2 Things That I Wish I Learned In Sociology School

Thinking about the ASA Annual Meeting.

August 24, 2015

As I’ve been reading Scott Jaschik’s coverage of the American Sociological Association’s (ASA) 110th Annual Meeting, I’ve been thinking about my own identity as a lapsed sociologist. 

My social science people was always more PAA than ASA, but the roots of the sociological imagination run deep.

I no longer teach sociology.  I’m no longer working in a sociology department. My academic career transitioned pretty quickly from that of a traditional academic path to the educational technology career trajectory that I’ve been on for the past couple of decades. So am I still a sociologist? 

Do higher ed people who train in an academic discipline, and then go on to careers outside of the discipline, still count as members of the tribe?  

Is a sociologist what you do or who you are? When do you stop being what you trained to be in grad school?

My professional colleagues are the edtech mafia, a tight knit group drawn from the spectrum of academic (and some professional) backgrounds. The closest that I get to the ASA is to read about the meeting in IHE.

How many sociologists are running around the higher ed world who have no connections with the sociology discipline? What non sociology teaching and research actives are alt-academic sociologists likely to be doing? These seem like sociological questions to me.

What would I have wanted to learn in sociology school (the place where new PhDs are produced) if I could rewind time?

1.  There Are Lots of Non-Sociological Academic Things That Sociologists Can Do:

I can’t remember anyone ever talking to me in grad school about alternative academic (alt-ac) careers. A successful academic path was one that went from postdoc to junior faculty to tenured faculty.  Going to work for government or a think tank was also an acceptable career path.  But becoming an educational technologist, or any alt-ac profession, not so much.

This is why I’m curious about how many alt-ac sociologists are roaming the earth. Are we an aberration or a trend? Are we a group worth of study, or an oddity best left to the psychologists?

If I could give a talk to sociology grad students it would be all about how they can impact higher education from outside the sociology department. I’d talk about all the ways that a sociological frame of mind, and the set of analytical skills and theoretical foundations learned in grad school, can be utilized in a range of alt-ac positions. I’d point out how quickly higher ed is changing, and how sociologists have an opportunity to help drive what comes next in our industry. I’d talk about how much I love my non-sociology teaching and research job.

2.  A Sociological Lens Can Be Used to Understand, and Change, Higher Education:

The reason that I went to graduate school in sociology school was that the world confused me. I wanted to understand why some people and some countries were rich, and some were poor. I wanted to understand how people ended up in the jobs that they end up in. I was curious about how family life was changing, and how these changes related to how the economy worked.  

Nowadays, I’m curious about higher education. In some ways my world has narrowed. In graduate school I studied the working poor. Now I study colleges and universities. Many of the methods that I used in my sociological research are the same that I use in my higher ed research. Only the unit of analysis has changed.

When I was identifying as a sociologist, I thought about the impact of large economic and social trends on individual and group behaviors. Now I think about the impact of large economic and social trends on higher education.

My grad school did not offer a class called The Sociology of Higher Education.  I don’t remember the organization, history, or political economy of the university being a subject that anybody was studying.

Are folks at ASA talking about the sociology of higher education?

Do lapsed sociologists attend ASA?

Am I still a sociologist?



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