tidbits about graduate school professionalization of sociologists

While looking up some literature on organizations, I found an American Sociologist 2003 article The business of becoming a professional sociologist: Unpacking the informal training of graduate school” which might be of interest to fans of Fabio’s grad skool rulz.  Similar to Fabio, David Shulman and Ira Silver discuss lessons they wish they had know while in grad school. 

A few choice excerpts that might resonate with our readers and thread commenters regarding graduate training and professionalization:

On training for teaching-oriented vs. research-oriented institutions:

“To be sure, opportunities still exist for graduate students to become good teachers and to land faculty jobs that focus primarily on undergraduate teaching. Yet a highly ranked sociology department geared toward producing successful academic researchers is not the kind of place where graduate students are likely to acquire informal knowledge about how to tap these opportunities. One such piece of crucial knowledge is that regional networks seem to matter in landing teaching-oriented jobs in a manner that is not comparably true for research jobs.”

On work/life balance:

“While the academic world of graduate school can be an oasis of ideas and intellectual excitement, that oasis also can be a dark place. Graduate school can seem like a treadmill in which no matter how fast you run, you will not get where you are desperate to go. Graduate school cannot consume your life. Life goes on even here — you are an adult even while you are an apprentice. People get married, have kids, and take on outside projects and interests. Do not lose sight of your own life — these are the young years for many of us. Bitter Graduate Student Syndrome is to be avoided if possible. There is an outside world beyond your studies. But don’t spend too much of your time away, either. When graduate school voluntarily becomes purely a distant second fiddle to outside world pursuits, you can expect to add more years to your Ph.D. timetable, potentially unhappy ones.”

On “The Institutional Reluctance to See Sociology as a Business”:

“…some faculty may believe that informal socialization into the profession is to be earned only by virtue of a graduate student’s high talent level. There are at least two tiers of distributing informal professional knowledge: one in which students go through the program oblivious to the subterranean world of tips, and another where some students, anointed by their perceived ability, motivation, and a professor’s discretion, advance forward armed with crucial insights and connections. Thus, failing to openly distribute professional socialization can be an invisible and unstated form of hierarchical gatekeeping, meritocratic-based inequality in the midst of the appearance of egalitarian training.”


Written by katherinechen

April 19, 2013 at 10:09 pm

Posted in academia

7 Responses

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  1. Katherine, great points! I particularly appreciate your point about the tacit knowledge that’s passed only when students work intensively with their mentors. We’ve recently had serious discussions in our department about how to give more students such opportunities. I’m constantly amazed at how naive many students are — and not just first year students — about the “business” of sociology.


    Howard Aldrich

    April 20, 2013 at 4:43 pm

  2. For readers interested in exploring the topic further, this article prompted an entire issue on professionalization in academia a couple years later: The issue includes contributions by the original authors, as well as Peter and Patricia Adler, Gary Alan Fine, Michael Burawoy, and others. It’s been a while since I read the issue, but I know that we assign a few of the articles in our graduate student ProSem at Notre Dame.



    April 20, 2013 at 8:40 pm

  3. I think it’s worth linking this discussion back to Brayden’s criticism of Fabio’s rulz. I’ve got my own concerns about the balance of naivety and realism in our description of academic work.

    We have to keep in mind that at least some of the students Howard is talking about are being intentionally “naive”. They are invoking an ideal. Accordingly, they explicitly refuse to approach social science as a “business”; they don’t want to succeed because they learned how to “get ahead” better than their peers. They only want the job if it is awarded to them based on their actual understanding of how society works.

    There’s a deep irony there, of course, since what they saying (albeit sometimes only very implicitly) is that they don’t want to know how their own immediate social environment works with the same degree of accuracy. They want knowledge of others that they find repulsive as self-knowledge.

    For my part, I think sociology would become entirely unbearable if it openly “socialized” its members about the “business” they’re in. I think sociology is defensible as an activity only because it refuses to wholly be what it quite definitely partly is, namely, a social activity.



    April 21, 2013 at 8:55 am

  4. I understand what Thomas is saying & agree that some students have an (overly) idealized view of sociology as a profession, even a “calling.” But ignorance is not bliss, in this case. It is hard to argue that social scientists could understand the societies they are studying without using the same analytic approach/tools to grasp their local situation accurately.

    I see the same problem with students who say they’re studying “labor markets” or “corporate governance” but have only limited understanding of how a capitalist economy works. (This comment ought to provoke some reactions!)


    Howard Aldrich

    April 21, 2013 at 4:27 pm

  5. Howard (or others): If you can do so without outing particular students, can you give concrete examples about naivete about the “business” of sociology to move this conversation forward? After all, one person’s “established fact” could be another person’s “naivete.” See, e.g., the soc job market forum, which is full of all sorts of claims about how the sociology job market works; I’d call many of those claims naive, others might call them established facts.



    April 21, 2013 at 10:52 pm

  6. Sure. I’ll give an example from a recent conversation I had with 2 grad students (in the context of a grad seminar I was doing on “writing”). Student A (a 3rd yr) asked me how we evaluated the CV’s of job applicants, and in particular, would it be bad if someone didn’t have any publications? [You can imagine my answer] Student B (also in an older cohort) grimaced, looked glum, and when i asked why, said “so not having any publications is bad?”

    I must hasten to add that I was probably just as naive when I was in grad school, but I started nearly 50 years ago & I’d like to think that times have changed! I remember not knowing how to prepare a CV — I don’t think I had one until I got my first job — and not knowing how to apply for jobs. But in those days, the job market didn’t work the way it does today. We didn’t “apply” for jobs — our advisers/mentors were queried by schools looking for people & then those schools wrote us letters, offering jobs and/or asking us to visit. Needless to say, such networks were not “open” and the possibilities for insider dealing were very high. I don’t look back on them as “the good old days,” I can tell you.


    Howard Aldrich

    April 22, 2013 at 12:32 am

  7. Howard — thanks. In my department, the need to publish gets hammered into students’ heads very early. It’s a bit harder to convince them that the real goal is to produce good papers, not just any papers. That’s neither idealism nor naivete, at least not at the same level.



    April 23, 2013 at 8:52 pm

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