Become a Philologist: Education and Career Roadmap

Philology is the study of written language in a developmental and historical context. These programs are generally offered at the graduate level and can prepare philologists to research ancient texts and teach at universities.

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Should I Become a Philologist?

Philology is an academic area important to the understanding of our modern world. A career in philology involves the study of languages or language groups in their historical setting. Philologists will examine issues like where did a language originate? Who spoke or still speaks it? Are there any related languages? Most importantly, what did those words mean when they were spoken or written?

Becoming a philologist requires a number of modern and ancient language skills, knowledge of history and the ability to interpret words and ideas as they were meant to be understood. A philologist might study specific questions like, 'What did the ancient Greeks mean when they wrote of democracy? How is this different from the way we use the word today?'

Career Requirements

Degree Level B.S. in a related field; master's degree and a Ph.D. in Philology recommended for advancement
Degree Field Philology, a specialized field combining history and linguistics.
Experience Students may gain teaching and research experience while studying for graduate degrees.
Key Skills Extensive knowledge of both modern and ancient languages, knowledge of history, literature and psychology, research, writing and interpretive skills, ability to communicate complex ideas in an understandable way.
Salary $55,870 (2014 median salary for all historians)

Sources: U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics

Step 1: Earn a Bachelor's Degree

A bachelor's degree program in classics or a related field will help students meet the prerequisites for a philology graduate program. These bachelor's degree programs normally take four years to complete and offer concentrations in areas such as ancient Greek or Latin. Other studies include ancient history, literature, linguistics, and philosophy.

Step 2: Obtain a Master's Degree in Philology

Master's degree programs in philology or classics are generally two to three years in length and can prepare students for doctoral programs or for entering the workforce as instructors in the classics. Requirements for obtaining a master's degree may include further study of an ancient language, as well as reading proficiency in a modern foreign language, such as French or German. Additional requirements for these programs include passing several language proficiency tests and writing a thesis.

Step 3: Complete a Doctoral Program in Philology

Doctor of Philosophy (Ph.D.) in Philology programs can take two to three years to complete. The Ph.D. program may include lecture coursework, followed by subject examinations, research, and thesis defense. Subject areas can include history, language development, and classical literature.

Step 4: Obtain a Postdoctoral Position or Fellowship

Fellowships and postdoctoral positions are available in classics and philology, both in the U.S. and abroad, where research can be done on ancient texts not available elsewhere. These positions serve to further increase research experience for recent graduates, as well as help them prepare for faculty positions at universities. Fellowships usually last for one to two years, although some are renewable.

Step 5: Apply for Faculty Positions in University Classics Departments

Universities and other research institutes employ philologists to translate and analyze ancient texts, publish papers on their findings, and teach classes in their areas of expertise. Philology faculty may also mentor graduate students to help with research. Certain types of universities focus more on research and publishing, while others focus on teaching.

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