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Review of  Professional Development in Applied Linguistics

Reviewer: Eric K. Ku
Book Title: Professional Development in Applied Linguistics
Book Author: Luke Plonsky
Publisher: John Benjamins
Linguistic Field(s): Applied Linguistics
Issue Number: 32.1781

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“Professional Development in Applied Linguistics: A guide to success for graduate students and early career faculty”, edited by Luke Plonsky, is a compilation of professional advice from scholars in applied linguistics. The book aims to address the lack of information about how to succeed professionally in the field of applied linguistics. Many graduate students and early career faculty members in applied linguistics can get advice on how to navigate academia through peers, mentors, workshops, or the Internet, but those sources can vary greatly in accessibility, reliability, and consistency. Thus, the book aims to gather such information in an easy-to-read handbook and guide readers through the murky waters of academia. Collectively, the book covers an impressive breadth of information, including essential stages of one’s academic career, both personal anecdotes and research data, and a variety of perspectives from scholars at different institutions and different stages of their careers. The edited volume is roughly organized into two parts, with Chapters 1 to 7 more pertinent to graduate students and Chapters 8 to 13 for early career faculty, though the distinction is not explicit.

Chapter 1, “On the state of professional development in applied linguistics” by Luke Plonsky, makes a case for the aims and scope of this book (as addressed in the previous paragraph) and how a reader might approach reading this book. Plonsky reminds readers that their reactions to the discussions in this book may change as they progress in their career and that none of the suggestions should be taken as applicable to all scenarios.

Chapter 2, “Demistifying the process: Choosing, applying to, and getting accepted to a doctoral program in Applied linguistics” by Ayşenur Sağdıç and Daniel R. Isbell, explains in detail the process and dos and don'ts of entering a doctoral program, referencing personal experience as well as findings from surveys with PhD students and current faculty members. Sağdıç and Isbell not only address the logistics of entering a doctoral program (e.g., writing a statement of purpose, preparing for interviews), but also the thought processes involved in the many decisions one must make (e.g., reasons to pursue a PhD, factors to consider in choosing a program).

Chapter 3, “Navigating graduate school and academia: Key questions and answer” by Alison Mackey, uses a question-and-answer format to address a wide range of issues that come up when going through a PhD program, including the advisor-student relationship, academic life, conferences, and publishing. This chapter is a general overview of what one can expect from academic life as a graduate student and, as Mackey notes, serves as an introduction to some of the topics covered in more depth in other chapters.

Chapter 4, “Making the most of your applied linguistics conference experience: Things to do before, during and after the event” by Peter I. De Costa, details the steps one should take to prepare for (before), participate in (during), and follow up (after) the conference. Although De Costa uses the American Association for Applied Linguistics (AAAL) as his primary example, De Costa’s advice is generally applicable to other conferences as well. Moreover, the chapter goes beyond simply restating the advice one often gets, that “Conferences are important!” or “Go to conferences!”, and shows how one can benefit the most from attending a conference.

Chapter 5, “Towards achieving work-life balance in academia: Comments and personal essays from six applied linguistics” by Tov Larsson, Shawn Loewen, Rhonda Oliver, Miyuki Sasaki, Nicole Tracy-Ventura, and Luke Plonsky, consists of five personal essays about how each author has approached work-life balance in academia and how that has impacted their lives. Each of the essays is written from a different perspective, giving the readers a brief glimpse into their life histories as academics, though five themes are present among the essays: handling a flexible schedule, efficiency strategies, boundary-setting, kids, and sacrifices.

Chapter 6, “Towards the successful completion of a doctoral dissertation” by John Bitchener, discusses the key stages of completing a doctoral dissertation: the pre-enrolment period, the provisional enrolment period, the confirmation of candidature period, and the submission and viva (oral defense) period. Though this is written as a guide to approaches doctoral students should consider in successfully completing a doctoral dissertation, the chapter can also be relevant to new doctoral supervisors who can benefit from an overview of what issues students are likely to confront throughout the entire process.

Chapter 7, “Navigating the academic job market” by Avizia Long, Kristopher Kyle, and Graham Crookes, guides doctoral students through the specific steps of successfully preparing for the job market, searching for jobs, and conducting job interviews. The chapter not only includes perspectives from both recently hired and senior scholars in the field but also a variety of additional online resources for more information.

Chapter 8, “Handling interpersonal and departmental dynamics” by Bryan Smith, transitions into the second part of the book which focuses on life as an academic, particularly in navigating the interpersonal dynamics as a new member of a department faculty. The chapter covers four domains of academic life: service, teaching, and research, and other aspects of interpersonal and departmental dynamics. Throughout the chapter, a recurring theme is balancing being engaged and having one’s voice heard versus putting one’s head down and showing deference to more senior faculty members.

Chapter 9, “Reviewing manuscripts for academic journals” by Rebecca Sachs, addresses the benefits and process of reviewing manuscripts for academic journals. The chapter starts by discussing up front what makes the manuscript review process unpleasant, namely the amount of time and effort it takes to write a quality review and the lack of compensation. However, the chapter makes a case for the benefits of reviewing manuscripts and details specific guidelines for approaching manuscript reviews.

Chapter 10, “Engaging with professional organizations” by Heidi Byrnes, argues for the value of contributing to professional organizations by describing her experience engaging in the American Council on the Teaching of Foreign Languages (ACTFL) and the American Association of Teachers of German (AATG), the Northeast Conference on the Teaching of Foreign Languages (NECTFL), the Modern Language Association (MLA), the College Board, and the American Association for Applied Linguistics (AAAL). For each of these examples, Byrnes discusses what real-world issues and projects she was involved with at the time, and what lessons she learned from them.

Chapter 11, “Supervising doctoral students and managing the supervisor-supervisee relationship” by Jean-Marc Dewaele, discusses issues around the supervisor-supervisee relationship from the supervisor perspective. Through personal experiences from supervising many students over the years, Dewaele touches upon a variety of topics such as the difference between supervising an M.A. versus a Ph.D. student, interruptions in students’ studies, how close a supervisor wants to be to the supervisee’s non-academic life, what students think supervisors expect of them, and developing social and emotional intelligence.

Chapter 12, “Crossing over: Writing (and talking) for general (as compared to academic) audiences” by Deborah Tannen, describes the challenges of publishing writing for both academic audiences and general audiences. Tannen has extensive personal experience on this topic and shares her thoughts, including the different ways an academic writer must alter their language when addressing general audiences, the mutual disdain academics and non-academics may have for each other, and struggles in the publishing process for non-academic work.

Chapter 13, “Preparing for tenure & promotion”, by Kimberly Geeslin and Laura Gurzynski-Weiss, details the steps necessary to prepare for and successfully obtain tenure. Using a structure somewhat similar to Chapter 7 on navigating the job market, the authors discuss suggestions for what scholars should be doing during different stages of tenure, from early on during pre-tenure years (e.g., documenting one’s accomplishments, thinking strategically) to the mid-term review. The chapter contains mentor-mentee notes, three checklists, and a refreshing dose of humor.


This edited volume effectively fills the need it has set out to address; that is, to provide an accessible professional development resource for graduate students and early-career faculty members specifically geared towards applied linguistics. The editors and authors are very aware and up front about the context in which this book is situated – that much of this information is already available floating amongst peers, colleagues, advisors, and online resources, but not collected and curated in one place as an easily accessible resource. The value of gathering the breadth of advice and information into an edited handbook is apparent – one can imagine teachers and supervisors recommending this edited volume to their students or students finding this at their institution’s library.

In addition to the book’s functional merits as a useful professional development resource, I also appreciate the diversity of approaches and writing styles amongst the chapters, a demonstration that there is not just a single way of doing scholarly writing in applied linguistics. While some chapters take a more prescriptive, no-nonsense, “here’s what you should do” approach, usually presented as strategies and dos and don’ts, other chapters take a more descriptive, narrative, “here’s what my experience was like” approach, usually presented as snapshots and stories. Even with a vast array of approaches, the edited volume still comes together as a coherent collection, consistently sticking to its intended theme and audience.

Personally, I read and reviewed this book from two interconnected perspectives: (1) as an early-career researcher myself, having received my doctoral degree within the past year, and (2) as an academic who completed my doctoral degree from and is currently working at non-mainstream academic institutions, or “the periphery”, as described by Sasaki in chapter 5). From my perspective as an early-career researcher, I found myself feeling a mix of emotions, including regret and recognition of things I should have done during graduate school that would have benefitted my career, appreciation for information that applies directly to where I am now in my career, and empowerment from a sense of what to expect from my career in the near future. Another way of framing how I felt while reading the book was wishing I had read the first third of the book as a graduate student, glad to have read the middle third of the book now as an early career researcher, and planning to revisit the last third of the book in the near future.

From my perspective as an academic in the periphery, I felt conflicted. Plonsky, the editor, clearly notes in Chapter 1 that there was an effort to include authors from a variety of cultural perspectives and admits that multi-national representation was not possible in this volume. On the one hand, I appreciated being able to read advice from well-known, respected scholars in our field; access to this kind of information is not always possible or easily accessible for those studying and working in the periphery. There is a certain kind of empowerment in having access to “what the experts know”. On the other hand, it often felt like I was reading about people, programs, and systems from afar. While I recognize that the editors and authors have clearly stated that the edited volume is not meant to be prescriptive or one-size-fits-all, I am eager to read more from perspectives that are explicitly positioned from the periphery, such as Sasaki in Chapter 5; such as (but not limited to) participating in the international Applied Linguistics community as a scholar from the periphery, confronting native-speakerism in the job market (from whatever your language background is), or competing in the job market as a scholar with degrees from the periphery. The lack of these perspectives is understandable, considering that this volume is the first of its kind, and it certainly does not diminish the value of the advice featured in the current volume. However, expanding future volumes to include more perspectives from the periphery would certainly widen the range of readers that would benefit from this as a resource.

I look forward to more publications that follow the direction this volume has charted. Perhaps in a second edited volume, other topics that would be beneficial as professional development in Applied Linguistics includes navigating academia from non-mainstream perspectives (e.g., scholars with previous backgrounds in non-academic or non-linguistic fields, LGBTQ+ scholars, scholars from under-resourced areas or institutions), understanding other facets of the publication landscape (e.g., predatory journals, publishing in journals vs. chapters vs. monographs), ways of keeping updated or learning new research methodologies and theories post graduate school, and other academic wellbeing topics like Chapter 5 (e.g., dealing with imposter syndrome, procrastination).
Eric K. Ku (Ph.D.) is a lecturer at Akita University in Japan. He has previously taught in Taiwan and the United States. His current research interests involve language teacher identity, narrative-based research, multilingualism, and linguistic landscapes. His recent work can be found in “Critical Discourse Studies”, “English Teaching and Learning”, and the edited volume, “Autoethnographies in ELT Transnational Identities, Pedagogies, and Practices.”