A Linguist’s Recipe for Success

Alumnus Adam Rhodes spoke to linguistics students about the professional possibilities that await them after graduation.

Adam Rhodes pic

PROVO, Utah (Sep. 7, 2016)—As a student fresh off the mission, Adam Rhodes was unsure what he wanted to do with his life. He bounced around from college to college and major to major, but had difficulty finding anything that interested him. While exploring the university’s offerings, he decided to take a Japanese class purely, he said, for the fun of it. And that is how he stumbled across what he called one of the best-kept secrets of BYU: the linguistics program.

Now an alumnus, husband and father, Rhodes returned to the College of Humanities to speak to linguistics students, delivering his presentation, “People, Patterns, and Perseverance: How Linguistics Prepares Students for Lives of Discovery and Success.” In doing so, he hoped to inspire students to the roads made possible by their linguistics training, some of which are not typically associated with language.

Referring to the Japanese class that influenced him so much, Rhodes said, “A critical thing happened for me at that point: School became fun. I was enjoying my BYU studies.” Prior to entering the linguistics program, that was not a sensation he was accustomed to. But the sensation raised a new dilemma for Rhodes. “Now that I had something that I loved to study, I had no idea what I was going to do with it.”

An unexpected opportunity came in the form of the United States Armed Forces. On the counsel of another linguistics graduate, Rhodes investigated and ultimately enlisted in the military as a linguist, specializing in Arabic. Though he warned his listeners that the military is not for everyone, Rhodes enjoyed his six years in the Air Force immensely, especially the opportunity to learn a new language, the pride that came with the uniform and the job security during the national economic downturn.

While still in the military, Rhodes discovered another application of his linguistics skills: data analytics. “Data analytics is taking data and turning it into usable information, helping people better their businesses,” Rhodes explained. Currently he works in healthcare, focusing on improving patient experiences and outcomes.

During their education, some linguistics students may be moved to ask how their skills could apply outside of language study. Through experience, Rhodes has found the answer, what he referred to as the “Linguist’s Recipe for Success.”

First, linguistics and language study are focused on people. “Any job you take . . . they wouldn’t pay you, they wouldn’t employ you, if it didn’t help other people,” Rhodes said. In studying linguistics, students learn more about people and the various ways they communicate. And that, Rhodes believes, makes students better equipped to understand them on a personal level. “It’s not just a language. It’s about understanding other people. Understanding what they care about. Understanding what they want to tell you. Understanding that maybe they’re telling you more than what they’re saying.”

Second, linguistics is heavily pattern-oriented. Students, whether they realize it or not, learn to identify and anticipate patterns, using them to solve problems. These problems, Rhodes explained, do not have to be language related. To demonstrate, Rhodes presented the assembled students with the mathematical equation for calculating standard deviation. Though only two had ever seen the equation before, all were eventually able to decipher the formula.

Finally, linguistics teaches perseverance. “Language and language learning bring you up against a barrier,” Rhodes said. “When we learn not to give up at that wall, and learn to not stop there but keep going, that’s a skill, and that’s a skill you can take anywhere you want to.”

As a student, Rhodes would not have predicted the course his life has taken. But he has been pleasantly surprised. “I found a career that I absolutely love,” he said, and promised the students that they were on the right path to do likewise.

—Samuel Wright (B.A. American Studies ’16)


Samuel covers events for the Department of Linguistics and English Language for the College of Humanities. He is a senior pursuing a degree in American studies with a minor in editing.