as comparative linguistics.

When I first started my studies in Christianity, I’d intended to eventually go to seminary. With my new line of study, however, I had to start looking at a wider set of options for graduate school in linguistics. I knew I wanted to stay in Houston, which limited my scope somewhat. Fortunately, Rice University has a fantastic linguistics graduate program. It’s a five-year program, during which I’d get both my masters’ degree and my Ph.D, and it includes the potential for a fellowship with a full tuition waiver and a living stipend. It’s definitely competitive, though, so I’ll have to do very well on my GRE and put together an awesome application to get accepted.

But y’know, I am nothing if not optimistic, and I’m willing to put in the work necessary to make it happen. Despite all the twists and turns on my path to the GRE so far, I finally feel like I’m on a straight shot for graduate school.

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