Beginning in January 2020, Applied worldwide teamed up with the Association for Applied and Clinical Sociology to produce our Profiles in Applied and Clinical Sociology project. You can access that series here. In those email interviews with sociologists, we asked, “What experiences should undergraduate or graduate students seek in order to pursue careers in sociology?
We synthesized all the answers from professional applied and clinical sociologists and created this list of eight experiences that students should seek in college if they are looking to become applied sociologists.
Several professionals we have spoken with mention the value in having a job while studying sociology. Whether the income pays for your education or provides some extra spending money, there are many ways having a job can help prepare you for a career in applied sociology. Jobs give us experience with an industry. Jobs give us experience within an organization. Jobs also provide many soft skills such as public, interpersonal, or written communication, but having a job while studying sociology provides us with real-world context in which to apply our sociological knowledge. For example, reading Ritzer’s McDonaldization of Society is likely relatable if you have a job at McDonalds.
Travel is an experience that a few of our applied sociologists mentioned as being useful. Student exchange programs are one way to get us out of the comforts of our home universities, but one way or another it is important to get a sense of how organizations, other than your own university, operate.Travel can also contribute to a sense of empathy which is an important attribute in a well-rounded professional sociologist. Travel is also an great way to network! It is always professionally valuable to meet new people.
Nearly all of our applied and clinical sociologists mentioned the importance of internships in their suggestions to students. Internships are important for aspiring applied sociologists, so much so that I say they are vital. In fact I wrote an entire piece on Why Graduate Internship Programs are Vital to Sociology. Ultimately, the point is that in order to receive a good-paying job as a professional sociologist, you will need to have some practice and proof that you know how to work as a professional sociologist. The best opportunities are paid internships. Not only can you show proof of earning money as a sociologist, but you also get to practice representing market value as a sociologist.
4. Professional Conferences
Many of the sociologists we profiled mentioned professional conferences as an important experience for students. Once again, I have also written an entire piece on Academic Conferences and Professional Development. There are a lot of reasons why conferences are valuable but I want to mention three here. The first is simple: networking. While we are studying, we should be trying to meet as many like-minded people as possible. The second advice for conferences is to give presentations. Presentations show that you are engaged in the discipline, they might give you the opportunity for some research experience, and they are great chances to practice public speaking. Finally, conferences allow us all to meet on a more equal footing with our professors which allows us to grow into professionals.
5. Civic Engagement
Once again, several of our profiled sociologists mentioned civic engagement. You should definitely be an active voter during election periods, but college also offers us the opportunity to organize, create, and join coalitions for different social causes. Activity in these organizations is great experience because most likely the group is formed around changing policies. Whether those are university, city-wide, or national policies, using your sociology education to help inform civic engagement is great experience in preparation for a future applied sociology career. It is also good practice to learn how your local government works. Attend city council meetings, meet people who work for your local government, volunteer at community events, and just generally learn how the system works.
6. Grant Writing
Writing in general was frequently mentioned as a skill to refine as a student, but grant writing is a particularly valuable skill that is always great to have in your back pocket. A wide variety of organizations rely upon grants for full or partial funding, and it just so happens that sociologists also frequently rely upon grants for research funding. This means that during your education, especially in graduate school, you will encounter an opportunity to be part of the grant writing process. Take these opportunities when you can because they can be invaluable in the workforce.
Again, many of our profiled professionals mentioned research as a valuable experience for students. An understanding and proficiency of research methods can be one of the most marketable skills for a sociologist. If you are in graduate school, then you are likely doing research. I have also seen undergraduate research fellowships and opportunities out there. Regardless of where you are at in your training as a sociologist, take your research opportunities seriously and think about the research methods you use as marketable skills because they are!
8. Professional Development
Professional development is a term that we use to summarize a variety of different yet similar suggestions from the sixteen profiled sociologists. Essentially, the point is to find ways to view yourself as a legitimate professional. If your department hosts guest speakers, attend those meetings and introduce yourself to the guest. Practice professional ‘chit-chat.’ If you conduct research, then practice a 30 second description of your work. Make it compelling and concise. You may also practice a 2 minute and a 5-10 minute version of your research in case the situation calls for more discussion. Another professional development tip is to keep a resume nearby in professional situations. All of these tips are ways of integrating yourself into the professional world of sociology!