Graduate students studying foreign languages are predicted to have more job opportunities than those studying English, for the first time in more than a decade, according to a recent publication by the Modern Language Association.
MLA released their annual job information list in December, detailing the number of jobs available in academia for English and foreign language students.
UCLA and other schools use the list as a benchmark for the hiring market for humanities jobs, Felicity Nussbaum, vice chair of English graduate studies, said in an email.
Last month, the number of positions open in foreign language departments rose by 10.5 percent to 1,246 open job positions, while the number of positions in English shrunk by 3.6 percent to 1,191 open positions. Both are significantly lower than their peak in 2007-08, when the levels were 1,680 and 1,826, respectively. The number could shift by the end of the academic year as more vacancies are posted in 2013, according to the Modern Language Association.
Mark Gallagher, a doctoral candidate in English at UCLA, said he is not surprised by the numbers.
“The job market for English (doctoral candidates) has been for a long time competitive, to say the least,” he said. “Some people take a pessimistic view and they might be validated by recent numbers.”
Rosemary Feal, the executive director of the MLA, told Inside Higher Education that the apparent trend may be due to globalization initiatives increasingly becoming part of colleges’ and universities’ strategic plans.
Olga Kagan, director of the UCLA Center for World Languages and National Heritage Language Resource and professor of Slavic language and literature, said in an e-mail she suspects this may be a short-term hiring pattern instead of a true trend. An increase in retirements may be one reason, she added.
The growing number of funded foreign language initiatives in universities may be another reason why the number of foreign language positions have increased, Kagan added.
UCLA has a Russian Flagship program, which seeks to encourage advanced language education in “critical languages” – languages that are widely spoken, but not widely taught – at undergraduate institutions. The program is affiliated with the National Security Education Program, a national program that aims to improve national security through learning to deal effectively with foreign cultures and languages.
UCLA also receives government funding under the Title VI Program, which funds foreign language, area and international studies education, said David Schaberg, dean of humanities at UCLA.
The money goes to centers in the UCLA International Institute and the Center for World Languages at UCLA, among other places, he said. UCLA additionally received grants toward foreign language programs from the Mellon Foundation last year, Schaber said.
Naomi Caffee, a Slavic language and literature doctoral student at UCLA, said that though the job market is “terrible,” being multilingual has helped her marketability as a job candidate.
“In my personal experience, the fact that I’ve (studied abroad) in a foreign country, and the fact that I’ve studied foreign languages … puts me in a beneficial position,” she said.
Most jobs in academia she has looked at require a multilingual background in order to meet students’ needs in the classroom, which are becoming increasingly multicultural, she said.
Schaber said the growth of opportunities in foreign languages is not detrimental to the English department at UCLA or its students.
The English graduate student body has continued to grow in spite of the emerging trend that favors multilingual scholars; its student body has continued to grow by 10 percent, according to the UCLA Graduate Division. The foreign language graduate student body has grown 29 percent in the past 10 years.
Nussbaum said in an e-mail that UCLA provides support for graduate students looking for jobs, including help with writing applications, preparing for interviews and advice about the kinds of materials to offer prospective employers.
In response to the steady decline of academic positions since the 2007-08 peak, Nussbaum said UCLA has encouraged and assisted students applying to jobs outside the field of academia.
“In spite of the market, UCLA also continues to be very successful in placing its graduate students in teaching positions and in postdoctoral fellowships,” she said.
Schaber said graduates with an English degree are still highly coveted because the degree hones writing skills, analytic skills and cultural literacy that lends itself to work in academia as well as other jobs.
Caffee said though she is mainly applying to academic positions, the majority of jobs she has seen are not strictly teaching positions.
“From my experience, in my field, jobs are scarce to begin with, so it’s actually quite difficult even if you have a PhD … but that doesn’t mean you can’t find something,” she said.
Despite the job market, there’s still optimism in the English department, Gallagher said.
“There’s not a lot (one can) say to someone in English to discourage them even more than they’ve already faced,” he said. “There’s still opportunity for anybody to succeed.”
Contributing reports from Katherine Hafner, Bruin senior staff.