5 Key Takeaways from the Sociology Career Panel

8 December 2022

By Stella Min

5 Key Takeaways from the Sociology Career Panel

Last week, the ADSA Career Development Network facilitated a discussion with three sociologists who shared tips for landing a job in academia, industry, and government. Dr. Laura K. Nelson provided tips for academia, soon-to-be Dr. Emily Daina Šaras provided tips for private industry, and Dr. Samuel H. Fishman provided tips for all three tracks based on his experience. Although the panel was organized around sociology, most of the advice can be applied by students in any discipline. Below are 5 takeaways from the conversation.

You can dive into all these tips and more by watching the Sociology Career Panel. Check out our previous panels to learn about other career paths for data scientists.

Sociology Career Panel hosted by the Academic Data Science Alliance's Career Development Network

Panelists from left to right and top to bottom: Samuel H. Fishman - Statistician at SAMHSA; Laura K. Nelson - Assistant Professor at UBC; Emily Daina Šaras - CEO and Data Scientist at Knowli.

1. Begin Exploring Your Career Options ASAP

When your training program can lead to a wide diversity of career options to choose from, like sociology, it is important to begin narrowing down your interests as soon as possible. The panelists recommended signing up for a diversity of courses to learn new technical skills and discover topics that you are (or are not) passionate about. Seek opportunities to collaborate with others to broaden your network and your knowledge.

Additionally, consider reaching out to people you know who are currently employed in a profession you’re interested in and ask them questions about their job. They will likely provide guidance that is uniquely tailored to someone in your position. If you’re hesitant about reaching out to someone, Laura recommended joining online communities to quietly learn more about the day-to-day responsibilities of the different roles held by people in that community. For example, you can search for Alt-Ac groups on Reddit and Discord and follow discussions under hashtags like #AltAc and #AltAcademia on Twitter. Some communities have sub-communities on Slack (including ADSA's Slack channel) that discuss Alt-Ac tracks as well. 

The goal is to develop an understanding of your interests and what kind of industry and role you can envision for yourself. The sooner you make this connection, the better your chances of successfully landing a fulfilling job.

2. Take Your Disciplinary Training Seriously

Data training courses are not the same across disciplines. Computer science courses, for example, may focus on optimizing code or algorithms, which may not be all that useful to beginner students in sociologists. Sociologists, on the other hand, tend to focus on data with respect to sociological theories, which may not be useful to computer scientists in training. Therefore, Laura highly recommended taking computational/quantitative courses offered within your program whenever possible. If your program does not offer these courses, try to find reputable resources online that are taught by someone in your field to learn best practices within your discipline. For sociologists, Laura recommended Code Horizons.

3. Demonstrate Your Ability To Collaborate

Nearly every job involves collaboration. In his federal job, Sam says he works with a minimum of six people on every project. Laura said that 60% of her research projects are collaborative. As a CEO and data scientist, Emily said that nearly every aspect of her work involves collaboration. 

To demonstrate your ability to work in a team effectively, you must first signal to others that you’re someone they want to work with. You can do this by reliably meeting deadlines and consistently producing high-quality work. To gain experience in non-academic collaborations, Emily recommended applying for internships. Although it may be difficult to find the time, she believes it’s worth the short-term sacrifice to improve your career prospects, especially within private industry.

4. Tailor Your Resumes/CVs for Each Job and Industry

Creating a resume/CV and cover letter can be time-consuming. Invest a little extra time in preparing and researching before submitting your application materials to help ensure that your hard effort isn’t wasted. Tips for approaching this process differ by industry.

For traditional tenure track academic positions, Laura, who regularly serves on academic hiring committees, advised that you should always research the institution that you are applying to and integrate this information into your application materials. In your cover letter, highlight how your work compliments the work conducted by researchers in the department. Both Sam and Laura also emphasized the importance of acknowledging the population that is served by the institution and how you would meaningfully contribute. Sam further recommended searching for the institution’s mission statement to get a sense of its values and mentioning them in your cover letter.

For government and industry roles, Laura suggested highlighting your ability to manage projects and work under tight deadlines. Sam emphasized the importance of integrating keywords into your applications for federal government positions to get past initial hiring screeners. Emily recommended developing a portfolio of work that demonstrates your ability to analyze and visualize data and communicate results. Regarding data visualizations, the panelists agreed that the most impressive candidates go above and beyond default settings and take extra steps to display findings in a way that enhances the reader's ability to interpret the results.

Bonus tips: Laura highly recommended making a website to market your skills and accomplishments, especially if you’re in the academic job market. Additionally, create a Google Scholar account to showcase your publications and presentations. If you write code, share it on a GitHub account. Track and share your contributions as a journal reviewer by creating a Publons account.

5. Practice and Ask for Feedback

The benefit of exploring sub-field specialties and career options earlier is that you have plenty of time to practice and make mistakes. When it comes to data, this can take the form of reading articles and reports while paying attention to the data that the authors used and how the results were communicated, as Emily suggested. This advice can also be applied when you’re on the job market. For example, Sam seeks feedback on application materials to identify potential weaknesses he could improve. He also builds in an ample amount of time to practice his job talks and integrate feedback before an interview. These practice sessions help you develop a sense of comfort and mastery, while feedback enables you to improve by providing a different perspective.

Summary

The sociology career panel with packed with excellent advice for someone at the very early stages of their career, particularly those who face a diversity of options. The panelists’ tips include finding the best fit for you by exploring and experimenting early. This will help you more quickly identify what you’re passionate about and eliminate options that don’t excite you. Once you’re ready to begin specializing, take your disciplinary training seriously to ensure you’re learning best practices that will set you up for success. Regardless of your specialization, collaboration is a common aspect of nearly all jobs in every sector, whether you’re headed for academia, government, or industry. Identify opportunities to work with others to gain experience and stand out in the job market. 

Once you’re on the job market, invest a little extra time in your application materials to improve your prospects of landing an interview. Customize your submissions based on the institution you’re applying to and be sure to follow recommendations that are specific to each sector. Lastly, conduct practice interviews and job talks. Do this well ahead of time so that you can integrate the feedback you receive.

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