How Do I Become a Psycholinguist?

Mary McMahon

Significant training is necessary to become a psycholinguist, including graduate work and often postgraduate research. Work in this field is very diverse, and practitioners may approach it from a number of perspectives including anthropology, neurology, and sociology. Psycholinguists look at the cognitive mechanisms behind language acquisition and development. They also have an interest in how languages disseminate, and topics like the split between different versions of English, or why some forms of language are regarded as more “proper” than others.

Man with hands on his hips
Man with hands on his hips

High school students who think they might have an interest in this field can get a head start on the path to become a psycholinguist. This work requires substantial math and science skills along with training in topics like cognitive science and psychology. High school students should load up on as many classes as possible. They may want to consider taking care of some college prerequisites and could ask if they can take courses at a local college or university.

At the undergraduate level, a student who wants to become a psycholinguist can pursue a degree in an area like linguistics, cognitive science, anthropology, sociology, neurology, or pre-medicine. It may also be possible to take a psycholinguistics degree. If research opportunities are available, they should be taken. Undergraduates with research experience tend to be more appealing in graduate school applications, and they also have a chance to make connections they may use later. Along the way, they can also start to explore topics for graduate-level theses.

In applications to graduate schools, students should seek out universities with psycholinguistics programs. They may want to look into the leading figures in a particular area of the field to see if it would be possible to study with a particularly noted researcher. A student who plans to become a psycholinguist should have an idea for a thesis in mind and can look for a school that will be able to support the research with its personnel, equipment, and available grant monies.

In graduate school, students have an opportunity for field work along with laboratory research. This field is highly varied, and a person might become a psycholinguist to do anything from treating children with autism to researching rare languages that are in danger of becoming extinct. For those who plan to pursue careers in education and research, it is a good idea to get publication credits in graduate school to establish credentials. These will become critical in applications for advanced fellowships and teaching positions, which tend to be highly competitive in nature.

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