Interdisciplinary research is highly valued outside academia, while academia mostly pays lip service to interdisciplinary work. Within academia, much of the the interdisciplinary “praise singing” of interdisciplinary work lies in its theorisation – what is interdisciplinary research, how should it be done, how might it theoretically change the world. Yet actual interdisciplinary work where researchers from different disciplines all work on the same end product together – that is largely being done by applied social scientists and our colleagues from other fields. I’ve worked in a couple of interdisciplinary environments and social science has been highly valued. It’s been my experience, and that of a few of my applied colleagues, that our interdisciplinary work is not similarly valued by our academic peers. How can this change?
The great German sociologist Ulrich Beck has died at the age of 70. Like many sociologists, I was influenced by his writing and also like many others, I did not always agree with his theories. Either way, Beck never failed to challenge our sociological imaginations in an esteemed international career spanning over two decades.
Elsewhere, I wrote about what Beck’s conception of public sociology might mean for applied sociologists. In How Not to Become a Museum Piece, Ulrich argues that sociology has permeated many applied fields. He finds sociological concepts and methods are being used in government, journalism, social policy and law enforcement, but they’ve been transformed so they aren’t recognisable as sociology. As Ulrich argues, this is not necessarily a bad thing.
Writing for Bloomberg View, American Professor of Finance, Noah Smith, superficially reviews a sociology discussion paper exploring the social networks of economists. The original paper by sociology Professor Marion Fourcade and colleagues finds that economists are better positioned materially to both benefit from, and influence, economic policy because they work in business schools as well as in lucrative consulting firms. Smith argues that sociologists are out of touch with what the market demands are, and he concludes that we don’t earn enough as a result. In Smith’s eyes, we don’t do enough statistics. Applied sociologists earn less, in general, not because our work is arcane nor because it is not useful, but because we mostly work in low-paying -though no less important – social welfare and health policy fields.
It can be tough to know where to look for a job as an applied sociologist. Contract work can be an ideal place to start out so you can build up your resume. To this end, there are a couple of industries where you might focus your job hunt initially. Here are some tips for finding work in social research with market agencies; how to look for work with local governments; and how to maximise your chances with specialist recruitment agencies. Remember that many contract opportunities also come up through personal networks, so staying well-connected is essential!
Your sociology quote of the week is by Zygmunt Bauman, featured in an interview with The Guardian. Bauman reflects on the political landscape in the UK, and how our discipline needs to focus on finding applied answers to social problems. He was unhappy to note that our roles were being filled in by statisticians and philosophers. He saw that poverty and power imbalance should be addressed by sociology.
The task for sociology is to come to the help of the individual. We have to be in service of freedom. It is something we have lost sight of.
Let’s continue to rise to the challenge, colleagues!
Need some inspiration? Your sociology quote of the week comes from Pierre Bourdieu, as featured in The New York Times. In the first chapter of On Television, Bourdieu writes:
The function of sociology, as of every science, is to reveal that which is hidden. In so doing, it can help minimize the symbolic violence within social relations and, in particular, within the relations of communication.
Volunteering is an important way to build applied sociology careers. Let’s explore how giving practical talks to community groups can improve both communities and our sociology. We’ll use a short case study of Dr. Ray McDonald, Assistant Professor at Wiley College in the USA, who gave a talk to his local Lions Club. His talk focused on practical research outcomes regarding Alzheimer’s Disease. The novel aspect of his talk was to blend sociological ideas with lifestyle tips. Demonstrating the everyday utility of sociological research is central to applied sociological work. If there’s a cause you’re already involved with or interested in getting into, here are some ways that you can integrate your volunteering with your professional CV.
How long was your thesis? If you’re still a student, how long do you plan your thesis to be? In the amusing graphic below by blogger R is My Friend, we can see that sociology is right up there for voluminous pages, along with anthropology, political science and other social sciences. R is My Friend wrote a coding program to data mine The University of Minnesota library, extracting data about their students’ electronic dissertations held since 2007. R is My Friend notes:
Economics, mathematics, and biostatistics had the lowest median page lengths, whereas anthropology, history, and political science had the highest median page lengths. This distinction makes sense given the nature of the disciplines.
The data graphed are obviously limited to one university in a given period of time, but the results are still interesting to consider. In particular, we have a comparison point for theses length amongst various disciplines. Is page length an arbitrary measure? Don’t adages like “quality over quantity” count for anything? My post springboards from this diagram to address a serious issue, which is about how the academic system prepares students for applied research.
In part, we might say that it makes sense for sociology theses to be longer than most other disciplines, since much of our work is based on literature reviews, qualitative data analysis or interpretation of quantitative data using theory. The thing is, producing a long thesis will not necessarily help prepare you for a career as an applied sociologist. In this post, I reflect on the lessons I’ve learned about editing my writing as an applied sociologist. I show that in many cases, applied sociology research will involve the critical analysis of hundreds of sources and datasets which are usually presented in a short summary of only one or two pages. Let’s explore explore the question: How can we learn to write a better, leaner thesis given the reality of an applied career?
By Zuleyka Zevallos
This article was first published by Nexus in June 2008. 
The series focuses on the dis/connections between academia and applied sociology, with a view to breaking down the divide between these complimentary spheres of sociology. The authors discuss the production of specialised sociological research for speciﬁc interest groups, primarily in regards to different social policy contexts, and how their position as ‘other’ shapes their professional practices.
I consider the conceptual distinctions between applied and academic sociologies. I provide a framework for situating applied sociology, drawing on Burawoy’s (2004) theory of public sociology, and I discuss my work on national security as an example of public/policy sociology.
Bruce Smyth (forthcoming) shares his new experiences of working in a university, after having previously established his career with a government-funded research organisation. He sees that the divide between academic and applied sociologies is not so distinct, given the changing nature of Australian universities.
Joy Adams-Jackson (forthcoming) provides a case study of how academic and applied sociologies intersect for clinical sociologists, given her experiences as a registered nurse working in the mental health system. Her paper shows that being an ‘other’ both within the discipline of sociology and in her occupation is advantageous. First, her work simultaneously challenges ideas of where and how we do sociology outside academia, and second, it also highlights the potential for sociological theory to transform existing professional paradigms (in this case, a biomedical/psychiatric discourse).
The authors exemplify that, while there may be a divide between sociologists in and outside of academia, the intersections between our work strengthens the value of sociology to a broad range of audiences. The application of sociology outside academia therefore has a signiﬁcant beneﬁt to sociology’s scientiﬁc inﬂuence and its signiﬁcance to the general public.
Volunteering does more than boost community belonging; it also boosts economic productivity and improves the social skills of workers. For applied sociologists, doing unpaid work with a not-for-profit will open up new doors throughout your career. The only obstacle is learning how to best reflect on your volunteering and showing your understanding of how your skills and knowledge translates to other fields.
The graphic below has been going around for a few weeks yet surprisingly with little analysis. A Backstage Sociologist first published it in late April, writing only:
Teaching and learning are not market transactions: They are sacred encounters of soulcraft. This graphic leaves one who teaches social science and the humanities with a heavy heart and despairing about the eventual extinction of well-educated citizens.
I will reproduce and extend the comments I made on the original blog post to make a point about what meaning sociologists might draw from this graph. In particular, I see that applied sociology can put this into perspective. Read more
When I was still teaching sociology, I was often bemused when some students complained that they had too much reading to do ahead of class. We typically set two journal articles or book chapters as mandatory reading each week (and of course there were additional suggested texts). This level of reading will serve you well throughout your career.
In fact, your applied sociological work is likely to involve lots of reading and synthesis of different materials. Your output may not necessarily mean writing up this information. In all likelihood, you’ll have to provide verbal summaries and visual presentations of what you read. All that undergraduate reading will be invaluable to your career. Read more
As a student, did you ever wonder why we do so much group work in sociology classes? This isn’t a superficial way to discuss readings – you’re learning valuable skills that will serve you well in an applied career. Read more
Clinical sociology is an applied practice that focuses on health intervention, such as working with medical practitioners, community health services, social policy and public health campaigns.
In this post, we’ll take a look at a definition of clinical work, as well as two case studies. First, we’ll see how clinical sociology is used in health and policy work by Work Cover, Australia’s federal medical program for industrial claims and workers’ compensations. Second, we’ll look at a clinical sociologist who provides career coaching through physical therapy. Finally, there’s a discussion of how you might forge a clinical sociology career. Read more
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.
This was article is a companion piece to our video Career Advice for Sociology Graduates. It recounts my experiences as a postgraduate student attending the inaugural Postgraduate Workshop hosted by The Australian Sociological Association (TASA). This article was first published in 2004 by Nexus (p. 16).
Attending the inaugural postgraduate workshop of 2003 is likely to be one of the highlights of my PhD canditature [other than submitting my thesis and ending my long and glamorous career as a student, of course]. The reason for this is that the workshop was one of those rare times when I have been able to exchange ideas and share experiences with a large group of postgraduate students. One of the most often repeated lamentations that I have heard from postgraduate students is how the experience of writing a thesis can be an alienating one. I know that I have certainly felt this way at times. The postgraduate workshop is a positive initiative taken by the TASA executive, which goes some way to bridging the gap between postgraduate students who feel this sense of isolation. Read more
I’m currently editing our latest video for Sociology At Work. I’ll be discussing some of the key questions that emerged from The Australian Sociological Association (TASA) Postgraduate Workshop. I was invited to speak on a careers panel along with three other applied researchers. Students asked about issues like translating theory into practice, professional identity, and marketing a research business. I’ll speak to these issues in the video and I’ll add a few extras through our social media. This post relates to one of the students’ questions, which was about how to manage ethics when working outside academia. Read more
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.
Dr Dan Brook is a lecturer in sociology and politics at San Jose State University in the United States, and he is also involved with several social activism communities outside of his academic work. This includes support of social causes such as vegetarianism, anti-smoking awareness, global warming, the promotion of peace, and advocating for an increase in living wages. In this Sociology at Work Google+ Hangout I spoke with Dan about how he uses applied sociology in his social activism. We also discussed how students might get involved in similar activities as a way of practising sociology, and also as a way of thinking about their job options.
Dan argues that social activism is a good way to begin to practice sociology ahead of a professional career. He sees that community work teaches students how to network. This includes learning to work with different types of people – some of whom will agree with their ideas, others who will disagree. Social activism and volunteering also connects students to potential future co-workers and supervisors. Community work helps students interact with people using sociological ideas in an applied way.
At the heart of the various social justice issues that Dan works on, there is a common goal: “A better, fairer, kinder, more beautiful society.” He explains:
I believe not just in going for immediate and obtainable goals, but trying in a larger way to change our culture. I think that’s the special niche, perhaps, of sociologists. We realise how important culture is, and if we can make certain cultural changes – which are not easy, it takes a lot of people and it takes a lot of time – but when we make those cultural changes we find the social and political changes are much easier because we have a widespread support for it. It seems more natural then.
Read more about Dan’s career and his advice on social activism for sociology students below.
Dr Yoland Wadsworth is one of Australia’s prominent applied sociologists. She has led a distinguished career, working on 3,500 community service and health projects both at the local and state levels.
In this video, Yoland discusses how her research has shaped children’s services, mental health delivery and helped the not-for-profit sector. Yoland also provides practical examples of how she has used sociological theories and methods as part of her everyday work.