Why Bother Doing Research?

As you will find out throughout this year, a lot of the PhD students here in LINCS are actually practicing interpreters or translators. So most of us are researching the very work we do on a regular basis. This leads to a first question: why would practicing interpreters and translators give up or at least slow down their practice for 3 years or more to go and sit in the aforementioned dull and dreary rooms? Good question.

In the next few posts, we will look at some of the reasons people do research and what it is actually like to be a PhD student.

For me personally, it starts with the fact that is that it’s very rare, when you are doing translation/interpreting/etc. to have time to sit back and think about how to do it better. For the most part, the general busyness of being a professional means that between working, doing admin, chasing clients, gaining clients, networking and sleeping there is not a lot of time to think much past the next job or the next payment.

All professionals want to get better but few have the time to spend to investigate how. Sure, there are always CPD events and conferences but what impact do they actually have on your practice? Networking might get your more clients and going to events can be fun but how do you know whether it has been of any real benefit to you? Less selfishly, how can you possibly understand what is going on in the profession or what impact your work is having on the wider world when you are constantly pressured just to keep up?

For three years or so, doing a PhD gives you that space. Research is built on thinking. We think about what we want to investigate. We think about the people who have looked at the same problem before. We think about how to gather data. We think about what the data means. With good research, we then think about how that might be applied to the same world of translation and interpreting that we have come from.

So, when I noticed that in-between translation and interpreting jobs, when I should have been visiting some event or doing admin, I was actually reading research papers, I realised something was up. I saw that I was quickly growing a passion to link what academics say and what translators and interpreters do.

After all, when we start lobbying for better paid interpreters, we need research to show what they actually do. When we want to disprove silly stories about interpreters being paid five figure sums, we need research to show we are right. When we want to demonstrate the good that interpreting and translation do for society, yep, you’ve guessed it, we need evidence.

Like it or not, the future of translation and interpreting, at least in the UK, depends on how well academia and the profession can work together. And that’s why I do research.

Author: Jonathan Downie