Linguistics M.Phil. Graduate, After Taking a Break for Harvard Law, Starts Tenure-Track Faculty Position While Pursuing Ph.D.

João Marinotti (Photo courtesy of Marinotti)

João Marinotti (M.Phil. ’21, Linguistics; M.A. ’17, Linguistics) took a less-traveled path to his tenure-track faculty position at Indiana University’s Maurer School of Law, which he started last month. After graduating with a B.A. in Linguistics from Columbia University, he earned an M.S. in Cognitive Science from the University of Edinburgh. From there, Marinotti, who was raised in both Brazil and California, lived and taught in China before making his way to the Graduate Center, taking a break partway through his Ph.D. program to earn a J.D., cum laude, from Harvard Law School.  

Marinotti, who has also had fellowships at Yale Law School and at Indiana University, plans to complete his Ph.D. on a topic that reflects his research interests in law and linguistics. He recently spoke to the Graduate Center about his pursuits:

The Graduate Center: How have your interests converged over the years? Did you have a master plan from the start to explore this wide range of subjects?

Marinotti: Throughout my life, I’ve had various interests, ranging from sustainability to cognitive science to law. My interest in each of these subjects stems from a fascination with the underlying cognitive principles that affect communication and, ultimately, decision-making. That said, I originally just pursued the subjects I was interested in and passionate about, and only at the end was I able to see this shared thread. Some of my research now builds on this framework of language, cognition, and law to map the way judges and lawyers conceptualize legal constructs and metalinguistic theories, both of which are themselves also mediated through language. I was able to weave this research program together after having learned a sufficient amount about each subject to see how they’re related.

GC: How did you wind up getting a law degree from Harvard in the middle of your Ph.D. program?

Marinotti: After spending a year in China, teaching English and using my background in linguistics, I started the Ph.D. program. Toward the end of the M.A., I got involved with a symposium series about language and the United Nations. Humphrey Tonkin gave a guest talk at the GC, and he invited anyone who was interested to work with him on this series. Because of my interests in international development and language, I ended up working with him for two years, and through that I became interested in applying to law school. 

Ultimately, I knew that I really enjoyed research and linguistics, so I did not want to simply leave the field behind. Therefore, I contacted my department at the GC and told them of my plans. I think that’s one of the benefits of a university like CUNY. They were more flexible than perhaps many other institutions would be. I finished what in the linguistics department is the second qualifying paper, and I was then able to completely revamp my Ph.D. project to be about law and linguistics. After the M.Phil., I was able to put together a new doctoral committee — which now consists of a philosopher of language, a linguistic anthropologist, and a sociolinguist. Because CUNY has all of these great people, I’m able to focus on this new area that is going to be an integral part of my research career. 

Also, the linguistics department has a growing cohort of students and researchers interested in the role of language in society and in achieving social equity. As my research began to incorporate law, I was able to benefit from this evolution and to establish new connections with experts in the field. This was crucial, as my prior research in linguistics focused on the fields of theoretical syntax and psycholinguistics. As I switched research topics, the breadth of available expertise in the GC linguistics department became an integral element in my ability to pursue my new research goals.

GC: You’re now on the tenure track. What advice do you have for students who are hoping to get a similar position?

Marinotti: If your goal is to get on the tenure track, the Ph.D. program is indeed a professional degree and should be treated as such. Your department and faculty advisers should not only teach you what great research looks like; they should also explain and provide support for getting published, cited, invited to conferences or talks, and even just for getting more connections in your field. They should also prepare you for the academic job market itself. If you feel that you are not getting that training, reach out to others and establish connections who will be able to provide this necessary support. If possible, choose an adviser and doctoral committee members who will teach you the professional skills needed to land this job, just as if you were trying to land any other job. 

A second piece of advice: Look seriously at postdocs and fellowships where you can broaden your network. And where you will also have time to literally just sit and write.

Submitted on: AUG 2, 2021

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