Our most recent video discusses the careers panel that I sat on as part of the annual conference for The Australian Sociological Association (TASA). I focus on the panel discussion about how to translate theory into practice when you’re working outside academia. I also cover workplace ethics in the video, as well issues about managing professional identity outside of academia and the importance of networking. I was asked about how I manage my research consultancy business. I talk about how to market yourself and how to establish a professional reputation with prospective clients using social media.
Read further below for a summary of the video.
Applied Sociology Careers
The careers panel was part of TASA’s Postgraduate Day Workshop. I was one of four sociologists who spoke about what it’s like to work outside academia. The panel gives you a flavour of the types of varied jobs that applied sociologists have.
There was one sociologist who works as a Government researcher using social science methods to encourage change in leadership and organisational culture within the Australian military. Another sociologist manages a not-for-profit organisation providing loans and financial aid for underprivileged people. Another sociologist leads a research program for a not-for-profit organisation, tracking youth’s transition from school to employment. Then there was me. I work as a researcher and social media consultant. I run my own business called Social Science Insights.
Using theory at work
During the panel discussion, some students wanted to know about how we use social theory in our jobs. We all had very different experiences. A couple of the applied sociologists did more straightforward research, producing research reports that allowed them to draw on social theory more explicitly. Nevertheless, they talked about having to translate theory into everyday language.
The other panellists don’t necessarily use sociological theory directly in their day-to-day work, but they talked about how theory informs their overall thinking and how they manage their clients. For example, social theory helps you to understand social differences amongst various groups. Social theory is also important when working in a multidisciplinary workplace, as we have to diversify our clients’ perspective on social problems.
The postgraduate students asked about how to manage ethics when working outside academia. I elaborated on this in more detail in an earlier post.
The students also wanted to know how to maintain a professional identity when working as an applied sociologist. Some of the panellists had positive experiences where their professional identity wasn’t really questioned. Others had faced challenges where they had to continually fight for the sociological perspective in their workplace. Some people advised that it was important to maintain their knowledge of the sociological literature to support their professional identity. I’ve also found it useful to use blogging and social media to continually engage my sociological imagination and to connect with other researchers. If you’d like to tune in with other sociologists but don’t know where to start follow my sociology list on Twitter.
Yet for a couple of the panellists, professional identity was no longer a big problem. In the words of one panellist: “I just learned to get over myself.” This person accepted that sociology was a minority view in their workplace. They chose to focus on sociology’s strengths, rather than other people’s perceptions of what it means to be a sociologist.
The panellists all agreed that networking through your professional association was essential. Most associations will have a research committee focused on sociologists outside academia. For us in TASA it’s the Applied Sociology Thematic Group, which I actually founded in 2007 (though I stepped away as convenor a couple of years a go).
Another avenue for networking is negotiating an Adjunct position with your nearest university. This will give you access to a university library as well as their online resources. It’s also a great way of keeping in touch with other researchers.
I also talked about Sociology at Work as a resource for networking. We offer articles, videos, podcasts and other materials that you can draw on to help you navigate career issues. I invite you to use our blog and social media as a way of sparking conversation with practitioners!
Setting up a business
There were a couple of questions from postgraduates who wanted to how to set up a research consultancy. I suggested taking a short business course. I also stressed the importance of setting up a connection with your future clients using a blog or social media. This way you can start demonstrating how you will address your future clients’ needs. Remember that the public doesn’t have access to peer reviewed journals. If the general public can read your work online, they’ll be more willing to trust and respect your expertise.
My general advice is to keep your options open. If you’re still studying, consider doing your postgraduate degree at a different university to your undergrad studies. This will help you with networking, and it’ll expose you to different academic systems. I also suggest avoid tunnel-vision when planning your career. Academic positions are scarce and increasingly precarious. Keep your eyes open in different industries and see where this takes you!
I actually attended the inaugural TASA postgraduate day back in 2003, which I wrote about on our blog last time. I’ve returned to speak to TASA students previously while I was still working as a researcher in Government. One thing that strikes me is how different my career has been to what I first imagined as a student.
Amazing opportunities opened up once I stepped off the academic track. I’ve worked on short and long-term research and policy projects within an interdisciplinary team. I’ve contributed to social models. I’ve developed conceptual frameworks for databases, analytical tools and other software. I’ve also worked as a private contractor on an occupational health and safety investigation. Now I work with business clients in different fields. All of these jobs have been possible because the sociological imagination has no boundaries.
Getting further support
Investigate what your local sociological association is doing to help applied researchers and postgraduate students attend conferences. TASA offers reduced rates and a scholarship for student members as well as for sociologists outside academia. Also visit the International Sociological Association and your national association.
If you’re a student and you still have questions about how to establish your career as an applied sociologist, leave us a comment. If you’re a practitioner already working outside academia, please share your insights below!