Rationality of getting science degree in addition to degree in translation
Thread poster: Iryna Kuryliak

Iryna Kuryliak  Identity Verified
Ukraine
Local time: 14:22
English to Russian
+ ...
Feb 24

Hello, dear colleagues, I will be very grateful for your advice, opinion and experience.

I have master’s degree in translation and have been freelancing for 7 years (I had a mentor in the beginning, the last 5 years I’m on my own). My main field of specialization is medical and pharmaceutical.

I send solicited and unsolicited CVs to translation agencies, and I have ProZ and LinkedIn profiles. Sometimes I have enough work and sometimes I don’t. During the times when I don’t, I wonder if the situation would be different if I had a scientific education in addition to linguistic. I’ve been thinking if I should apply for bachelor’s studies in a field close to my specialization. I’m thinking about going to study biochemistry, because I find it interesting.

3-4 years to get a degree is a long-term commitment, and I’m afraid that my translation skill would rust or disappear altogether during my studies; and if I combine studies and work I might end up doing a bad job on both accounts. In addition, I’m not sure if I actually need additional degree to be medical translator.

I saw some specializations on Coursera that offer science-related certificates upon completion, but I’m skeptical on their value.

I love translation and don’t want to change my career path; I only want to add something of value to my current competencies and maybe it will give a push to my translation activities.

I would appreciate your opinion on rationality of going to study science. Or maybe someone has ideas about succeeding in medical field specialization without a relevant academic degree. So far my ideas are limited to getting BSc or getting ATA or ITI certification.

Thank you!


 

Christine Andersen  Identity Verified
Denmark
Local time: 13:22
Member (2003)
Danish to English
+ ...
Go for it! Feb 24

There is an eternal discussion about whether trained medics who can write two languages make the best translators, or trained linguists who have read up on medicine.

I personally do not have the manual dexterity to be a surgeon, but can translate medical journals ... A couple of my relations were doctors, but strictly monolingual. Combined skills and knowledge are needed either way, and then you can focus on the work you do best.

Your translation skills will not disappear, but you do need to acquire specialist knowledge one way or another. There comes a time when you can study without needing to attend lectures, take examinations and collect certificates, and you do not have the time for all the formalities.

On the other hand, there are many advantages in a course with a good teacher who has collected the relevant material and arranged it logically for students. This is especially true if you meet the teacher and other students to discuss issues and explore all round the subject, or you can get some practical experience.

I don't know about Coursera, but I believe others have found it useful.
Many translators have other qualifications besides their language studies, and even if you have little or no formal training, you do need a specialist field where you are thoroughly familiar with the special language used and the terminology.

You may not need an additional degree, but certainly take some courses. You will probably find your translations improve, but they will not deteriorate.

Best of luck!


 

Daniel Frisano
Monaco
Local time: 13:22
Member (2008)
English to Italian
+ ...
A good investment Feb 24

Getting a real specialization is a great idea.

Most translators are clueless about the subjects they work on. And if you don't believe me, just check the replies to KudoZ questions, or proofread somebody else's work: they just keep throwing stuff (euphemism) at the wall hoping that some sticks, and that includes self-proclaimed "experts".

A degree and/or working experience in science/technical subjects gives you an important edge in this market.

[Edited at 2018-02-24 19:38 GMT]


 

Nikki Scott-Despaigne  Identity Verified
Local time: 13:22
French to English
Go for it, if you can Feb 24

It will enhance your professional profile, give you greater credibility and is almost certain to bring you more work in the long run. You may even find it leads to you wishing to make a career change, with translation taking second place.

 

DZiW
Ukraine
English to Russian
+ ...
medical and pharmaceutical Feb 24

I guess you are cooperating with local hospitals, medical schools, clinical research entities, and others.
However, if you (1) already hold a degree in translation and you (2) are serious about reinforcing your position in the fields, then--
why not consider a related worthy degree as a nurse/paramedic/doctor's assistant or a pharmacist and such?
Diversify your future wisely)

[Edited at 2018-02-25 02:35 GMT]


 

Isa Harrington  Identity Verified
Spain
Local time: 13:22
Member (2011)
Spanish to English
+ ...
Postgraduate qualification? Feb 24

Have you thought of pursuing postgraduate study in a science field as another option?

There are several linguistic-focused science/medical postgraduate courses available online, as well as non-linguistic ones. I am currently studying a Masters in Medical Translation (but it is only available for the EN-ES combination)- that is not to say that this type of course would be for you but I did see quite a few other options when I was doing my research as I had toyed with the idea of doing another degree course.

Best of luck in any case, it is a big decision!


 

The Misha
Local time: 07:22
Russian to English
+ ...
It's an overkill. It's like draining the ocean to catch a few fish Feb 25

Where I live, if you go through the pain, cost and mental anguish of getting a STEM degree, you go to work... you got it, in your particular STEM area. Being an engineer is a much more foolproof way to make a living than being a freelance translator, science and engineering-minded or not. If you don't want to be an engineer or a scientist, why bother? And if you still do, why on earth not become an engineer or a scientist. It pays better. Duh!

However, you seem to be living in Ukraine, and that, if you ask me, makes all the difference. Back in my time in that country, everyone had an engineering diploma (myself excluded, I was a black sheep:))) but no one worked as an engineer because that was a virtual guarantee of eventually starving to death. I hope things have changed somewhat, but I am not too optimistic. I guess money-wise, in Ukraine, you are still much better off as a translator than an engineer. Correct me if I am wrong.

You do not need an engineering degree to become a competent science and engineering translator (or any other kind, for that matter). All you need is an interest in the subject and sufficient discipline to pursue continuing education at your own pace, adjusting the areas of your interest/specialization as they develop and as you acquire additional clients. No such flexibility would be possible if you go for a formal engineering degree. In fact, you may actually shoot yourself in the foot this way. Imagine going into the trouble of becoming, say, a mechanical engineer, or a physicist and then land a software developer as your largest client. A lot of good it would do you, that engineering diploma.

No offense to the others who contributed to this thread, but they present a textbook example of what the incomparable Nassim Nicholas Taleb means when he talks about giving advice without having "skin in the game". The easiest thing to do is to say atta girl, go for it! Then they move on to the next thread, and you are stuck with the consequences.

Either way, good luck to you.


 

Iryna Kuryliak  Identity Verified
Ukraine
Local time: 14:22
English to Russian
+ ...
TOPIC STARTER
Thank you Feb 25

Thank you everyone for your advice and opinions!

Isa Harrington wrote:

Have you thought of pursuing postgraduate study in a science field as another option?

There are several linguistic-focused science/medical postgraduate courses available online, as well as non-linguistic ones. I am currently studying a Masters in Medical Translation (but it is only available for the EN-ES combination)- that is not to say that this type of course would be for you but I did see quite a few other options when I was doing my research as I had toyed with the idea of doing another degree course.

Best of luck in any case, it is a big decision!


Thank you for pointing out such option! I haven’t considered it before.


 

Tomás Cano Binder, BA, CT  Identity Verified
Spain
Local time: 13:22
Member (2005)
English to Spanish
+ ...
Go ahead! Feb 25

Iryna Kuryliak wrote:
3-4 years to get a degree is a long-term commitment, and I’m afraid that my translation skill would rust or disappear altogether during my studies; and if I combine studies and work I might end up doing a bad job on both accounts.

Not at all! Yes, indeed, it will mean that you will have to sacrifice free weekends, TV time, part of your going out, etc., but your skill as a translator will certainly not give way as you will continue to translate. I took a degree while I was working and it was, albeit hard work for 4 years, a great experience. I continued to produce with good quality while achieving good marks in the degree. I encourage you to go for it! In four years time you will be glad to jumped into the pool!


 

Kay Denney  Identity Verified
France
Local time: 13:22
Member (Apr 2018)
French to English
Maybe overkill Feb 26

I'm not sure whether it would really be necessary. Translators who never have a dry spell are few and far between, I reckon, so I'm not sure whether you would totally eliminate that with extra qualifications.

I studied for a master in translation a few years back, but I was still an employee at that time. My employer was all for me improving my qualifications, it would look good on calls for tender, so she paid for the course (I was entitled to ongoing training anyway). As I was only part-time, she said to simply fit my work hours in around my courses, so that made things easy to manage, despite some PMs being incapable of checking my schedule before asking me to handle a project.
Since I was working in-house, I simply had to put in the right number of hours which was perfectly possible given that I was dispensed from about 95% of the coursework at uni on the strength of my professional experience. I'm pretty sure that juggling coursework with freelancing would be much more difficult. It would be pretty ironic to lose decent clients because of uni requirements, and I found with the master that I just had to give it priority or it would never happen.

I would look into the Coursera stuff more closely. It seems a lot of the courses are what eminent professors teach in uni, so the teaching standards are pretty high. You need to check the reputation of the certificate you'd get. Another possibility is following them at your own pace, then applying to uni later, asking for a dispensation for coursework you have already covered as shown by the Coursera certificate.


 

Christine Andersen  Identity Verified
Denmark
Local time: 13:22
Member (2003)
Danish to English
+ ...
It might be overkill to get a whole degree... Feb 26

... but seriously studying your specialist area is absolutely necessary.

I came late to translation, having tried a lot of other jobs first. I was qualified for some and not for others. Where I was not qualified, it was a real hindrance, and it kept me at the bottom of the ladder, even though I could read and study what others were doing at higher levels. I would need to pass exams to go further and prove I had the necessary knowledge.

Where I did take training - originally as a technical librarian and later office training, it has also been an advantage for translation. I still buy and read books written for students of medicine and law, but I have also attended short courses, and IMHO they are definitely worth the time and effort.

I mentioned in my earlier post that there comes a time when you can study without sitting exams and collecting diplomas and certificates, but there are lots of 'Lawyer-linguists' on this site, or others with solid qualifications in engineering, medical fields, and many other specialist areas. They were not wasting their time.

As machine translation is taking over the routine market, it will not be so easy to work as a 'generalist' as it has been for previous generations. On the other hand machines cannot truly understand a text. They apply statistics and algorithms, but translation is more complex than that.

There is a large volume of translation for repetitive everyday situations and more or less standard conversation or trade, where the odds are quite high that machines can find the right answers. However, machine translation is and always will be a game of probability.

Human translators will be needed where it is necessary to understand complex and non-repetitive situations and the specialist language that goes with them. High probability is not enough here. A translation must be reliable, and this makes even more demands on the translator's understanding of the subject and the terminology in both languages. You go far beyond standard words and phrases that can replace other standard words and phrases, and the machines will be out of their depth.

Besides, those who can work in areas like Post Editing and SEO (Search Engine Optimization) need to be right up to date in their subject fields. Again, solid specialist knowledge is needed.
Look into Coursera and other part-time studies, and choose subjects that will be an advantage for you.


 

Iryna Kuryliak  Identity Verified
Ukraine
Local time: 14:22
English to Russian
+ ...
TOPIC STARTER
Thank you Feb 27

Thank you everyone! You gave me a lot of food for thought.

 

Elif Baykara  Identity Verified
Turkey
Local time: 14:22
Member (2015)
German to Turkish
+ ...
MOOCs? Feb 27

I have an undergraduate degree in chemistry and a masters degree in forensic sciences. I have participated a Ph.D. programme in forensic toxicology, as well, but did not complete it. I have worked in the pharmaceutical industry. This makes quite a lot of years but I have always been fond of my studies and this love helped me to dedicate these years. I was also translating throughout most of these years and only when I was about 30 something, I decided that translation is my true love.

Since I cannot attend an undergraduate/graduate programme here (there aren't corresponding distant education programmes and I live in a small village now), I am studying Turkish Language (distant education) and at the same time I am following a kind of self-undergraduate programme in translation (due to my academic background, I was able to devise a curriculum for myself).

Based on this experience, I believe that you should weigh your benefits and costs quite carefully.

Getting a science degree is not the most difficult thing, but it demands time and studying. Most of the time, you will be studying subjects in such a detail which is not so relevant to your translation purposes.

And it demands money. And take into account that you will have to dedicate a good amount of your professional time for studying. So, you have to assess your resources, as well.

I do not think that you will lose your translation skills, on the contrary, they will probably sharpen.

I would look for MOOCs or other online programmes. You can work with an advisor and you can devise a comprehensive study path towards the specialization you would like that is spread over some years (4+ ?). You can attend paid courses.

A few ideas from the point I am standing icon_smile.gif

I wish you a happy and successful path icon_smile.gif

Elif


 


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