Women in Research
Texas Tech University linguistics professor Min-Joo Kim tells female students looking for a career in academia to find out what they love, pursue their dreams and be tenacious in the hard work ahead.
Linguist Min-Joo Kim
During March, Texas Tech celebrates women faculty who exemplify excellence in research, scholarship, creative activity, teaching, and mentoring.
Min-Joo Kim is an associate professor in the Department of English, and she specializes in theoretical syntax, semantics, and their interface. She also has secondary research interests and expertise in language acquisition, pragmatics, and grammaticalization.
In the question-and-answer session that follows, Kim describes her work more fully.
What inspired you to work in your field/area of expertise?
The intellectual curiosity and the joy that comes with solving puzzles. I'm a linguist specializing in formal syntax and semantics, and the analytic nature of this field agrees with me very well. Growing up, I always excelled in any type of language learning. But I never expected to become a linguist. It sort of happened accidentally, as I was pursuing a slightly different path. Yet looking back, one can perhaps say that it was meant to be, given how my area of expertise truly defines who I am.
Language is what connects all of us humans, and one can look at it through the lens of literature, communication, psychology, and/or philosophy of mind—to name a few other related disciplines. But a formal linguist like myself looks at it through the lens of structure, with the view to accounting for how linguistic communication is possible based on the mapping between form and meaning. Such a mathematical way of looking at language is truly fascinating to me, and while living as a linguist, I can still enjoy literature and other related disciplines—especially philosophy and logic—as much, if not more.
Who inspired you to pursue academia?
I'd say it was my parents. Neither of them went to college, but they were really keen about our education and were extremely supportive of us. My father always emphasized the importance of reading and writing when I was little, and helped me develop a good work ethic and self-discipline. He was also an avid reader himself, setting a great example for us to follow. My mother, on the other hand, taught me the importance of self-actualization. She was a housewife herself, but not a traditional one in the sense that she'd tell me that it's okay to remain single and just pursue my career instead—although I could consider adopting a child.
This can come as a bit of surprise, considering my cultural background and the fact that I was her first child and the only daughter she had. Thanks largely to the values my parents ingrained in me, I didn't get married until I turned almost 36, and all I did until then was to be in school. And for quite some time, I was lost, but not too long, and here I am, knowing who I am and what I want to pursue in my life.
What would you tell your female students interested in pursuing an academic career?
I'd say pursue your dreams at all costs and always follow your heart. To succeed in academia, one must be tenacious too, but what drives us in this "business" is our love for what we do. So, first, find out what you love. Once you've found your niche, your hard work follows automatically.
One other thing I'd like to share with the younger generation is that we all fall and will receive many rejection letters, be they coming from a job application or an academic journal. But one thing we shouldn't forget whenever self-doubt is about to hit us is why we chose this field to begin with.
In my case, whenever I feel low about myself, realizing how little I know and how small I am in this vast field of linguistics, I always try to remind myself that I am here because I love what I do, and I'll know a little more tomorrow because I have worked hard today. So, just "keep calm and press on." At the end of the day, all that matters is that you have loved yourself and what you do, and you have learned a lot doing it.