On the soc undergrad resume: data collection and analysis

Graduating sociology majors have worked on their resumes and tried to sum up their training for prospective employers. Following up on yesterday’s post on the importance for data in sociology, in my opinion, these graduates should include data collection and analysis in their collection of resume skills. Here are a few reasons why:

  1. From the beginning of their sociology training, we work to help them observe and interpret patterns in the social world. While there is no single class that does this all at once, the path from beginning to end is full of opportunities both to see how sociologists do this as well as try their own hand at developing sociological arguments. Final papers in any class (as well as other assignments) offer opportunities to practice data analysis and interpretation.
  2. Sociology majors do tend to have classes explicitly devoted to Statistics and/or Research Methods. For example, while many people think they can put a survey together, it is in these classes where they learn important basics: what sample do you want? How do you ask good questions? How do you report survey data? At the least, these classes help undergraduates know what questions to ask about data collection and analysis and at their best give them chances to practice these skills.
  3. Organizations – from non-profits to businesses to governments – want people with data collection and analysis skills. Now that it is easier than ever to work with data (though we should not underestimate the value of collecting good data in the first place), how can a prospective employee help the organization understand and communicate what is in the data? In a world awash with data, what do we do with it all?

Undergraduates may be leery of claiming these skills as they do not view themselves as  experts and don’t have years of work experience in data analysis. Yet, these abilities are at the heart of sociology and they are skills that are in demand.

Seeing the punk side of sociology at regional sociology meetings

I read a review of a new sociology book Punk Sociology and wondered where I have seen the punk spirit in my discipline. The first thought that came to mind: regional sociological association meetings. But, first, a quick definition of the punk spirit from the review:

David Beer’s eulogy to the spirit of punk, and his commendable entreaty to his fellow sociologists to imbibe of its energy, inventiveness and iconoclasm…

He revisits two of my heroes from student days. Howard Becker has never really gone out of fashion – class acts rarely do – and C. Wright Mills’ The Sociological Imagination is still on the reading list, I would guess, for every newbie sociologist…

Crossing boundaries, using varieties of “foreign” cultural and social resources and analytical strategies, refusing to accept the dominant orthodoxies and avoiding slavish adherence to methodological shibboleths and theoretical dogma…well, of course, and we should all brush our teeth three times a day. The heritage of punk – nowadays focusing on the DIY/communitarian ideas that inform contemporary social movements such as Occupy and feminist/LGBT activism – is emphasised here, although much can be traced back to the ideas and practices of the punks’ bête noire, the hippy, and beyond.

Last academic year, a colleague and I took a group of our sociology students to a regional sociological association meeting for the day. Several things caught the attention of our undergrads. They liked seeing all of the possible topics sociologists cover. The types of papers ranged from thought experiments to full studies and students felt like they could generally understand what was going on and might be able to do such research and/or presentations themselves at some point. And, I remember they thought it was a fascinating look at who sociologists are – from how they present themselves to how they dress to what they study (and for what reasons) to how they interact with others – outside the classroom or our department office. Some of the sociologists seemed like free spirits who enjoyed what they studied and cared about addressing social ills.

Looking back, their comments seem to match my own experiences with regional meetings versus what I’ve seen attending the American Sociological Association meetings each year. These are different crowds: the ASA meetings attract the big names from the big schools. People are well-dressed and looking to engage in both intellectual and networking activities. The price is high: the meetings this year in San Francisco require a $200 conference registration fee, conference hotels running around $260 a night, and plane tickets that are $350+ from the Midwest and further east. Even the paper submission process reflects the status of the meetings: people have to submit 15-20 page papers, rather than the abstracts regional conferences often ask for.

The regional meetings are something different. There is a wide range of participants, from community colleges to research schools with more attendees from smaller and lower-status schools. From what I’ve seen, there is a more cooperative spirit among presenters and attendees. The dress is more relaxed, the standards of the research can vary, and the tone is more conversational than aspirational.

This is not to say the punk spirit of sociology isn’t present in high-status sociologists and high-status schools. However, the ASA meetings have a more professional, corporate atmosphere rather than an iconoclastic and anti-dogmatic approach that can mark other settings.

Christmas shopping for sociology majors and for those want to sociologically disrupt some Christmas rituals

Connecting sociology and Christmas gifts is not an easy task. But here are two web pages that aim to do just that: selecting a gift for a sociology major and selecting gifts that help disrupt typical Christmas rituals in the United States.

1. A “college student gift guide” suggests sociology majors should be given a white sweatshirt with the message “I heart Sociology.” I don’t understand this gift as the suggestions for the other majors involve gifts that actually have to do with the major. Why a sweatshirt? But, if you start to think about it, what could you give a sociology major that is uniquely about social structures and society? Perhaps a coupon or cash to go toward extra-special people-watching? (One of my students recently mentioned the rich possibilities of Venice Beach, California.) Perhaps the latest version of their favorite data software like Stata or Atlas.ti so they can feverishly work some analyses over the holiday? Perhaps a box set of their favorite sociological monographs? A copy of The Sims or SimCity to do a little pop culture simulation?

2. The “Sociology of Style’s Holiday Gift Guide” has five Week One suggestions regarding “Gifts that Give Back.” Of the five options, four of them feature the same logic: if you have to consume (is this what the ritual of Christmas has become?), you can do so in more responsible ways that can benefit other people as well. Is Product Red out of style?

I think we are a long way away before Amazon.com has dedicated gift lists for the sociologist in your life. At the same time, the American Sociological Association could get on this and perhaps raise some funds that could lower dues and pay for other expenses…

Faculty advice column: for the “average student,” sociology might not be most practical way to get a job

Choosing a college major is definitely a charged subject today, particularly when discussing potential earnings. Here is some interesting advice given by a faculty member to an undergraduate interested in sociology:

Anonymous asks, “I’m an undecided freshman. My parents want me to choose a ‘practical major’ like engineering, but I think I would be more passionate about a sociology major. Should I study what my parents want me to study, or should I do what I want?”

Hmmm. You should choose sociology! Or any CHASS major! (Just kidding, sort of, I need to make up for last time.) Honestly, in this current job and economic climate I think it would be foolish to not at least strongly consider the employment prospects of one’s chosen major. That said, employment means doing something at least 40 hours/week for many, many years. The last thing you want to do is choose an area which will be drudgery instead of fulfillment. While engineering is particularly practical for the current job market, that does not mean sociology (or any other major) is impractical. As I mentioned in an earlier column, social sciences are great for developing critical thinking skills and good writing skills. These are most definitely highly-valued skills by many employers.

That said, if you choose a more passion-based major, you really need to invest your passion in it because it probably will not be as easy to find a job as if you had a mechanical engineering degree. Don’t take classes because you were told they were easy. Take them because they have a great professor who will challenge you to think and learn in new ways. Don’t shy away from the classes with 20 page papers — take them and hone your writing skills. Be proactive in working with faculty, researching with faculty, and in building relationships. Work with a local non-profit or government agency that fills your passion and build your job-market skills.

For the average student, sociology may not be as practical as a degree with a more obvious and direct pipeline to employment, but if you put your heart into it, develop your skills, abilities and maturity, you will come out just as employable — if not more so — than if you chose a practical major to which you found you could not truly dedicate yourself.

These are common ideas: certain majors lead more easily to jobs while sociology and other social science majors don’t lead as easily to jobs but students majoring in them can gain valuable skills that employers want.

However, the last paragraph is key here: the suggestion is that sociology students should be more dedicated to their major/field because they will have to overcome the difference in practicality compared to other majors. This is interesting because sociology is often considered an easier major. But, this professor suggests sociology majors should be even more interested and devoted to the major to be able to compete on the job market. Does this mean sociology majors should be higher caliber students?

The battle between business and sociology majors

Here is one account of the divide in colleges between business and sociology majors:

I attended undergrad at one of the nation’s more so-called “liberal” schools, San Francisco State University. Some of my fondest memories center on the rivalry, for want of a better word, between the College of Business and the College of Behavioral and Social Science.

You could tell that business students hated taking general education courses in the behavioral and social sciences. That came through most clearly in philosophy, sociology, social work, urban poverty and touchy-feely psychology classes. The business students wanted no part of the “useless crap” we learned in those disciplines. They just wanted to fulfill requirements so they could get into Berkeley’s MBA program or somesuch.

Admittedly, social science geeks, serious psychology majors and even the more politically-active policy wonks dreaded business class. For them, a George Bush fundraising rally would have represented better time spent.

Many of us, particularly those headed to graduate school, considered ourselves embarked on a more righteous endeavor than business students. We were making proper use of education, broadening our minds and learning how to think out of the box. Business students were being fed laws that would bring no positive impact to the world and maybe not even apply outside of a classroom. As I have grown older, I have backed off of this rather pompous view of academia and an MBA’s place in it. Of course, it’s all about perspective. Plus, business students often turned that pompous argument around on us.

There are real differences between these disciplines in how they approach the world. Talking from the sociology end, we tend to critique capitalism (or the excesses of “market logic”), look for broad patterns across social groups, and have different aims (crassly put as helping right social wrongs vs. making money – I know these are not mutually exclusive).

But sometimes I wonder why students don’t put these two disciplines together more. Profit-making can be harnessed for good causes. Businesses can provide good jobs, create capital, and enhance a community. It is hard to run a non-profit or a social service agency without knowledge about managing finances. Both disciplines use quantitative analysis (though the variables and the outcomes we care about may differ) so some of these skills are transferable. Sociologists can use real-world training in management and setting up organizations. Doing business requires a lot of interaction with people, something that sociology can help with because you need to have an understanding of what motivates people plus how their context affects their actions (a one-size-fits-all approach is difficult to implement across different social settings). Additionally, sociology can help people in business see the the big picture beyond making money, promoting a longer-term view and more nuanced understanding about where their operation fits within society.

Are there any schools that promote a joint program or have a large number of students who tackle both of these disciplines?

Earnings of sociology majors on list of “Best College Majors for a Career”

The Wall Street Journal has an interactive feature where you can see income by college major according to 2010 Census figures. Here is how sociology fared: out of 173 majors (some of which I did not know existed), it was 19th in popularity, had a 7.0% unemployment rate, and median earnings were $45,000 with a 25th percentile of $33k and 75th percentile of $67k.

For median income, sociology is at roughly the 30th percentile.

In popularity, sociology ranked ahead of journalism, mathematics, architecture, chemistry, and music (among others). Top 10 in popularity: Business Management and Administration, General Business, Accounting, Nursing, Psychology, Marketing, Communications, Elementary Education, General Education, and Computer Science.

Are these figures better or worse than people would have expected for sociology?

Of course, we could also discuss if earnings are the only or best way to evaluate college majors. Other possible outcomes to consider: return for one’s money, value to society, specializing vs. having a broader focus.

How do the numbers on this list fit with the recent New York Times article that said American college students study STEM subjects (science, technology, engineering, and mathematics) in such low numbers because they find them too difficult?

College athletes clustering in a few majors, including sociology

I’ve written before about sociology being considered an “easy major” by athletes. A new report looks at some notable schools and considers how clustered male athletes are within majors:

Since the NCAA invented the APR [Academic Progress Rate] in 2003, critics have worried that it would discourage athletes from choosing difficult majors or from changing course once they started down a given track. Some have anticipated a “clustering” of athletes in certain majors, such as sociology or communication, and others have expressed concern about the creation of broad programs such as general studies with athletes in mind.

A 2008 analysis by USA Today found that clustering happens at most institutions, and of the three sports programs Shalala compares, Miami football is most questionable, with 62.5 percent of the team studying one of two majors. While clustering on a small scale isn’t necessarily unusual, researchers who study the phenomenon say the 25-percent mark is where things start getting fishy.

A full 37.5 percent of Miami’s junior and senior football players were majoring in liberal arts in 2008, and 25 percent in sports administration. The same 37.5 percent of Stanford’s junior and senior softball players were in one major — but it was human biology — and 36.8 percent of baseball players majored in sociology. Notre Dame athletes didn’t cluster at all, according to USA Today’s analysis.

While this report by Donna Shalala, president of Miami, seems tied to troubles their football program has with violating NCAA regulations, the USA Today 2008 analysis offers more insights. While sociology is lumped within the social sciences, you can mouse over the graphics and while the most clustering seems to happen in the social sciences, the sociology clusters are numerous.

Alas, this collected data is still limited:

Assisted by sports information and other school offices, USA TODAY obtained the majors for about 85% of the athletes in the study. For most of the rest, no major was listed. Primary or first-listed majors were used in the cases of students with multiple majors.

Initially, part of the intent was to compare the percentages of athletes in a major with those of the student body as a whole. That is, if 30% of baseball players are in sociology, is 30% of the entire student body enrolled in sociology? However, short of getting athletes’ private records and the federal reporting code of each athlete’s major, large-scale comparisons are unreliable because some schools have multiple versions of some majors.

The NCAA collects similar information, but does not release it and has no current plans to study it.

Hmmm…I wonder why the NCAA has no interest in analyzing this data.