Virtual Guest Speakers for Professionalization Seminar

For this project, I explored different technologies that I could use to bring guest speakers who do not live in Washington D.C. into the LING 495 MLC Professionalization seminar. This is a course in career education and professional self-presentation, and I view guest speakers as being integral in cultivating both knowledge about available professional paths and in providing opportunities to present oneself professionally. In collaboration with my ITEL cohort and with Yong Lee and others at CNDLS, I considered many different kinds of technologies for designing this interaction including Reddit, Twitter, Facebook, google hangout, skype, e-mail, Blackboard, and WordPress in roughly that order. I ultimately decided to use google Q&A (which is a type of google group) based on my familiarity with the platform and Yong’s recommendation of the affordances and the degree to which, in his estimation, it would help me achieve my goal of fostering a context for honesty and vulnerability as part of sustained engagement between mentor and mentee.

Ultimately, an interaction with a guest speaker is an opportunity to practice asking questions. Over the course of teaching this course for the past five years, I identified the need for students to become better able to ask for things professionally. If career exploration is predicated on networking (as I argue that it is), professional opportunities occur as the result of asking and being asked for things, and reaching out in a way that honors “the ask”. One of my big questions for this work was how technology could afford opportunities for reflecting on “the ask,” which I understand to involve being more aware of opportunities to ask for and to give things as well as being aware of how better to go about doing so. Additionally, I wondered if mindfulness about the ask might in turn create and foster professional relationships.

The ask became one of the central themes for the course, and technology enabled us to look at this in different contexts and also to have more time for reflecting on this because it extended the bounds of the classroom. For this report, I will investigate questions for evidence of impact on learning.


Because I used a google group, I now have a transcript of the entire interaction to reflect back on as data. Google group also provides analytics, so that you can see things like who posted the most frequently, as I will discuss shortly, and which provide a quantitative base for reflection. Also, because I had a rich e-mail correspondence among professional participants in designing the interaction, I have those e-mails as data as well. Note that I am not using pseudoynms in this report, but that if these data do get used in any further presentations, I would want to protect anonymity of participants in that way.


There were 7 students, myself and the TA, so there were 9 total ask-ers and 6 people being asked, for a total of 15 participants in the conversation.

After me, the next two most frequent posters were guest speakers, which I would have expected to see, but I was a bit surprised to then see one whose participation matched that of Elizabeth (another guest speaker), nearly doubling the contributions of her classmate. The student self-identifies as a leader, but can be a bit quiet in big group discussions, so it was interesting to see her here sandwiched between the guest speakers in terms of frequency of posting.

The student who appeared at the end of this “most active” list was usually far and away the most active contributor in the classroom, and so I was gratified to see that this platform gave voice to at least three students who consistently spoke less in a face-to-face setting.


In the end, there were 22 total questions (after I had unpacked and separated out some of the “asks” that were in my estimation comprised of multiple questions) as part of this discussion and 72 total posts One place to begin to approach the thinking about these questions might be just to observe which questions got the most responses. The thread with the most activity was the “Introductions” and then the next most popular, with 6 posts and 5 authors each (none of whom happily was me!) was a question about whether or not to write a thesis and a question about computational linguistics.

I will focus in this write-up on the question of whether or not to write a thesis because it is something I did not anticipate, it has actually never come up in the Proseminar to date, and I don't think it is something that I would have thought to have a discussion about.

For those who did not write a thesis with the MLC, do you ever have to justify to potential employers why you chose not to thesis? I'm pretty set on not writing a thesis, but I have had multiple people (non-linguists, mostly friends/family) ask, "So you're getting a Master's without writing a thesis? You're JUST taking classes?" Has anyone encountered this in the job-hunt? And how do you deal with these questions? Right now I'm explaining that there are so many classes I want to take, and I'm learning about a variety of topics and methods, but I'd love to hear some advice on this. Thanks!

I was delighted to notice that this became a useful “hook” for discussing what takes place in job interviews, as occurred in another student’s response below.

I did not write a thesis, and to date, it has caused no issues in my career, including during the interview process. Please note that I can only speak to my experience in healthcare market research and advertising.

Like you, I focused on taking as many (DA) courses as I could to grow my toolset as much as possible before leaving Georgetown. I also made a point to utilize research and paper opportunities within my specific courses to not only apply what I was learning to the types of data that I was interested in professionally, but to also build a body of work. And so while I didn't write a thesis, I have several papers that I have spoken to and included in applications since graduating.

So at the end of the day, if you are either writing a thesis or, in our cases, not writing a thesis, it is important that you can confidently speak to why you chose either option. And don't let anyone ever make you feel like just because you didn't write a thesis, you didn't learn, do research, or earn your degree.

The “thesis or not to thesis” conversation proceeded along a similar vein with other posters giving similar examples of how it is that they talk about their skills interests and experience, and giving encouragement and support. But I am particularly pleased about the modeling of professional self-presentation, as in another student’s advice below to “point to something you liked and sound engaged”:

Even as a thesis propagandist, I have to say no one has ever brought up the thesis 'unprovoked' in a business-y context. I've certainly talked about my thesis at interviews, but I don't think anyone else has ever brought it up themself. Since masters programs have such different requirements, that's a big assumption for a contact to make - that you went to a program that had a thesis, that it was optional, and that you opted out.

A more likely assumption is that you have a special focus or interest, which in my experience, other people WILL be interested in. But it doesn't have to me the be-all-and-end-all of your academic experience, just point to something you liked and sound engaged.

But I like the advice to own it, too, if someone does ask you directly.

The view from the other side of the table is one perspective that I frequently ask students to assume, but I like the answers from alum because they give a view “beyond the table.” How they think about things when the interview is long behind them.

And as another way to approach thinking about an impact on learning, the questions about Computational Linguistics were a whole lot more straightforward. Students had questions that got answered thoroughly, and they now have a ton of resources that I would not have been able to give them and in greater detail than there would have been time to share orally in a group setting.

This process did take a great deal of time!! We had to build up to this discussion, and it took a great deal of my time and my students time (and we used shared class time to set it up as well), but each of my students now has eight more professional contacts in their network and that much more experience asking for things (everyone is on record asking at least one question) and getting both answers and support, which is invaluable, if difficult to measure.

One message that I would want to share with other faculty is that you need to just try stuff out. I got the sense from some of the questions that I was asked when I presented this as part of the panel at TLISI that some of my colleagues would want to be thoroughly trained in any technology that they might want to use in class, but in my experience, you can’t even know which ones will be worth learning about until you try. To try, you have to just get your hands dirty and be willing to make mistakes and change your mind and risk looking like you don’t always know exactly where everything is going all of the time. I venture to say that this modeling is better at conveying the sense of ownership of the material that I strive to engender as a teacher, and I know that I get a whole heck of a lot more out of the experience when I am learning alongside my students!