Applied Sociology Career in Health & Ageing: Dr Sue Malta

Dr Sue Malta works as a Research Fellow and Project Manager for the National Ageing Research Institute (NARI) in Melbourne, Australia. This is a not-for-profit organisation that runs community development projects in health and ageing. Sue also works a researcher with the Royal Freemason’s Homes Victoria. In our latest Sociology at Work video, Sue discusses how she came to sociology as a “late life learner.”

As a third year undergraduate student in sociology, Sue completed an internship for local government focusing on ageing and social connecteness. This became the focus of her Honours research. Sue’s PhD was on the romantic and sexual lives of older adults. Sue discusses how she uses the theories and learning from her degree in her everyday work. She also gives advice to students who would like to find similar work on health and ageing research. She says: “I love my job… I’m passionate about what I do.” There’s more on Sue’s career further below.

From Business to Study to Applied Sociology

Dr Sue Malta describes herself as a “late life learner.” She had not completed high school, but had had been running her own business in America providing support for relocated personnel. This led her to eventually undertake a degree in psychology, thinking she might become a counsellor. Once back at university, Sue found that her passion actually lay with sociology.

In the last semester of her Bachelor Degree, Sue undertook her internship, which she describes as “one of the best things that I’ve ever done.”

Sue worked in various roles whilst undertaking her degree, including working as a research assistant for academics, and as a project officer in community development for local Government. In the latter role, Sue examined the social participation of older adults.

Sue’s current work for NARI includes research on social isolation and social connectedness of older adults. Her job involves carrying out qualitative and quantitative research; writing grants for future projects; writing reports for community organisations; literature reviews; and more. Sue says: “You do something different just about everyday, which is why I love it.”

At the Freemansons, Sue is running a research program evaluating their aged care facilities and quality of life for their clients.

Doing Applied Sociology

Sue draws on sociology methods daily to carry out evaluations; to do qualitative interviews; to run focus groups; when constructing survey instruments; and in doing other work like SPSS analysis. She says:

Just knowing how to research and write a literature review, how to construct a research proposal – if I hadn’t done research methods, I wouldn’t know how to do that. So I use it [sociology] all the time. It’s a fantastic boon in the area I’m working in.

Advice for Students

Sue greatly recommends undertaking an internship. “It gave me a lot of insight on doing real life research.”

She recommends publishing and attending conferences throughout your degree. Sue mentions that universities and sociology organisations usually offer scholarships for students. The Australian Sociology Association provides conference scholarships for students as well as sociologists working outside academia. Sue’s first publication was for the TASA conference at the end of her Honours year. She was able to attend on a scholarship and this counted as a peer refereed publication.

Sue recommends publishing your literature review, even as a PhD student. This is something she does in her current job and it’s something she wishes she’d done as a student.

Sue also notes that while tutoring is a good way of honing your skills in social theory, taking an entry-level research assistant position is a better starting point for people wanting a career as a researcher.

I started as a research assistant at NARI and I’m now a Research Fellow there. I wouldn’t have had that opportunity so soon after completing my PhD if I hadn’t started as a research assistant.

Sue’s final piece of advice is:

You’re never too old! You’re never too old to learn! … If you have life experience you have a lot to offer any organisation.

Learn more about Sue’s projects at NARI. See Sue’s work with TASA.

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