Sociology In Your Career
I visited Kingston University yesterday, to talk about the many occupational routes open to Sociology graduates. The list of possibilities is in reality almost infinite. Alongside academic learning, Sociology courses instil a great many skills and a lot of knowledge which can be applied generically, so this was an excellent opportunity to exchange views and understandings of available opportunities with a new generation of Sociology degree finalists and their teachers.
What do ‘non-academic’ Sociologists do?
In preparation for my visit I conducted a bit of very informal research myself, asking contacts in a variety of on-line groups for trained sociologists how they earned a living, as well as thinking about people I know in the non-academic world who have a Sociology degree, and what they now do. Some of the occupations and activities which came up are listed here, though these are by no means all we might have considered – a minute’s thought will bring many other activities also to mind; and further suggestions, from you the reader, of sociologically informed occupations are indeed welcome in the Comments section which follows this piece….
But that’s by no means the end of the story. ‘Sociology in your Career’ is sometimes rather different from ‘Your career in Sociology’…
For the majority of the Sociology graduates these occupations are full-time jobs, but for others they are part-time, temporary, voluntary or only one aspect of a portfolio career. Sociologists do not only study the changes in society, they often also experience them very sharply at first hand.
For some people with a degree in Sociology particular occupations and careers are perhaps even a vocation, whilst for others the professional situation which they currently occupy is simply a stepping stone or transition towards something different.
It all depends perhaps on what outcomes of one’s sociological training and experience one most values. During our seminar session the final year undergraduates and I took an initial look at the skills and knowledge, professional and personal, which they were acquiring. Our first attempt to bring some order to our insights looked like this:
Personal and professional skills and knowledge
Again, this is but a beginning. Each student has his or her own interests and specialist subject preferences, each of them values some aspects of the sociological learning experience more or less than other aspects. At least, however, this first attempt at joint, collaborative mapping of skills and knowledge helps us to see the scope for articulation of what sociological learning can offer; and there is much more still to be said, once any Sociology student takes a good look at her or his individual degree programme and elective additional studies.
The important thing, I suggested, is that in taking our career paths forward, we be very clear about the skills and knowledge which our study of Sociology has developed.
Potential employers (and potential investors and private clients, if one takes the more overtly entrepreneurial route) are unlikely to be particularly engaged by the names of modules which we have studied; but they will probably be very interested in what that study has added to our professional portfolio of know-how and competence. Job applications and / or future business proposals are where we present what we actually have to offer, not ‘just’ what we’ve already done.
As I explained yesterday, I am not a career advisor. I am straightforwardly a practitioner Sociologist who has also always maintained an involvement in academic Sociology, and it is from these perspectives that I speak and write.
My own ‘career’ path has had many fascinating by-ways, as my personal experience criss-crosses my professional persona. But I have without fail found my sociological training invaluable, always leading me to ask questions, and giving me a conceptual and research toolkit to interrogate any situation with which I have been confronted.
For some few, a degree – or usually a number of degree/s – in Sociology will stand alone as a way to make a living, perhaps as an academic or as a researcher in a large organisation or private corporation. For others – probably the large majority – however, the skills and knowledge acquired will become instead an exceptionally useful foundation for further professional development in other ways.
Sociology offers an overview of society and human life beyond that of many other disciplines. It provides the tools for analysis and insight into how organisations ‘work’ and even why change occurs. And it gives right at the start of an individual’s career the opportunity to examine ideas and find out what it is in that vastly complex thing called ‘society’ which most fascinates that person.
A hint or three
Specific advice is best gained from tutors and career advisors who know a student’s particular interests, contexts, strengths and, perhaps, weaknesses. Nonetheless, offering a little general guidance here may be helpful to some.
Firstly, it a usually a good idea in the course of a degree in Sociology to ensure that one gains a good understanding of both qualitative and quantitative research and analysis. Both qualitative and quantitative approaches benefit a lot from augmentation by the other; and obviously both are invaluable if one is employed in any way e.g. to examine organisational processes, or to undertake research, understand statistical data, write reports, evaluate risk, or otherwise to bring rigour to the analysis of a given situation or scenario.
Secondly, it can do no harm to become confident about working online, using spreadsheets, writing a blog, developing presentations and the like. If you know how to do all these things, make sure you say so when you talk to potential employers and clients. Plus make sure, too, if it’s appropriate, that you are well-presented online as yourself – a good LinkedIn profile, membership of suitable online groups (perhaps including e.g. some free LinkedIn ones, or the British Sociological Association‘s ‘Sociology Outside Academia’ group?) and so forth.
And thirdly, be imaginative. Ask those questions. Think of the things you (might) like to do, and match them against the huge variety of occupations you could pursue. (Look at the whiteboard list above, and ask how these occupations, or others which may be of interest, connect to your core sociological skills and knowledge portfolio.) Once you have done this, you may want to meet real practitioners in the roles which catch your eye, and perhaps even observe or shadow them if the opportunity arises – your active enquiries now will help you to choose what really engages you, and your enthusiasm and possible participation may serve you well later on, when further training and / or job applications are the order of the day.
A degree in Sociology is a lift-off to a vast range of future occupations. What comes next can be decided with due care, whilst that degree is still being completed. To have a whole world of opportunities opening up, and at the same time be studying such a rewarding subject, is an exciting prospect.
Once you have a grasp of the Sociological Imagination, you won’t, as I know very well, want to let it go.