Guest Post: From PhD to NASA

This is the second in our series of interviews from Career Profiles in Linguistics. Enjoy!

Yesterday I had the distinct pleasure of meeting with Dr. Charlotte Linde, who works at NASA!  Specifically, she works at the NASA Ames Research Center within the Information Sciences and Technology division.

About Charlotte

Charlotte’s specialization is in narrative and institutional memory, and at NASA, some of her recent work tackles how moon and Mars spaceship planning teams “preserve and use representations of the past to guide present and future actions.”  So, for example, how does NASA as an organization  learn from past successes and failures in advancing the next mission.  NarrativeNASA_seal.svgs are one form in which knowledge is stored and a linguist can think about things like: Who uses them?  In what contexts?  To what ends?   Does the institution want to manage these uses?  If so how and why?

Click here if you would like to read some more about Charlotte’s work on narrative and memory.

For those of you unfamiliar with her work, Charlotte is probably best known for her work on politeness and accidents in pilot-air traffic controller interactions.

Another thing that she is working on now is the nature of authority, and how it is negotiated in language.  This is a HUGE area for linguists. If you’d like to read more, here’s a blog post you might be interested in.

About Knowledge Management

Charlotte’s work for NASA falls within the realm of “knowledge management.” What is “knowledge management” you ask? Well, if you NASA_logo.svg (1)want to learn more, here is a place to start.  The author of that resource defines it this way: “Where and in what forms knowledge exists; what the organization needs to know; how to promote a culture conducive to learning, sharing, and knowledge creation; how to make the right knowledge available to the right people at the right time; how to best generate or acquire new relevant knowledge; how to manage all of these factors so as to enhance performance in light of the organization’s strategic goals and short term opportunities and threats.

Linguistics as training for Knowledge Management 

In our conversation, Charlotte helped me to see that knowledge management is something that we linguists are uniquely equipped for.  We listen better than the average bear.  We observe detail better than the average bear.  We cue into things that other people might not even notice in the first place.

For instance, I happen to posses a great deal of knowledge about where it is that people have found professional expression of their passion for linguistics.  To apply a knowledge management lens to my situation would be to think about the forms in which my knowledge about career paths is stored.  Where is this information contained?  Right now, a great deal of it exists only in my brain and then in the stories that I tell.  I am invested in finding more ways to disseminate this information, in other words, it is tied up with a strategy to want to share my knowledge for myriad reasons, among them:

  • Dissemination would help employers better understand how to use us as linguists, perhaps forging new connections, ones that we have not yet dreamed of
  • Dissemination helps those who are just starting their training envision new ways of applying it, perhaps motivating a current student to take a class that they would not have thought to take otherwise
  • Dissemination helps those who are out there working better understand and articulate the value of their work
  • Which might attract those who are only thinking about studying linguistics, and who would have been turned off by the field if they thought the only application of it were in academia.

Thus, it is that I find myself blogging this morning, as a way to “sustain and enhance the storage, assessment, sharing, refinement, and creation of knowledge.” And thus it is that I have written my way back around to User Experience which you can read more about in the post I crafted last week!   So, that is my cue – ta for now, and keep the stories coming!