Me and my hats (there’s more to it than interpreting)

Next topic on #IntJC will be on professional identities. How do you juggle your professional hats? And can you be credible in your different identities when you have several different ones?

Since I will not be able to participate I’ll give you my own experiences here, in case you need some background reading 🙂

When I finished high school in Sweden it was important not to give future employers the impression that you were a job-hopper. Your CV needed to be consistent. If not the same student job since age 15, at least within the same sector, preferably giving you relevant work-life experience for your future training and career. Need I tell you that already here I was already heading in the wrong direction?

Some ten years later life seemed to be on the right track from a consistency perspective. I was near the end of teacher training and had had the same student job for the past four years – I could see my future the coming five years… ten years… fifteen years… and I felt… claustrophobic.

Luckily, I came across the most interesting, fascinating job where it didn’t matter that my professional background looked more like a patchwork than a tightly knit plaid. Even better, the patchwork was an advantage! So perhaps not surprisingly I’m juggling many hats with pride. However, sometimes I get the feeling that for, let’s call them, more consistent people out there my different hats sometimes raise professional suspicion. Am I really serious? Well, I hope to prove here that I am probably more serious than most – otherwise you cannot juggle.

First question to be addressed on Saturday: Tell us about your professional hats: how many do you have? What are they?

I’m a researcher in interpreting (which in a way makes me an eternal student). I’m an interpreter and my interpreting hat is split into conference interpreter and public service interpreter. I’m also a teacher, I have taught horseback riding, horse carriage driving, languages and interpreting. I also see myself as a blogger and twitterer, although, admittedly I blog and tweet about interpreting and it’s not really professional.

Second #IntJC question: Of all the hats you wear, which are the most/least loved by you? The easiest/hardest to accomplish?

I love all my hats! Maybe my love for interpreting is a little bit stronger since it has allowed me to carry on with the rest of my hats. It is a very large and flexible hat.

Third question: How do the majority of the clients see you (which hat/role)? How do you want to be seen?

Well, I cannot say that I have clients who see me as a researcher, not yet anyway. My university hat interacts with other university employees and fellow researchers – today it takes 70 to 80 percent of my time and I hope that most of them see me as researcher. My interpreting clients see me as an interpreter of course. I struggle with my students, who are in a way clients too, for my interpreting students I want them to see me as an interpreter, but I think the teacher hat imposes itself so much on them that they have difficulty seeing me in a booth.

Question four and here we come down to nitty-gritty: What are the factors behind the uneasiness some feel about defining themselves as a professional with many hats?

It is this consistency again – for me as a researcher I am sometimes viewed as less serious because I exercise the profession I am researching. This means for some that I am biased in my study of the profession, that I will let my background beliefs influence my results. It is also so very easy within humanities research, especially in a small research community, to undermine results simply by hinting that they may be biased by the researcher’s own world view.

Needless to say the sword is two edged. As an interpreter I sometimes get negative reactions from colleagues because I have “crossed the line”. I have started to research an area impossible to research. Interpreting skill is innate and there is nothing more to it. Nurture your skill instead of digging into impossible studies. Nevertheless, I’m convinced that interpreting is both researchable and even that interpreting benefit from research.

For my interpreting clients it sometimes feel as the most difficult part is to prove that I am a professional at all, that I’m not a language student, that this is what I do for a living, that I have actually gone to university to master a skill. Or, like one doctor said after I had interpreted a medical appointment: So, you are really a professional interpreter? (Me: Yes) Well, I have to admit it’s much easier when you are around.

Question five: The million dollar question. What would you suggest as tactics to stand up for your professional selves and feel confident?

This is where the seriousness comes in. I try to do the juggling with my hats with as much seriousness as possible. I cannot “ad lib”, I cannot hope for the best, I cannot “see how things go”.
As a teacher I have to be extremely good at respecting deadlines, planning classes, giving feed back – because if I’m not I will loose my confidence and the credibility from my students and colleagues eyes.
As an interpreter I strive to be a good, well prepared, pleasant co-worker and languages service provider (and always arrive well before time), because if I’m not I will loose my confidence and the credibility from my clients.
And as a researcher I try to present minutely planned and methodologically sound studies where I take great pain in testing and reporting my methods, because if I don’t I will loose confidence and my fellow researcher will so easily be able to say: “Oh, you know it’s because she’s an interpreter – she may actually have let her own opinion influence her results.”

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Slightly off topic: What was my life and interpreting jobs like five years ago?

Yesterday the patent translator published a post based on a letter his son sent him five years ago, but that was planned not to reach him until yesterday. The letter inspired him to look back five years. His post inspired me to do the same.

Five years ago we lived in Paris, and I was seriously starting to consider doing a PhD in interpreting. Interpreting jobs had picked up after the blow in 2004 when the Swedish conference interpreting market went absolutely dead. In 2004, The Swedish government decided they should spearhead their English only plan for the European Union. They only used the absolute minimum requirements for interpretation and as a result the market collapsed. Many of my colleagues decided to change careers. In 2007, the marked had picked up, and the fact that I lived in Paris also improved one of my unique selling points (proximity) as they liked to call it.

I did not have any teenagers at home, my oldest was 10! We still had an au pair girl living with us, which sometimes is challenging, but mostly really nice both for children, parents and career. I had the great benefit to ride once a week in central Paris, sometimes very tough (old French pedagogy) and sometimes mesmerizing. Other than taking interpreting jobs I also taught French (yes! me! a foreigner! in France!, but I have an FLE teacher degree mind you) and had I blogged in Swedish about Paris and bilingualism mainly. This blog started a little over a year later.

I thoroughly liked Paris and could have stayed for much longer, but we were homeward bound in the summer and I had to decide whether I should apply for a PhD or not. I knew that a PhD would require a lot of work and not necessarily give any more job afterwards. But I also freshly remembered those years after 2004 when I was happy if I got two days interpreting jobs per month. For me – 10 days is a good average – 10 days of assignment means another 10 days of preparation, and considering you also usually travel to and from your assignment and need a few days for admin and stuff, it means that you will fill up you month both financially and work-wise. Two days, however, all but bankruptcy, and the few days I would get in court or for other assignments (I wrote earlier about the depressing situation forinterpreting jobs in Sweden. Thanks to the best husband in the world and also thanks to the wonderful parental benefits in Sweden (I had days saved up in my benefit scheme), I could stay in business.

I celebrated my birthday that year (an even one) on the night train towards the Pyrenees on our first skiing holiday in France (and a few months later with a grand party at the Swedish club). And in the autumn I enrolled in a PhD program on bilingualism with a focus on simultaneous interprting. When I look back 2007 was a good year, but what can a year in Paris be other than… perfect.