I Can Feel Like a Ship Without a Rudder

I Can Feel Like a Ship Without a Rudder

By Susan Pitt [1]

I have finally come to the realisation that I am a sociologist, but some times I have felt like a ship without a rudder. I have drifted off course without the benefit of others around me to steer me back, and I have had to work hard  to stay headed in the right direction. I have in the last year completed an Honours degree in Sociology and left the protective bosom of University to find my place in a working world. I no longer have the privilege of being surrounded by people that share my view point on the occurrences that arise continually around me. Here is my story about the discovery of my sociological imagination, and how never having worked inside the realm of academia, my conviction that I am a sociologist has been challenged.

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Learning to Write a Thesis: An Applied Sociology Perspective

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?

University of Minnesota PhD major sorted by median page length. By R is my friend via Rakesh Yadav
University of Minnesota PhD major sorted by median page length. By R is my friend via Rakesh Yadav

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So Social Science Degrees are in Decline? How Applied Sociology Can Help

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.

Distribution of bachelor’s degrees conferred by postsecondary institutions, by field of study. 2011-12 compared to 1970-71
Distribution of bachelor’s degrees conferred by postsecondary institutions, by field of study. 2011-12 compared to 1970-71. Via A Backstage Sociologist

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

Why Do We Read So Much in Sociology?

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.

Applied sociology expands your ability to evaluate, organise & present new information quickly.
Applied sociology expands your ability to
evaluate, organise & present new information quickly.

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How Sociology Class Discussions Benefit Your Career

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.

A sociology degree provides critical thinking & persuasive interpersonal communication skills.
A sociology degree provides critical thinking & persuasive interpersonal communication skills.

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Career Advice for Sociology Graduates

Career Advice for Sociology Graduates

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.

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