WHASC recently interviewed Rachelle Boyson (B.A. 2015), who graduated with honors in Linguistics, about life after graduation.
WHASC: What have you been doing since graduation (Spring 2015)?
Rachelle: I spent April through July in Santa Cruz, working on the sluicing project with Jim and Pranav and generally treating myself to some time off (it’s amazing what kind of “soul searching” gets done when there are no scholarly/professional obligations). I did some job hunting in July, but got more serious about it once I moved back home to the Bay Area in August. Since moving home I’ve job hunted and done a lot of wine tasting…and now I’m working at Yahoo!
WHASC: What kind of work are you doing for Yahoo?
Rachelle: I work as a contractor on the Search Editorial team. We do lots of relevancy tests and query understanding, essentially looking at real search queries and assessing various sites’ relevance or relationship to that query. It all contributes to the larger picture of improving the user experience of Yahoo Search; our team acts as the human element to the search engine, so we have a close relationship with the science team. Their algorithms can capture a lot, but it takes human perspective to really fine tune search results. I tell people I essentially get to surf the internet all day…but with purpose!
WHASC: In what ways did your undergraduate work in linguistics prepare you for work life? In what ways didn’t it prepare you?
Rachelle: It’s only been two weeks, but I think the pace of projects at work is similar to that of the academic life in the linguistics department; we have various projects with various leaders and various due dates and allocated amounts of hours. It’s very similar to having multiple papers and projects to be working on for different classes. There’s a certain type of balancing act that I think students are used to. The linguistics education can also come into play when thinking about some of the judgments I have to make. It’s hard to explain in great detail without breaching my confidentiality agreement, but that very particular glossy-eyed stare that linguists get when we’re deep in thought about something (I refer to it as the “ling stare”) is definitely a thing that my co-workers can see me doing during certain projects. The level of careful and nuanced thought that studying linguistics trained me for has been very helpful in some of my work so far.
WHASC: I understand that you’re still working as an annotator on Pranav and Jim’s NSF sluicing project. Can you say a little about your work for the project?
Rachelle: Over the summer I worked with Chelsea Miller to develop a structured training course for this year’s new annotators. That was an extremely successful effort, as the new team caught on very quickly and we all started annotating earnestly in August. Now that I’m working full time in the Bay Area, my involvement in the project is more conducive to my working remotely. I’m currently looking back at the annotations from Winter and Spring 2015 done by the “pioneering team” (Jack Haskins, Lily Ng, Jasmine Embry and myself). The goal is to try and collapse our various annotations into one cohesive “gold” standard annotation. This has been such a fulfilling project to be a part of, and I have endless appreciation for Jim and Pranav for being so willing and enthusiastic about keeping me on board for over a year now.
WHASC: What advice would you give to students who are about to graduate and enter the job market?
Rachelle: Don’t be discouraged! I ended up with this Yahoo! job after a seemingly endless series of rejections. Countless people told me that the first job after graduating is always the hardest to get, and my experience seems to have lined up with that sentiment. Also, the professors here have some great connections and, in my experience, they are usually very happy to get their students in touch with people for whom they could be useful. Even if nothing comes of it, it’s enormously helpful just to get your name in the right people’s filing cabinets. Finally, if you’re able to take some genuine time off, I highly recommend it. It allowed me to have some time to honestly think about what I wanted from this chapter of my life, and potentially future chapters as well. Landing a job right out of school is great, but having some interim time off can be hugely valuable as well.