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Alumni Stories: Kara Dewes “14 TESOL

Question: What has been your career experience since graduation?

My career since leaving ODU has been pretty eclectic. I started out as an adjunct with TCC, and about 6 months after graduating, secured a position with an ESL program in northern China. After I got settled in there, I transitioned to a management role and stayed with that for the next 7 years, though I moved to the city of Suzhou (just outside of Shanghai) a few years in. Although I did a bit of teaching, a lot of my work actually focused on administrative duties: I got to plan and implement teacher training programs, conduct teacher evaluations, design level-specific materials / curricula, and lots of other interesting tasks related to education. Eventually the Covid restrictions in China started to wear me down, so at the end of 2022 I opted to return to the US and pick up my career from there.

Question: How has ODU's MA in Applied Linguistics program helped in your career?

The most obvious way that my MA helped me was with my teaching assignments. It was very easy for me to stand out amongst the other teachers just because of my knowledge and experience working with the subject matter. Having a more formal, structured knowledge of the language was extremely helpful when planning lessons, and it was absolutely instrumental in providing teacher training. It was actually thanks to the graduate program at ODU that I got my first teaching placement at TCC, which gave me the leverage to eventually move on to positions overseas.

It wasn't just the teaching side of my MA that helped me, though. Especially once I started working in more corporate environments in China, I had to start working with data and doing statistical analysis. One of the courses I took at ODU was a research methods class with Dr. Zareva, and it was honestly one of the best academic experiences I've ever had. Even though I haven't conducted a formal study since that class, I used a lot of that information to do informal work in the schools I was placed at. It also gifted me with the skills required to critically analyze other people's research and decide if it was valuable or not, and how it could fit into my own work.

Question: What was your favorite thing about ODU's MA in Applied Linguistics Program?

My absolute, all-time favorite classes were Dr. Zareva's research methods course, which taught an invaluable set of skills that are widely applicable, and the English grammar course, which I'd highly recommend to any aspiring ESL instructors. I'm genuinely so grateful for my positive experience with the program at ODU - all of the instructors were truly dedicated to the subject material, and so generous with their time, advice, and ongoing support. My career - and my personal life - would be fundamentally different if I hadn't pursued this program!

Question: Do you have any advice for grad students interested in applied linguistics, or for students who are currently in the program?

A big piece of advice I would have to the graduate students currently in the program would be to keep your old assignments (at least a digital copy), especially if it involves anything that might be of practical use. By this I mean any kind of teaching materials / documents you create for the practicum, any corpus research, research work (I know I did some for both Drs. Zareva and Anderson), etc. I actually provided my final report from the research methods class to some former supervisors and used it as evidence of research experience to secure a promotion - even if the job you're looking at next doesn't require a skill, something else further ahead might. Also, if you're about to go out and start looking for a job (especially outside of teaching), try to think about the soft skill set that your MA gives you rather than the hard skills - things like critical thinking, analysis, research skills, communication, etc. Sure, anyone can put them down on a resume, but after you complete the program you'll have demonstrated evidence of your ability. You have a lot of career options with a degree in Applied Linguistics, you just have to know how to leverage and showcase your skills. (And be prepared for everyone to think you're a translator, not a social scientist. Yes, it gets old, but be patient.)

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