To PhD or not to PhD

For the majority of language professionals, the thought of giving three or more years of their life over to sitting in an office, reading papers, writing notes and preparing papers sounds like a punishment. Who in their right mind would leave behind (or at least reduce) their professional workload in favour of spending hours on theory and methods. We must be mad!

Believe it or not, research might actually be good for you. Besides helping improve the status of translators and interpreters, besides helping them understand what clients actually want, besides raising the profile of languages, research might actually help make you a better translator or interpreter.

How so? Well, if you have been a professional for any length of time, you will certainly have already used a bunch of the skills researchers use on an everyday basis. If you need to find the right term to use, you need to analyse and classify sources, sort and collate information, think critically, build an argument and follow it through to its logical conclusion. Now, admittedly, you might not write much of this process down but maybe you should.

How many times have you done research for one job and not been able to recall where you found all the information you needed when a similar job came along? Have you ever done a great job of doing the research for one translation only to struggle to follow the same process for the next?

All methodology really boils down to is the discussion of different ways of gathering and collating information. What do I lose or gain if I do my research this way? How do I know the information I am gathering is trustworthy? How do I define “trustworthy” anyway?

And theory? Well, as Prof Graham Turner says, there is no better theory than practical theory. Theory can mean two things in Translation and Interpreting Studies, both of which may well be handy for professionals. The first thing theory does is to divide up the world and place pretty labels on the bits. As soon as you start talking about the difference between translation, transcreation and adaptation, you are talking theory. Yet this difference might be really important, financially important above all!

The other kind of theory starts to predict stuff. If I translate this sentence like this, will it make the translation work better or worse? Do my agency clients want something different from my direct clients? What happens if I increase my lag when doing simultaneous interpreting? Will anything bad happen if I am 100% accurate here?

Research is not quite so alien after all. In fact, it might have some useful stuff to say to professionals and professionals might actually have something to say to research too. It might even be the case that professionals could do worse than to get involved in it.

Now, not everyone is going to go as far as to go get a PhD. But there are several good reasons why professionals might want to keep their finger on the pulse of Translation and Interpreting research. If nothing else, keeping an eye on practical research might give us some useful ideas to try out, ideas that should have already been tried and tested.

Author: Jonathan Downie