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The Accidental Scientist


Hofstra University

Hofstra University







Like many people who have had a love affair with words all their lives, I cannot imagine a professional career that did not include language as one of its major components. As a teenager, I envisioned that my future would include lots of reading, writing, dance, and travel. However, in addition to that I was always fascinated with the type of science that helped to solve crimes. It was not uncommon to see me enjoying mysteries, and investigative genres both in print and on film. Although I enjoy a good “who-done-it.” I quickly dismissed years ago any notions of being an investigator or forensic scientists. Much like Moriarty was Holmes’ nemesis, math and science appear to be mine. I have quickly come to realize that I have no aptitude for numbers, figures, or formulas; neither do I have the stomach for bodily fluids and gory scenes.


Despite all of this, something happened to me recently that turned everything on its head. No, I did not just wake up with an unexplained gift like John Travolta’s character in Phenomenon, nor did I suddenly develop a strong constitution. What I did do however is discover something I never knew existed. I made this discovery while watching one of the many forensic and investigative shows on Netflix. This show called Forensic Files Collection told the story of an actual case where a women was murdered by someone who had been writing threatening and harassing letters to her. After having the letters analyzed, a linguist was able to identify unique linguistic patterns that only a few people in the world manifest in their writing. One such pattern is a rhetorical device called ironic repetition. This is when the same verb is used twice in two consecutive sentences with a change in context. For example, in one of the killer’s letters he wrote, “she wanted to break it off, so I broke her neck.” Additionally, the killer used contractions for negative verbs in his writings but he didn’t use contractions for positive verbs. This is odd because most people either don’t use them at all or they use both negative and positive contractions. These two anomalies along with the use of photogrammetry: a science that makes measurements from photographs by using two dimensional photographs to create a three dimensional image, helped convict the killer who turned out to be the victim’s husband.


I have always been aware that there are individuals who work as handwriting analyst or those that could identify where a person is from through their accents and word choice, but never did I fathom that these combined with other unique skills could be used as crime fighting tools. What is the name of this discovery? Forensic Linguistics! It falls under the umbrella of applied linguistics, which is simply the application of linguistic knowledge to forensic content. This content could be in the form of linguistic evidence in a criminal investigation, the language of written law at trial during judicial proceedings or for when one is called to interpret contracts. I am still in the early stages of learning all about this field and its possible applications. Nevertheless, there is no doubt in my mind that in the not so distant future, I will be presenting myself as a doctoral candidate to one day become, Dr. Rachel Evans, the unlikely accidental scientist.


Tit For Tat: Volunteering And Bartering Your Way To An Impressive Portfolio

The hardest part, in my opinion, for any new professional is getting started. We have all found ourselves at that moment where we have completed the required education and or certification and now we just need to find a job. We start our job hunt in the usual way and look in the usual places (classified ads in print and online, word of mouth, social media, company job boards, etc.) We read through job posting after job posting only to realize that they are all asking for the one requirement we do not have—experience!

True, we can certainly count the related work we did during our academic program. Perhaps we were even lucky enough to have an internship where we gained actual experience working in the industry. Maybe we were able to make a few connections here and there, yet even with all of this under our belt our portfolio can still be quite thin and limited. Can anything be done?

When your skills have not been tested or verified, businesses are leery about taking such a risk on a virtually unknown—and rightly so. It would not be in the best interest for a company to take careless risks. Luckily, there are always new companies forming; companies who are experiencing hard times as well as non-profit organizations who need goods and services but may not have the necessary funds to pay for them. This is when they rely on volunteerism. Translators and interpreters can showcase their skills and gain experience by taking on volunteer jobs. If you are not seeing any viable volunteer opportunities online, start looking within your community. Take the initiative, create volunteer opportunities. I noticed areas where content on my veterinarian’s website looked a little dull, so I offered to rewrite the content. After taking my pet bunny for his wellness check, I informed my veterinarian that I was currently looking for opportunities to grow my portfolio. Therefore, I extended my writing services to him on a volunteer basis.

Another portfolio building opportunity is bartering—who knew! Do you remember back in elementary school when one of the most exciting times of the school day was trading lunches in the cafeteria? Well, this is not any different. If you target other freelancers and young small businesses, you can get the things you need while grooming yourself to be a desirable candidate for all those job postings that you see calling for experienced individuals. Bartering is nothing new, in fact it was the principal way people got what they needed before monetary systems were established. If you are a mechanic who needs help with moving, offer to fix or do maintenance on a small moving company’s trucks. Discover what people need and think of how you can use what you do to benefit from what they do. Did you know that Roman soldiers use to get paid with salt? That is where the word salary comes from. Sorry, I digress. The key thing to remember here is to always be on the lookout for opportunities and to make sure you are prepared when those opportunities come. 

Case in point, one day my neighbor struck up a conversation with me in my driveway. I mentioned that I was due to take some family portraits and he mentioned he was a freelance photographer. He told me that he could work up a good rate for me. I told him that I too did freelance work (translation and copywriting). He informed me that he was currently working on another business endeavor and was in need of some written content for his new project. We exchanged business cards and now we have an appointment to see how we can work out an arrangement exchanging services that will benefit each other. You never know when these situations will occur so make sure you have business cards handy. Put some in your wallet, purse, pocket, backpack, briefcase, car or anywhere else you can think to keep them. If you always have your laptop or tablet with you make sure you have a digital copy of work samples saved on your device. Speak up and do not be timid to tell others about the work you do. You will be surprised at the amount of projects you can generate for yourself.

I would love to know what worked for you. How were you able to grow your professional portfolio? Let us know in the comment section.

Getting Started: A Freelance Translator

Audio Podcast Transcript

[Check back for the posting of the live interview]

RE: Hi and welcome to An Education in Translation. This is our second podcast. Today is March 19, 2014. My name is Rachel Evans and I am the educator and host behind “An education in Translation.” Today… I would like to implement a segment I like to call Career Day. And I am happy to announce that we will be talking with Janine Rhyans. She has agreed to join us from Denver Colorado by phone. Isn’t that correct Janine?

JR: Yes I have.

RE: Ok, Janine is a Spanish to English translator, and she is also a Translation Studies student at the University of Denver. So I thought that it would be a great idea for those of you out there who are interested in careers as a translator to sort of pick the brain of a translator, someone who has started the journey, on the journey, to kind of figure out what got them interested in the career.  What kinds of things that they are doing in order to become a translator? And what kinds of things do they have to deal with in their profession? So Janine, what I like to ask you is−if you don’t mind sharing with our listeners­­−how did your interest in translation develop?

JR: My interest in the translation and interpreting field developed when I was in high school. I actually had an internship with a non-profit organization that frequently used translators and interpreters, so I was able to kind of study how they worked and get a sense of, a little bit of a sense of, what the career field was like. And so also in my previous jobs, I have had the opportunity to translate informally. So when I saw that the University of Denver had a Spanish translation program; I thought that it would be a good opportunity for me to study the translation field.

RE: Ok, so what did you like best about translation, what attracted you to it?

JR: I like the challenge of translating one language to another and being able to kind of play with words. Also, I like that you have to use both of your language skills, and that it builds on my natural strengths as a writer and in research.

RE: Ok, so how would you briefly describe your language learning journey? Was it a difficult process for you, and if so, why? And what were some of the things that helped you along the way?

JR: I would say that my language journey began because I have always been fascinated with languages, and I always liked this idea to be able to communicate with a person in multiple ways. I started studying Spanish in middle school and I continued in high school, and then I decided to major in the language in college. I would say that probably one of the challenges for me was speaking, because I am naturally a quiet and shy person. And so I had to make an effort to speak.  So, I just… you know I made that effort to speak in all of my classes.

RE: Ok, so what do you want to do with your translation skills?  I know that you have a choice of working for a company (being an in-house translator) or working for yourself (being a freelance translator). I also know that you have a background in education and in accounting. So, are you interested in using your translation skills toward those things, or would you like to do something else with your skills?  

JR: Ideally I would like to work as a freelance translator and proofreader.

RE: Have you chosen a specialization, If so, what are they? And then, do you think that it is necessary to choice a specialization?

JR: The areas that I plan to specialize in are business, art and international development. I do have a background in business and accounting, and I also have strong interest in the art field and in international development. I think that it is good to specialize in translation because it helps you to focus on developing a knowledge of industry terminology. It also helps you to focus on what types of translations jobs you would like to take.

RE: Right, because there are so many options out there―

JR: Yeah

RE: You know there are so many industries that could use, you know, translation services. You know you have the medical field, the legal field, um, the business field. So it can get pretty overwhelming, so I guess narrowing down your focus, you know, would be a big help.  It will help you to be more marketable and then you can say that you mastered a particular area, that you have a particular expertise in a certain area.

JR: Yes, that is true.

RE: Ok, so what steps have you taken or will you take to reach your goal as a translator? What are some of the things that you are doing on a regular basis to meet that goal?

JR: Well, currently I am completing my program at the University of Denver. And while I have been studying, I have also been doing volunteer translating. And I have been putting together a portfolio of my translation work.  I also have started taking professional development classes in the business field, sort of more entrepreneurial classes.

RE: Ok, I think that it is really important — I am really glad you mentioned that you are putting together a portfolio… And that you are putting together a focused resume, a professional resume and things like that because sometimes when you are in school — sometimes people don’t tell you these things and

JR: Right—

RE: when you are done with your degree, you get out there and you do not know why you are not getting jobs. You are just — you are clueless and I think that it is helpful to hear somebody say; ok you need to be working on this. You need to be doing this. And that can help you reach your goal sooner.

JR: That is true.

RE: So if you have already taken steps, which obviously you have. We have just got through talking about those. Are you finding the process difficult? And if so, what are the challenges that you are running into?

JR: I think anytime you start something new the process is difficult, so you just have to take things in small steps. And also for me―because I work full-time―it is also finding the time every day to do something to work on my goal.

RE: Right, right. So what would the ideal translation career look like for you? If you could um you know put together where you want to see yourself in five or ten years, what would your job look like?

JR: I think the ideal career probably initially would be to work uh part-time as a translator.  But then long-term, I would definitely like to work full-time as a freelance translator.

RE: Ok, and uh I would imagine that your long-term goal, that you said, is to work full-time as a translator.  Is there anything else that you would like to add to your skill?  Would you like to add an additional specialization, or do you feel comfortable with the specializations that you have already chosen?

JR: I think for right now I just I kind of want to focus on those three, but yeah, maybe in the future I would definitely be interested in learning more.

RE: Ok and what advice would you give to both school-aged students and college students who might be contemplating a career in translation? What would you tell them?

JR: I would say to research the field, the translation and interpreting field. And maybe talk to professional translators and interpreters to find out what their education background is, what their career path was. I would also say; you know if you want, you can start to volunteer for different non-profit organizations as a translator or an interpreter. I would just say; you know just go for it.

RE: Ok, thank you so much. Now

JR: Thank you.

RE: If you would like to learn more about Janine’s experiences and the things she has to deal with as a translation studies student and as a rising translator; you can follow her on her blog. Janine if you would share with us where we could go to read your blog and any other places on social media that you may be.

JR: My blog is called, and I am also on twitter Janinetranslates.

RE: Ok, thank you so much Janine and to all of our listeners out there.  I hope that this was helpful to you and I just want to say; good luck to all your future endeavors.

JR: Thank you for having me.

RE: Your welcome, thank you.

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