For what ends do sociologists labor?

I recently gave a short presentation in a training seminar regarding introducing first year students to different disciplinary perspectives. For each of the natural sciences, social sciences, arts, and humanities, I described methods and goals. For the goals of the social sciences, I put down “just society” and “social wrongs righted.” One of my colleagues asked me a question about this: “Do the people at the top R1 schools adhere to these goals?” Just having returned from the ASA meetings in Philadelphia and thinking about some of the things I saw there, I said yes.

This is a good question to consider on Labor Day. What are sociologists after when they work? Here are some options:

-just society/social wrong righted: a mindset devoted to improving society, sometimes attributed to an activist approach though American sociology has a deep tradition of this (even if it was shunted into social work and not promoted as much at leading schools)

-knowing more about the social world: this quest for knowledge and a better understanding of whatever phenomena is under study could be at the root of every academic enterprise

-a way to achieve status and power: the field may be limited be compared to others but academic titles and academic merits (published articles, name recognition, grants, school, etc.) still provide a certain status

-the joy of teaching and mentoring students: these expectations likely differ dramatically across institutions (let alone personalities) but there can be both immediate and long-term gratification in making a difference in the life of students

-a satisfying way to occupy one’s mind and fulfill intellectual curiosity

I suppose individual sociologists might be able to pursue unique combinations of these five options within their own experiences and institutional contexts. Yet, on the whole, I’m pretty comfortable asserting sociology and other social sciences want to make the world a better place.

Did Bulls coach Fred Hoiberg learn coaching from his sociologist father?

When the Chicago Bulls played a preseason game in Lincoln, Nebraska, the local paper dug up this tidbit about the new coach’s father:

Fred Hoiberg, born in Lincoln, was 2 years old when his father received his doctorate in sociology at the University of Nebraska-Lincoln.

At that point, Eric Hoiberg had job offers to be a sociology professor at Iowa State in Ames, Iowa, and Kansas in Lawrence, Kansas.

“I’m forever grateful he picked the right one,” Fred Hoiberg said with a grin.

Hoiberg is making the jump from being a college coach to the NBA this year, a difficult transition that many good coaches have had a hard time making. But, what might he have learned from his sociologist father that could help? Hoiberg could have learned how to holistically develop his players as athletes and humans. Perhaps he uses some important piece of sociological theory to help him understand the game of basketball. Maybe he connects better with his players and others in the organization because of his knowledge of the social forces that influence people’s lives.

If I was in the reporter’s scrum at a press conference, I would ask this question. Perhaps no one else would care – Hoiberg has some connection to sociology? – but the answer could provide some insights into how he coaches.

Mismatches in sociology grad student interests, job openings – 2013 edition

The ASA reports more job openings in sociology in recent years but the interests of sociology PhD graduates and the specializations of the new jobs don’t always line up. Here is part of the full table from the report (page six):



There is some overlap here with most categories represented on both sides. However, other areas have some bigger differences:

1. Methodology – research methodology with 50 jobs and quantitative methods with 47 jobs and only 5 students with an interest in quantitative methodology. 23 jobs with statistics and 5 students. The figures for jobs in qualitative methods or ethnography better match the number of jobs available.

2. Another area of difference is criminology or criminal justice: 89 jobs in crime/delinquency and 70 in criminal justice with 66 students in criminology.

3. Sex and gender is particularly popular among students (108 interests) while only 31 jobs. (Granted, certain topics – like race, class, and gender – can easily cut across other subfields.)

4. Education has 83 students and 9 jobs.

This isn’t a complete analysis and these are the areas that struck me. Looking at methodology, it is a reminder that being interested in methods goes a long way on the job market as departments need people who can teach these skills and work with students in these areas.

Horror film featuring dissertation writing sociology Ph.D. student does not end well

Sociologists don’t often make it into movies or TV shows but here is a new horror film that features the trials of a sociology Ph.D. student:

Matt Passmore (The Glades) and Huntingdon Valley native Katie Walder (Gilmore Girls) star as Las Vegas couple Josh and Sarah – he’s a croupier at one of the big casinos; she’s a Ph.D. candidate in sociology – whose quiet, cookie-cutter lives in a quiet, cookie-cutter housing development are turned inside out when the ultimate neighbor from hell moves in across the drive.

A scrawny, Norman Bates-ian creature with stringy, greasy hair parted in the middle, Dale (Nathan Keyes) is instantly, and most creepily, besotted with Sarah.

That’s because Sarah is the spitting image of Dale’s mom, who was viciously stabbed to death by Dale’s pop, as we see in a brief prologue…

The creepfest begins one afternoon when Sarah is jotting down some thoughts about the latest chapter in her dissertation, a study of the social effects of Internet porn. She falls asleep, only to wake up later that night dressed in an entirely different outfit.

Doesn’t sound like a good film. Also, it doesn’t sound like the sociology Ph.D. matters much for the plot. Could any graduate program have fit the bill here? Don’t sociologists get to do anything interesting in the media?

Results from tracking hundreds of CUNY sociology PhDs since 1971

Here is a look at what has happened to 471 sociology PhDs who graduated from CUNY since 1971:

Where the 1993 graduates are working post-Ph.D. isn’t a mystery, thanks to the diligence of a longtime professor of sociology at Queens College, also part of the CUNY system. During a particularly tough academic job market in the early 1990s, Dean B. Savage started the work of tracking down every student who had earned a Ph.D. in sociology from the Graduate Center to find out where they went on to work. With the help of graduate students, he has created an ever-growing database of 471 people that dates back to graduates from 1971…

The data he has collected document the bleak reality that many people already know about the academic market: A full-time job as a professor isn’t a given for those who want one. In fact, since 1980, fewer than half of the sociology graduates hold full-time tenured or tenure-track jobs. But the data, which were most recently updated last year, also reveal some good news: The program’s record of placing students in full-time jobs inside and outside academe has shown improvement over the years…

Mr. Savage’s data set, which spans more than 40 years, is unusual because of its depth. A quick glance at his list shows many Ph.D.’s who became professors, deans, lecturers, and academic researchers. Among the many nonacademic jobs that the Graduate Center program’s alumni hold are crisis counselor, behavioral scientist, social worker, children’s-book author, art-gallery curator, and health-care consultant. Some people have retired. When Mr. Savage updated the data last year, he found at least seven people who earned Ph.D.’s in 2012 who were trying to gain some traction on the academic ladder, working in non-tenure-track positions. Graduates of the sociology program work at four-year colleges, two-year institutions, regional colleges, and flagships. Workplaces in New York, New Jersey, and Connecticut are heavily represented.

Collecting placement data like Mr. Savage’s can be complicated, as his experience shows. It is a little easier now than when he first started, since he can search for people through Google and on sites like LinkedIn. Mr. Savage started his efforts with a list of the program’s graduates from the CUNY registrar. Before the Internet, he said, “we would get in touch with their thesis adviser or someone we knew they were friends with or even members of their dissertation committee.”

But even with the advent of online aids, there are still gaps in the information that Mr. Savage has collected. He has found some students, only to lose track of them in subsequent updates. More than 112 students have never been found. Older alumni are less likely to appear on sites like LinkedIn, and some people who do show up list vague or inflated titles or may have profiles that are out of date.

The rest of the article goes on to ask broader questions about why more PhD programs don’t go to the efforts Savage has (and there are still issues with the missing cases) to track down this information. Graduate schools tend to trumpet the cases of students who do well but don’t say much about those who don’t or don’t complete the program. We could also ask questions about colleges who will likely will be asked more and more in the future to provide evidence from alumni that college led to learning as well as positive career outcomes.

So if the CUNY data is decent enough, how representative is it? As described here, the data suggests some cycles (forces within the academy as well as larger American economic issues), lots of attrition, and a variety of careers.

New mismatches in sociology job market between grad student interests, job specializations

While the sociology job market is looking up, there is a lingering issue: what graduate students are studying doesn’t line up with specialty areas for the advertised job openings.

Another problem within the sociology job market is the “mismatch” between sociological specializations areas sought after by search committees and areas of interest from graduate students. The area of social control, law, crime and deviance was the most highly-valued specialization based on position advertisements. But graduate students ranked that specialization area fourth.

Likewise, there was a mismatch between the second most frequent advertised specialty, race and ethnicity. This was the ninth most popular with graduate students, which Spalter-Roth said she found surprising, since it is a “central focus” of sociology.

To address this mismatch issue, Spalter-Roth said sociology Ph.D. students should be encouraged to make their studies relevant to multiple specialty areas. So, for instance, someone who is interested in gender studies can also take criminal justice courses and take a closer look into crimes against women.

Globalization and global issues ranked fifth in job listings and 15th among graduate students. This mismatch may be short-lived, since graduate programs are increasingly offering more courses and programs in this area of specialization.

The five areas with the biggest mismatch, according to the full report:


Interesting data. The biggest gaps here do seem to come in important sociological subfields: inequality? Organizations? Deviance? The growing area of medicine? This could be useful information to grad students, at least in terms of having an idea of how they are going to have to pitch themselves on the job market. But, considering the length of grad school plus possible several opportunities a grad student might have to test the market (while writing the dissertation, graduating, perhaps in a post-doc, after a visiting position, etc.), wouldn’t it be more helpful to look at year to year trends? See the report on the 2010 job market here:

One of the widest gaps is in criminology (a.k.a. social control, crime, law and deviance), which made up 31 per cent of all postings on the ASA’s job site in 2010, but was only listed as an area of special interest for 18 per cent of PhD candidates whom were surveyed by the ASA.

The opposite problem exists too. More people are interested in “inequities and stratification” than any other field — 35 per cent of candidates chose it as one of their special interests — but only 19 per cent of jobs advertised were in that area.

There’s also a shortage of jobs for those interested in teaching gender and sexuality. One fifth of students are interested in the subject, but only one tenth of advertised jobs were in that field.

So some similarities and differences a few years ago.

Path for sociology PhDs: official demographers

Amidst conversations that graduate programs could provide students more help in pursuing non-academic positions, I was reminded of this career path that sociologists can pursue: demography within the public sector.

Steve Murdock, the former head of the U.S. Census Bureau, will be the keynote speaker at the annual general assembly of the Golden Crescent Regional Planning Commission on Tuesday.

Murdock, now a sociology professor at Rice University, was also the first official state demographer for Texas.

He was named one of the 50 most influential Texans by Texas Business in 1997 and as one of the 25 most influential persons in Texas by Texas Monthly in 2005.

According to Murdock’s CV, he has spent much of his career in government, working at the Texas State Data Center, serving as Texas’ first state demographer, and heading the US Census Bureau in 2008 and 2009. This position also seems to have led to some notoriety. How many states have official demographers?

Between Murdock and his successor at the US Census Bureau, Robert Groves, the Census Bureau seems like a good non-academic place for sociology PhDs to land. I wonder how many current and past employees have sociology backgrounds.

One problem area in Sociology PhD job market: a mismatch between advertised fields and PhD student’s interests

MacLeans points out one of the issues raised by a recent ASA publication titled Moving Toward Recovery: Findings from the 2010 Job Bank Survey:

It’s not all good news, however. The report also surveyed PhD candidates and found some major mismatches between their “areas of special interest” and the jobs that were available in 2010.

One of the widest gaps is in criminology (a.k.a. social control, crime, law and deviance), which made up 31 per cent of all postings on the ASA’s job site in 2010, but was only listed as an area of special interest for 18 per cent of PhD candidates whom were surveyed by the ASA.

The opposite problem exists too. More people are interested in “inequities and stratification” than any other field — 35 per cent of candidates chose it as one of their special interests — but only 19 per cent of jobs advertised were in that area.

There’s also a shortage of jobs for those interested in teaching gender and sexuality. One fifth of students are interested in the subject, but only one tenth of advertised jobs were in that field.

The article misses one other subfield with a large difference: 8.4% of advertised jobs were looking for someone in the sociology of culture while 24.3% of students had an interest in this area.

Will the free market work this out? Who needs to change in this area: should students start pursuing these in-demand sub-fields or do graduate programs hold any responsibility, perhaps for encouraging students in subfields that reflect their faculty more than the jobs available in the field?

What to do with a sociology PhD: become the father of the hedge fund

A common question arises regarding sociology degrees: what can you do with that? The man behind the hedge fund, Alfred Winslow Jones, held a sociology PhD from Columbia University before going on to becoming a financial writer and inventor:

In fact, by the time the article hit the newsstands, Jones was already well in the process of setting up his own investment firm, A. W. Jones & Co. While reporting on the latest investment strategies, Jones had begun to contemplate a new approach, one that would include selling short some stocks in a portfolio as a way to protect against the market’s uncertainties.

Such a portfolio, Jones would explain to his investors, was a “hedged” fund..

In 1941, Jones received a sociology doctorate from Columbia University. For his research, he interviewed 1,705 residents of Akron, Ohio about their attitudes toward corporations and property. He found that, despite local labor unrest and political tensions, Akron was not divided rigidly along class lines. His dissertation was published as a book titled Life, Liberty, and Property, which became a much-used text in sociology circles…

Landau highlighted Jones as the man who had started this trend, noting however that the sociology Ph.D. “actually seems to be more interested in things other than finance,” including finding self-improvement alternatives to welfare and organizing a Reverse Peace Corps to bring foreigners to work with poor Americans. Jones was quoted complaining that “too many men don’t want to do something after they make money.” Many of Jones’s early investors, Landau wrote, were scholars, social workers and others whom Jones had met over the years and was trying to free from financial concerns.

Sounds like an interesting life. It would be fascinating to hear Jones talk about how his PhD in sociology helped push him toward his financial inventions and actions. Was it something about the way sociology views the world that helped him develop the idea of the “hedged fund”? Perhaps sociology gave him some unique insights into the operation of economic markets. Additionally, it sounds like Jones had some sociological thoughts about what one should do with an accumulated fortune: it should be put toward new social ideas and goals.