Frequently Asked Questions

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Frequently Asked Questions

What is placement like after graduating?

We have a very high placement rate among our alumni.  Students who have successfully completed the program have gone on to get good positions in companies working in CL or in select PhD programs right after or very soon after graduation.  The most successful are those who actively participate not only in the courses, but in the many networking opportunities and  seminars that we offer throughout the year.  Alumni frequently participate in these events, allowing students to get an idea of what it’s like to work in specific companies and industries.

The range of positions graduates of the program have taken is very wide.  Some take positions in companies specifically focused on CL, such as Basis and Luminoso.  Others are in a range of industries that have commercial or research groups working in CL, which range from consumer facing companies, such as Amazon and Rakuten, to healthcare, such as QPID and Partners Healthcare, to research companies, such as BBN and Mitre.  You can see the full range of placements on our Alumni page.

Can I apply if I have never studied linguistics (or only studied it very little)?

Yes. If you are accepted into our program, you will take several core linguistics courses to fill in your background as part of your MA coursework.

Can I apply without having programmed previously?

Yes. However, if you are accepted into our program, it will be with the condition of getting a B or better in an introduction to programming course.

The reason for this requirement is to make sure that our program and the field of CL will be a good fit for you -- and to allow you to be as sure of this as possible before beginning your studies with us.

Since CL involves lots of programming, we have found that adding this requirement allows students without prior study of CS to have a smoother first year than they would otherwise.  It is part of what we do to try to set up every student in the program to do as well as possible throughout and succeed in getting a good job placement.

Programming takes a particular mindset, not just skillset.  Most people who are interested in computational linguistics take to it very quickly, however some find that this is not something they want to build their career on. By taking a significantly rigorous course before entering, students who do well and choose to come have more confidence in their choice of career, clearer expectations of the work they will be doing, and better preparation for the programming assignments in the first semester. 

Why am I being asked to take an introduction to programming course before entering the program? What does it mean if I am accepted with the condition of getting a B or better in an introduction to programming course?

The reason for this requirement is to make sure that our program and the field of CL will be a good fit for you -- and to allow you to be as sure of this as possible before beginning your studies with us.

Since CL involves lots of programming, we have found that adding this requirement allows students without prior study of CS to have a smoother first year than they would otherwise.  It is part of what we do to try to set up every student in the program to do as well as possible throughout and succeed in getting a good job placement.

Programming takes a particular mindset, not just skillset.  Most people who are interested in computational linguistics take to it very quickly, however some find that this is not something they want to build their career on. By taking a significantly rigorous course before entering, students who do well and choose to come have more confidence in their choice of career, clearer expectations of the work they will be doing, and better preparation for the programming assignments in the first semester. 
Why am I being asked to take a mathematics course before entering the program? What does it mean if I am accepted with the condition of getting a B or better in a mathematics course?

The reason for this requirement is to make sure that our program and the field of CL will be a good fit for you -- and to allow you to be as sure of this as possible before beginning your studies with us. 

Since CL involves lots of mathematics (especially statistics and discrete mathematics), we think that adding this requirement allows students without prior study of mathematics to have a smoother first year than they would if they took this course with us, in their first year.  We want students who enter the program to be in good shape to do really well in it, so that they do go on to get good jobs or PhD student positions after they graduate.

In case if this course does not go well, we hope that both we and the student would be glad that they found out that a mathematics-intensive field like CL would not be a good fit for them before they invested the time, money, and energy of beginning a graduate program in it. 

We hope that most of the time, the student will do well in the course – and then enter the program very prepared and excited to do more. We think this will be the case most of the time, since those students we accept for admission (including with this requirement) usually show other evidence that they'll probably be good at math, even if they haven't done much of it yet. 

We view this requirement as benefitting the accepted student as much as the program – it is part of what we do to try to set up every student in the program to do as well as possible throughout.

Are there good places on the web that I can visit to see if I like to program? What can I do to begin learning to program in the relevant programming languages before starting the program?

One of the most widely used languages in CL is Python. The following is by no means an exhaustive list, but just some resources that current and past students have found helpful.

1.  A tutorial at Python's own documentation site is very legible and accessible:

http://docs.python.org/2/tutorial/

2.  Learn Python the Hard Way is a good online textbook, and despite the title it is actually a very accessible introduction to Python:

http://learnpythonthehardway.org/

3.  A website that offers courses on several programming languages, including Python, is Codecademy.com. It is very interactive – you write and submit programs, and get instant feedback:

http://www.codecademy.com/

4. Coursera's Computer Science 101 is an online course that features video lectures and some programming assignments. The language is JavaScript, not Python, but the concepts will carry over to any language:

https://www.coursera.org/course/cs101

5. If you're in the Boston area and want to learn Python, we highly recommend joining The Boston Python Group on Meetup.com.  They organize presentations, workshops, and informal events where Python learners can get help from more experienced programmers and work on group projects. There are similar groups in other cities; Boston's might be the largest.

6.  The NLTK ('Natural Language Toolkit') book is free online:

http://nltk.org/book/

It starts out assuming no previous knowledge of Python.

NLTK is used a lot in our program and throughout CL, and is the main focus in our CL MA program’s first semester core course, LING 131: Programming for Linguistics.  But it is also very accessible to theoretical linguists who learn some of it on their own to use various tools in the toolkit; we know many linguists who have done this, who otherwise had never programmed and didn't necessarily aim to go into CL.

7.  Finally, the following wiki lists many tools, videos and other information for people learning Python:

http://www.reddit.com/r/learnpython/wiki/index.

Is there work-study? What forms of financial assistance are available to help with the cost of tuition? Are there part-time jobs available while I’m a student, to help with the cost of tuition?

There is no work study for graduate students.

We completely understand the financial hardships involved.

There are part-time jobs available. What you might want to take on evolves typically as you progress through the program:

  • TAships:  Students with a strong undergraduate degree in either linguistics or computer science can work as TAs for our undergraduate courses in those departments. These are hourly part-time jobs, and do not include tuition remission.
  • RAships:  There are several ongoing research projects in the department so there is frequently the need for students to work as annotators on corpora being built in our lab.   There are projects going on both with data from English, Chinese, and some Russian.

These TAships, RAships, or annotation work tend not to be set until the start of the semester, at which point we put you in touch with the appropriate faculty.

  • Also, several of our students work elsewhere on campus, e.g. as English tutors in the ESL program.

  • RAships/Internships: As you develop more programming ability (or for students coming in with a CS degree or programming work experience), it is also common for our MA students to get RA work on more programming-heavy tasks for our lab.   
  • Internships:  After the first year, many students get paid summer internships in CL related work in the Boston area and around the country, which can range from annotation to programming to research.   This is of course invaluable in getting some real job experience, and in making contacts for later internships and full-time work for after graduation – but is also helpful with costs for the degree itself.

  • Some students are able to continue their summer jobs part time during the semester, particularly those in the Boston area.

These are not guaranteed, but they are extremely common, so long as you're doing well in the program.
Can I be a Teaching Assistant (TA) while I’m a student, to help with the cost of tuition?

At the start, a lot of our students who did linguistics fairly deeply as undergraduates work as TAs for our undergrad linguistics courses or (for students with more CS experience) for CS courses. This is an hourly part-time job, and does not include tuition remission.

These TAships tend not to be set until the start of the semester, at which point we put you in touch with the appropriate faculty.

Can I be a Research Assistant (RA) while I’m a student, to help with the cost of tuition?

Yes. What you might want to take on evolves typically as you progress through the program. 

Work as an annotator on corpora being built in our lab is possible from the start, very often – and there are projects going on both with data from English and also Chinese, and some Russian.

These RAships or annotation work tend not to be set until the start of the semester, at which point we put you in touch with the appropriate faculty

As you develop more programming ability, it is also common for our MA students to get RA work on tasks that involve programming that need doing in our lab.   For students who are entering without prior study in CS, this wouldn't be possible right away, but often is by the summer right after the first year. And then at that point – once you have more programming abilities and more background in CL and NLP – it is also common that students are able to get part-time work and paid internships around town, at companies doing CL (or summer jobs at companies wherever they'll be that summer, if not in the Boston area). This is of course invaluable in getting some real job experience, and in making contacts for later internships and full-time work for after graduation -- but is also helpful with costs for the degree itself.

So, these are not guaranteed, but they're extremely common, so long as you're doing well in the program.

In terms of the Exit Requirement for the program, how do students choose between the Thesis and Internship option? If I get an internship, can it be paid?

Yes -- you can indeed be paid by the company you're at and also get academic credit for the internship.  

In fact, nearly all of the internships our students had as their exit requirement have in fact been paid.  By default, though, both the thesis and the internship each count as one course for academic credit (and so toward full-time enrollment).  This is important, so that you have time the semester you do them to focus on them, and take correspondingly fewer regular courses that term.

The choice between doing a thesis or an internship has been very individual.  For the most part, an internship would be the prototypical choice for those who know they're headed for an industry job, while the thesis would be the choice for those wanting to apply for PhD programs (since you need a writing sample to send with applications, and a thesis is the best/natural choice for that).However, other choices are possible. First, it is possible and fine to do both – and each of the two would count as one of your courses that term.  (Side point: you can also do one or both for 2 semesters, rather than one.)  Second, some companies have a very research-based feel to them, and also there are sometimes internships that are at more of a non-profit organization rather than a typical for-profit tech company.  These can be very satisfying for candidates interested in PhD sorts of research-based work.  And, finally – even students who know this is their last time in school have sometimes chosen very applied sorts of thesis topics, which companies were actually very interested in (and which candidates said it was useful to be able to talk about in job interviews at companies).

So, there are a lot of factors that can be involved.  And of course, we're always happy to talk things over with you and help you make a decision as the time to choose approaches.  Particularly as students move into and through their second year in the program, this is frequently something they make appointments with Professor Goldberg, the Advising Chair for the program, and with other faculty to help talk over.