What does an intern in linguistics do? Impressions from my first (home) office


Turning my room into a home office (Photographer: Marina Ivanova)

The end of my master’s and the planning of my PhD studies got me craving a business experience before diving into research and I received it from the first day I started my full-time internship as a linguist at a company for social media monitoring near Stuttgart. I still recall my initial amazement as everyone in the offices was working silently on their tasks and suddenly three people gathered their things and went to a separate room for a meeting. Then they returned, worked on something else, and a couple of them went to another meeting. No knocking on doors, no unnecessary distractions – everyone was invited and reminded through the common calendar. As my tutorials and work started, I also got used to being managed through a calendar and tracking the time I dedicate to each task.

Organisation was the first skill I improved – but what did I learn about linguistics?

The job title “linguist” can have completely different meanings depending on the employer. A quick look at the current job offers in Germany tells us that it can range from research at universities and research institutions, to translation and content creation, far away to modeling, data analysis and speech recognition in computer linguistics.

So what am I doing as a linguist in a company for social media monitoring?
In order to gather only the relevant content from the web and analyse it, we need to develop a search query that determines which terms should be included and which excluded. Thus, we aim to get results only for the subject of interest and avoid irrelevant data for words with the same spelling. So, if we are for example interested in a company like Apple, how do we gather only content on the company and avoid irrelevant data on the fruit or personal names? The linguist should formulate the answer to this question in a standardised query syntax in a maximally efficient, concise and logical way – a skill I am improving gradually with every new task and project.

Linguists also sometimes get to annotate the sentiment of a piece of web content – the positive, negative or mixed attitude of the post – in order to train the automatic sentiment coding system. In this process, I learned to distinguish the linguistic features of genuine positive responses from advertisements, which are often difficult to tell apart.

My internship also gave me my first experience with the company’s dashboard tool, which is an interactive platform for data visualisation. There I learned to customise the different data channels and displays and to use them to explore the data, which has given me various insights about the type of “buzz” on different media.

Other smaller tasks which I have had to deal with are research and translation, so I am not getting bored by doing the same activity.

Internship from home office – how does that work?
My internship started in the company’s office in March and moved to home office two weeks later. This was a bit unfortunate since I was starting to get used to the dynamics of the office and the team (not to mention the coffee and cake). Still, I was grateful that there was an established distant access system and I could continue working and learning. This would have not been able in other sectors. Our regular online coffee breaks and frequent calls ensured that we stayed in touch with my supervisor and the rest of the team. To avoid inevitable temptations, I have started to hide my phone, set certain times for meals and try to concentrate only on the task I am working on.

In the middle of my three months, I had a feedback meeting with my supervisor, where we exchanged our impressions about the internship. This was surely one of the most constructive and rewarding experiences I have had and I will definitely organise such meetings if I ever have someone to look after.

Was it worth it?
So far, even if it was exhausting, time-consuming and costly, moving to the other end of Germany for three months was definitely worth it. There are a lot of good practices I will take back to Chemnitz and slowly developing a business mindset is one of them.

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