Letter From The Editresses: Beverly M. Pratt & Meg Austin Smith

Welcome to Volume 6, Issue 1!  Honoring previous editions, the Imagine theme continues, making both Kathryn Buford and C. Wright Mills proud.

We wrote in the previous edition’s letter that we were both retiring as newsletter editresses. Well, in the words of Borat Sagdiyev – and most 5th graders circa 1990 – NOT!

As most of you have seen, hard copies of our newsletter now exist in magazine form!  Perhaps we should start calling this a “magazine,” eh?  Watch out world, UMD’s Sociology Newsletter is going viral!  Several copies have been distributed to alumni, visiting faculty, deans, guests, etc.  If you haven’t seen the magazine, please stop by the front office.  Also, HUGE thanks to both Dr. Reeve Vanneman (Chair) and Hilary Gossett (Administrative Coordinator) for advocating and working to print this work!

As usual, this edition begins with a letter from the chair. We also have an interview with 2011 Rosenberg lecturer Randall Collins, as well as a response to Collins’ lecture by Lester Andrist. We have updates on some of the semester’s significant goings-on, including UMD sociology research on the cover of TIME magazine, the development of the Center for Society and the Environment, introductions to new faculty, and insights into the 2011-2012 graduate student cohort.

Our spotlights focus on Mini Rajan (Business Coordinator/Manager), Sonalde Desai (Professor), Elliott Eig (undergraduate), and comprehensive examinees of the recent past, present, and future (graduate students). So read on …

And on top of it all, we have breaking news!  UMD Sociology’s very own Sociological Cinema has been named Norton Sociology’s Featured Sociologists for the month of December!

In addition, we have the first installment of what we hope will become a regular feature: reflections from graduate students using sociology outside of our department’s walls.  Bryan Clift, a PhD student in Physical Cultural Studies, shares his reflections with us.  Next semester Laura Yee, a PhD student in Education, will contribute.  So read on …

As always, our sincere thanks go out to everyone who contributed to this issue.  We enjoyed collecting submissions, interacting with our peers and professors, and working with each other while putting this edition together.  We make a pretty good team!

Happy Holidays to each of you!  In the throes of winter weather and holiday chaos, snuggle up with eggnog, candy canes, and the contributions of our colleagues in our department magazine:  Imagine.

Happy New Year … Bev Pratt, bpratt@umd.edu & Meg Austin Smith, mras@umd.edu.

Letter from the Chair: Blended Learning by Reeve Vanneman, PhD

Changes in the technology world seem to be accelerating, and Maryland Sociology is changing along with them.  The latest emphasis is a collection of new technology uses grouped under the umbrella “blended learning”.   These include everything from taped lectures available over the internet to interactive self-instruction exercises.  I am sure there are administrators somewhere who dream of using technology rather than faculty to fill more “seats” (the commodification of education is well indexed by the everyday language of university procedures).  But we are sociologists and understand that electronics cannot fully substitute for face-to-face social interaction.

For myself, I am hopeful that some of these blended learning techniques will develop enough to permit us to focus our social interactions on our more complex educational goals.  The more routinized but necessary parts of sociology (“How do you calculate a regression coefficient?”; “What is Marx’s definition of class?”) might be better handled through well-designed internet applications.  This could free our class time to engage in the more difficult questions (“What are the limits of regression analysis for understanding social structure?”  “How does Marx’s use of class differ from most contemporary uses and why is that important?”).

For now, the educational technology is still in its infancy.  It reminds me of doing searches before Google or creating web pages before Facebook:  anybody can see the promise, but wider adoption requires better software.  Instructors who have tried Blackboard or search committees using Maryland’s disastrous eTerp job listings can appreciate how difficult it is to write software that seems easy to the user.  With time, the necessary innovations will come, and we need to be ready to take advantage of them when they arrive.

Here at Maryland Sociology, John Pease has experimented with creating an online summer course.  Grad students Les Andrist, Valerie Chepp and Paul Dean have developed a website to store and index short videos for use in Sociology classes (www.thesociologicalcinema.com).  Nicole DeLoatch has started a blog for undergraduates (ugradsoc.blogspot.com).  Grad students Nathan Jurgenson and P.J.Rey have an active webpage (http://thesocietypages.org/cyborgology/) and blog on the prosumer studies (www.bsos.umd.edu/socy/prosumer ) and incoming Professor Phil Cohen has a widely read blog on family and gender (familyinequality.wordpress.com).  And this newsletter itself is available as a blog (umdsocy.wordpress.com).  In ten years we may look back on these efforts as Internet antiques, but they are building the foundation for our future excellence.

Sociologists of the Month(!): The Sociological Cinema, Norton Sociology’s Featured Sociologists, December 2011

Check out Norton Sociology’s interview with our very own Valerie Chepp, Paul Dean, and Lester Andrist, a.k.a. The Sociological Cinema.  They are Norton Sociology’s Featured Sociologists for December 2011.  We are so proud!

Valerie, Lester, & Paul dissertation-level graduate students.  Congratulations!

The 2011 Rosenberg Lecture: An Interview with Randall Collins by Sarah Wananchak

Dr. Randall Collins has made a career within the big and the small, and in how the two interrelate. With his father in the Foreign Services Department, the young Collins spent a childhood on the move, spending time in post-WWII Germany and Russia, among other places. In an interview given in 2000, he credits his interest in both Goffmanian social interaction and geopolitics to exposure to freshly war-torn Europe, while he lays his interest in social class at the door of his time in a New England boarding school. His interest in micro-level work, he says, comes from much of his early exposure to sociological scholarship itself. It is at the intersection of these two–the micro and the macro–that he has found something of an intellectual home, and in his work he has made great strides both in approaching them separately and bringing them together.

Since those formative days, Dr. Collins has built a career of which any scholar would be proud. He has worked and studied at a wide range of universities and institutions around the world, and is now the Dorothy Swaine Thomas Professor of Sociology at the University of Pennsylvania. In addition, he has served on the editorial board of almost every major sociology journal and has chaired several ASA sections, in addition to his current position as the 102nd president of the ASA. He has received several honorary doctorates and many awards, including the ASA’s Distinguished Scholarship award. Recently

To mark his delivery of our annual Rosenberg Lecture, Dr. Collins agreed to talk briefly via email.

When asked where he thought the future of sociology lies right now, he responded thusly:

Several things that I think are cutting edge: New sources of data from visual images– the proliferation of real-life interactional data recorded from cell phone cameras, CCTVs, etc.  We are really entering the age of the image as a tool of research.

Mining the internet for data, especially on networks, has been done for a couple of years now.  I think a next step is to be more critical about what people are posting— try to examine this through Goffman’s eyes, as a new form of frontstage presentation of self.  On the other hand, people are pretty indiscreet about what they post; how is this related to strategic or just plain unconscious inflating of one’s projected image?

Relatedly, what is happening to the concept of “friend”, as people can claim to have hundreds of friends?  The concept has been historically changing over the centuries, in any case: in ancient Rome, “friend” was not somebody you palled around with, but a political ally.  The informal/ backstage ideal of the friend was created pretty recently, probably in the late 1700s at the latest. So more change in “friendship” is not surprising— and hence is the kinds of things that social networks do. We need to work on comparisons across such cases to develop a theory of what causes friendship ties (and network ties in general) to take on different sorts of content.

This is just a sample of what is clearly at the cutting edge; technologies of communication are just the most obvious thing to track in the perspective of larger sociological questions.

Also there are big macro questions about social conflicts coming up on the horizon– the long-term trend to growing economic inequality especially.  What is this going to do to social structure, to politics and social movements, etc.?  Class conflict is going to be the big issue of the next few decades.

When asked about how he views the process of “intellectual maturation”, he said:

Certainly one can observe a big change that happens when students shift from being an undergraduate, to about the second year of graduate school.  It’s professional commitment and therefore internalizing the discourse and the problems of the field, whereas undergraduates seem to be mostly trying to form some kind of gestalt, or just fending off the course requirements.  One of my professors at Stanford, where I was studying psychology 45 years ago, said that when you take your comprehensive exams you will know more about the field than you ever will in your life.  I’m not sure that’s strictly true, since you can go on being on top of at least some portions of your fields, but “intellectual maturation” comes in a rapid burst and pretty early. Most people seem to get imprinted with what direction they take in graduate school.

Parting thoughts:

I was having dinner in a slightly offbeat restaurant with a sociologist who is a great ethnographer, making occasional observations of what was going on at the other tables, and he commented:  “Just think, we even get paid for doing sociology!”  It’s not a job. Sociologists seem to me more in love with their field than just about anybody.

Sarah is a 3rd year graduate student.

A Response to Randall Collins’ Rosenberg Lecture by Lester Andrist

Our department recently featured Randall Collins as the 2011 Rosenberg Lecturer. I would bargain that most sociologists are aware that Collins is uncommonly prolific, and most are also aware of how widely cited he is. As the Rosenberg lecturer, it was one of those rare instances when it was entirely possible to sincerely introduce him as “a person for whom no introduction is necessary” without being accused of simply repeating a tired cliché. However, rather than use this space to dote on him or list his accomplishments, in what follows, I’ll briefly recount his talk and conclude with a couple thoughts I had about his project.

In true sociological form, the title of Collins’ presentation left nothing to the imagination: “Informalization of Manners and Self Presentation and How to Explain It.” His argument went something like this: There has been an accelerated shift toward informalization since about the 1980s, and to piece together the driving force behind this process, Collins takes us through an attic shoe box full of still photos, which cross continents, social strata and span the last century.

Collins explains that even in the militant labor movement around the turn of the 20th century, protesters were dressed in formal attire, or what Charles Tilly referred to as a WUNC display. That is, in contrast to the Occupy Wall Street protesters of recent months, these striking industrial workers represented themselves in formal attire to telegraph their worthiness, unification, large numbers, and commitment. Why has there been such a dramatic change on this score?

It is worth noting that Collins’ analysis draws heavily from Erving Goffman’s attention to both formal and informal rituals and the face-work these rituals imply, but I think Collins is endeavoring to make sense of a process for which Goffman’s analytical tools are ill-equipped to provide answers. It is not what is happening in any particular photograph that interests Collins so much as what is behind the general drift toward informalization, which can only be seen in countless photos. To this end, Collins serves up three theories to account for this drift. First, following Norbort Elias, he proposes that informalization is the result of a social democratization. Perhaps social outsiders have begun to increase their political participation, and second order manifestations of this increased participation are cropping up in language, customs, and behaviors. Second, Collins puts forth what he refers to as an antinomian elite theory, which describes the propagation of informalization as due to a shared reaction against a formal elite aesthetic. Here, “cool” prevails among persons determined not to be “square.” Finally, he suggests that there has been an emergence of a different kind of elitism, but one that we might recognize as a “leisure elite,” typified by the athletic fantasy figure. Here the impulse leading to greater informalization is a result of sport and prominent figures in sport becoming something like Durkheimian ritual objects.

Collins’ unassuming presentation style betrays the ambition of his project. To put it bluntly, he is attempting to explain why an image of men wearing hats in a diner during the 1950s should be considered alongside a contemporary image of an erect penis with piercings (oh, yes he did). Unfortunately, that much anticipated moment where all the pieces of Collins’ puzzle fall into place and this otherwise random barrage of still photos reveals something about why our contemporaries consistently eschew formalities never came. In my view—and I think Collins agrees—not one of the theories he proposed at the outset worked very well. Instead, he concluded with the provocative idea that class disparities are better disguised amidst this relatively undifferentiated field of informal garb and behaviors.

So Collins’ proverbial curtain was lifted to reveal an empty stage with only the sound of a whimpering trumpet, but I’m writing this essay with a forgiving heart. As I said, Collins’ project is an ambitious one, and after all, I don’t think it was ever really possible for Randy Collins to live up to the reputation of Dr. Randall Collins, Dorothy Swaine Thomas Professor of Sociology from the University of Pennsylvania.

Still I was left with several concerns about his project, but in closing, I’ll mention just two here. First, in addition to social class, I think Collins’ project would benefit from a more sustained analysis of other dimensions of inequality. After talking to others who attended, there is some agreement that he appeared to overlook the way the informalization process may be working differently for women. I would also be interested to know how informalization varies by race.

Finally, Collins’ project is global in scope, and it would be interesting for him to locate this drift toward informalization amidst other global processes. For example, it is tempting to draw connections between a global drift toward informalization and the growing income inequality often remarked upon by those interested in the outcomes of economic globalization. If informalization truly hides income disparities, then the fact that both processes began to quicken about 30 years ago seems to be a rather suspicious coincidence and one worth investigating.

Admittedly, I’ve never been very successful at persuading other sociologists to pursue questions that I personally find interesting or important, but one never knows. It will be interesting to see what edits make it into the next iteration of Dr. Collins’ analysis of informalization.

Les is an advanced graduate student.

University of Maryland Sociology in TIME

Chore Wars,” the cover story of the August 8, 2011 issue of TIME by Ruth Davis Konigsberg, features the research of John Robinson, Suzanne Bianchi, Liana Sayer, Beth Mattingly, Annette Lareau, and Paul England.  Following is an abstract for the article:

“The article focuses on the paid and unpaid workloads of husbands and wives in dual-income U.S. households in 2011.  It states that the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics found that in 2010, married and childless men and women who worked full time had a combined total of paid and unpaid work such as chores of a little over eight hours, while those with children had women working 20 minutes more combined paid and unpaid work than men.  It comments on the pressure that men feel with managing the responsibilities of family and work and mentions that companies make fewer accommodations for new fathers than mothers.  It talks about gender inequalities that persist in high-quality leisure time with women often needing to combine leisure time and child care.”


The Program for Society & the Environment at UMD by Anya Galli & Zach Richer

If you’ve visited the third floor of Art-Sociology this year, you may have noticed that the Sociology Department now hosts the Center for Society and the Environment (CSE), a newly established center at UMD for society-environment studies. Building on the BSOS strategic plan theme of “fostering greater understanding of human relations and the natural environment,” the CSE creates an interdisciplinary hub for social sciences scholarship, research and conversation related to socio-environmental issues at the University of Maryland. Associate Professor Dana Fisher serves as Director of the CSE and is excited for the new opportunities the Center provides on campus: “in most cases,” she says, “environmental centers privilege the natural science aspects of environmental problems and the CSE will balance the scales toward the social component of the relationship.”

Dr. Fisher heads the two major research projects associated with the center. The Stewardship Mapping and Assessment Project, funded through an NSF grant, examines civic engagement and environmental stewardship in New York City tree planting initiatives. The US Climate Policy Network project, also funded by an NSF grant, explores national climate change policies, focusing on transnational comparisons of social and advocacy networks. A project is currently in the works to establish a research network linking scholarship and urban environmental stewardship projects in the Northeastern Megaregion.  This collaborative effort will synthesize environmental projects on land use, water management, energy use, and decision-making in Washington, D.C., Baltimore, New York, and Boston.

In addition to providing a base for social sciences research projects throughout the Northeast, the CSE connects faculty across the university. A workshop series is hosted every other Wednesday from 2:30-4:00 pm in Art-Sociology 1101, providing the opportunity to scholars from Public Policy, Government and Politics, and Sociology Departments to present and discuss research in progress.  Recent weeks have featured workshops on carbon market formations, community involvement in urban stewardship projects, and networking among climate change protestors. Plans are being laid to hold a conference and speaker series in the future.

Sociology faculty associated with the CSE include Professor Kurt Finsterbusch, Assistant Professor Christina Prell, and incoming Assistant Professor Rashawn Ray. Jennifer Hadden, Assistant Professor of Government and Politics, and Nathan Hultman, Assistant Professor in the School of Public Policy also contribute to CSE workshops and projects. The CSE hosts Graduate Fellows (Sociology graduate students Joseph Waggle, Zach Richer, and Anya Galli) and visiting international scholars. This year, Sun Jin Yun joins us under funding from the Korea Research Foundation for a comparative project on climate policy networks. Emanuela Bozzini joins the center under a Fulbright-Schuman Fellowship for a project on climate change and food security policies in the United States and European Union.  Both guest scholars are scheduled to present their research at the workshop series this month.

The CSE’s location in third floor’s center space is scheduled for renovation during the semester break, at which point the conference room will be outfitted with new equipment for multimedia presentations, offices will be refigured into more open, collaborative spaces, and sustainable carpet will be lain.  Although the physical space for the center is very much in transition, the CSE has already fostered a great deal of interdisciplinary discussion on climate change and socio-environmental issues. Dr. Fisher says she hopes that the CSE will foster “cross-fertilization of ideas” by creating a “community of sociologists who are working on aspects of the society-environment relationship.”

Be sure to out the new CSE website  at http://cse.umd.edu/ where you can see a schedule of events and workshops, get more information, and read papers related to ongoing projects. We hope to see you at one of our upcoming workshops!

Anya and Zach are both 2nd year graduate students.

Staff Spotlight: Mini Rajan by Kriti Vikram

I had the pleasure of interviewing Mini Rajan, the Business Coordinator in the Sociology administrative department. Mini assists Patty and works on payroll, procurement, benefits, tuition remission, travel and the UM Foundation.

Mini is from Bhopal, the capital of the state of Madhya Pradesh in central India. She got a Masters degree in English Literature from Bhopal University. She came to the US in 1989 to join her mother who worked as a nurse at Howard University Hospital. After getting an additional degree in accounting from Prince George’s Community College, Mini went on to work at The Washington Post and was there for seven years.

She joined the University of Maryland in the summer of 2001. She says she had always wanted to work in an academic setting and UMD offered her just the right environment. She also hopes to get a degree in Higher Education Administration in the future. What she likes most about her job is the opportunity to work with faculty and students. For international students in particular, she has been a great source of support as she helps make sense of the enormous amounts of paper work that needs to be done.

In her free time, Mini likes to cook, travel and spend time with her family. She feels lucky to have a large extended family in the US but for the most part she loves to be with her husband and two children. Her daughter is a freshman here at UMD and wants to become an orthodontist. Her son is in the 7th grade and loves to play sports, video games and read books.  She is very active in her church and teaches Sunday school bible class to 2nd grade kids. She has six kids in her class and she absolutely adores them.

Kriti is a 4th year graduate student.

Faculty Spotlight: Sonalde Desai by Ann Horwitz

What made you decide to become a sociologist?  I did not start out to be a sociologist.  I was not a particularly motivated student and the fact that Sociology education in my second tier college in Mumbai was not designed to inspire students did not help.  I was a Sociology major because one must major in something and for an aspiring journalist, Sociology was as good a major as anything else.  About the time I graduated, my fiancé decided to study in the United States and I wanted to get a student visa to come to the U.S. Somehow I was admitted to the Sociology graduate program at Case Western Reserve University in Cleveland and fell in love with Sociology. From there I moved to graduate program in Sociology at Stanford and that love has only grown over the years.

I think I fell in love with Sociology because it gave me tools to try to make sense of the social world around me.  I have always liked observing the life around me but until I studied Sociology,  I did not have the vocabulary to link individual behaviors with social structures.  Of course the flip side is also true, I seem to view the world through social science lens. I am writing this from the beautiful city of Lucknow that was once a seat of power of Muslim kings of India and later served as a location from which the British East India Company ruled India. I look at the lovely university buildings and instead of seeing beautiful architecture, wonder about historical circumstances that led a colonial power to incorporate Muslim architecture in its designs in Lucknow while the Mumbai campuses seem modeled on Oxbridge. Maybe sometimes it is better to think of a cigar as just a cigar and I would be better off enjoying the architecture!

Tell us a little about your current research.  My current research, undertaken in collaboration with Reeve Vanneman, Surajit Baruah and a number of UMD students, involves a survey of 41,554 households in India. We interviewed these households in 2005 and given the rapid changes in Indian society, we would like to understand how different groups partake of recent economic growth.  While societies rarely remain static, some moments are characterized by a rapid disjuncture; India is at this historic moment of disjuncture and it is fascinating for us to have a ringside seat.  Social changes are so rapid that sometimes we don’t even know how to ask the right questions.

For example, most Americans are used to upper crust Indian students who come to the US speaking flawless English. Few people realize that rapid expansion of education in India that we may hail as democratization has also led to tremendous inequality in quality leaving a large number of recent college graduates without any marketable skills. This emerging social stratification will shape the nature of Indian society in years to come.  Capturing antecedents and consequences of this stratification that is taking place before our eyes is fascinating.  Over time, I have come to believe that one of the primary causes of this stratification is unregulated entry of private educational providers, possibly in response to slow and highly bureaucratized expansion of public education.  Interestingly, similar processes seem to be operating in many other countries such as Malaysia and Indonesia.

Our current research and data collection speaks directly to these major structural shifts by recording changes over time in the same areas and in the same households. This is the first large panel study in India and perhaps one of the few studies worldwide where issues of social change and social structure are so deeply embedded in its design. Do look at my personal website www.sonaldedesai.org where I try to keep a diary of observations from the fieldwork.

What do you like about working with Maryland students?  I really like working with students and our department has a culture that creates fascinating communities.  We are fortunate that our DC location is attractive to a diverse student body; departmental culture creates a highly collegial working environment. For the past five years, Reeve and I have worked with a group of 2-5 students that regularly meets and works on the India project, writes research projects and generally provides a forum for professional development. I have really enjoyed these meetings and continue to participate in them via Skype even when I am traveling.

Outside of sociology, what are your hobbies and interests?  Hobbies. Sociology feels like it is all absorbing – both a vocation and a hobby.  But I do like traveling and sailing.  For the past three summers I have been sailing in Maine.  Taking a sailboat from Annapolis to Maine is an incredible adventure and I love being alone on the deck in the night with no electric lights anywhere in sight.

Ann is a 1st year graduate student.

Getting to Know New Faculty: Michael Rendell by Tyler Myroniuk

I had the chance to interview Michael Rendall a little while back to get a sense of his research agenda, why he likes the University of Maryland, and what his professional goals are. He came over from RAND to Maryland this fall and was hired as a full professor. From what I hear (and if you take a look at his CV), he is a world-class demographer and someone who will greatly contribute to our department. He’s also a very friendly guy (a fact that you won’t find on his CV).

He has previously published on US born children of Mexican immigrants and educational outcomes and now is looking at health outcomes of children of immigrants. He is using Mexican data sources to study migration from Mexico—an approach not usually seen in the American literature on migration.

Michael: “The idea is that US sources have got major deficiencies for a population that has motivations not to be visible. Mexican data sources have no such problem. And more than that, there is kind of a crisis in survey research in the US and other developed countries because the response rates are going down and people don’t have landlines phone anymore. All kinds of things are making it difficult. However, countries such as Mexico have response rates of 90%. They have in-home interviews, et cetera.”

He has also been recently invited to give two local presentations: a talk at the National Children’s Study Health Disparities Symposium and another at the National Academy of Sciences Workshop on Measuring Immigration Flows. Needless to say, he is keeping busy.

I figured that rather than ask mainly about his past (which one can begin to comprehend by examining his CV), I should ask about the present, future, and for some advice.

Tyler: What’s the reason for going from RAND back to the university setting? What’s the motivation? What are the benefits of being back in the university setting?

Michael: Good question. I will say that at RAND we have a graduate school—not well known—but it is there. And I enjoy working with graduate students and that is one of the attractions of being here—although I enjoyed working with graduate students at RAND. I certainly came here in part for the Maryland Population Research Center and that was a good mix there. I enjoy that the Sociology department here is strong not only in demography but more generally as a highly ranked department. I think the department has a bright future. And it’s good to be part of the new cohort of people who are coming…I’m excited by developments like how sociology has been awarded two of the Computational Social Science hires…So I’m very happy with that. I tend to be a very interdisciplinary person by background and I see the Maryland campus as providing great opportunities for interdisciplinary work. My background is a Master’s in Economics and Sociology, and a Bachelor’s in Psychology so I’m happy with that (the interdisciplinary nature of Maryland). I’m happy to see my former dissertation committee chair Fran Goldscheider. So there’s another fact you can put in.

Tyler: I didn’t see that in the CV. Maybe I wasn’t looking close enough.

Michael: I didn’t include that. Sometimes I have but the CV is always a selection you know…(quick sidebar about his current work)…Now I haven’t quite got it yet but I have a conditionally accepted article on child obesity with my colleagues back at RAND. It’s racial disparities—black/white differences in early childhood obesity and the sources of that. I think one of my continuing, ongoing topics of research is racial and ethnic inequalities and that’s a big part of the child obesity study.

Tyler: That leads into my question about your short and long-term goals at Maryland here.

Michael: Well I certainly want to be a part of the on-going, upward trajectory of the sociology program at Maryland. I want to be a part of the interdisciplinary successful trajectory of the Maryland Population Center. The near-term goal is to get re-funded this coming round. This current work on my desk (he shows me a large stack of papers) right now is about the development core of the Maryland Population Center. So those are part of the positive trajectories of both of those.

Tyler: And lastly, what are some of the key pieces of advice you would give for aspiring scholars, whether it’s people like me—first year PhD students—or people near the end of their dissertation?

Michael: Consider your PhD program to be a training ground and make the most you can of the opportunities to work in partnership with the faculty here. I would say try to make your research path somewhat aligned with the faculty here. Save your great, innovative things, that are different from the faculty here for when you have your PhD. Here is your place to exploit your opportunities to work with faculty who want to work with you.

I hope you all know a little more about Michael now! As you can imagine, he is quite busy between his Sociology and Population Research Center duties so I was lucky to squeeze in some chit-chat with him. If any of his responses or academic history seem unclear to you, you have all the more reason to meet him and pick his brain!

Tyler is a 1st year graduate student.

Getting to Know the 2011-2012 Cohort


What’s sociology good for? (in other words, what burning questions do you have that sociology helps you get at?)  Sociology is helpful for me to understand the society that I live in. It helps me to answer questions that I have about the society.

What are you liking most about living in the D.C. metro area?  It is convenient, so I like it.

Besides getting a PhD, what are you hoping to do in the next half-decade or so that you’re here in Maryland?  I hope to travel around the U.S.


What’s sociology good for? (in other words, what burning questions do you have that sociology helps you get at?)  Sociology is good for investigating different aspects of society, especially those so often taken for granted.  I’ve always been interested in the power of belief, why and how inequalities persist in society, race, influences on people’s financial thoughts, feelings, and behaviors, and how public opinion operates in society.  Sociology equips me with a set of tools to help guide my inquiries.

What are you liking most about living in the D.C. metro area?  Coming from a rural area, I am enjoying the access that the D.C. metro area provides to different resources.  There’s so much to explore.  I enjoy observing and learning about the area and culture as well as experiencing the many things this place has to offer.

Give us your (grossly abbreviated) essential reading list (both sociology and non-sociology suggestions welcome!)  In Sociology, I suggest reading broadly to get a sense of everything the discipline has to offer and to figure out what appeals to you.  Outside of sociology, I recommend A Testament of Hope: The Essential Writings and Speeches of Martin Luther King, Jr. edited by James M. Washington and various works by Ernest Gaines, Toni Morrison, Kurt Vonnegut, and Langston Hughes.

If you were stuck in the data dungeon (aka the department computer lab) for hours on end with your whole month’s worth of Pandora access spent, what one song would you sing to yourself over and over and over again while you worked?  I would sing T.I.’s “Motivation.”

Besides getting a PhD, what are you hoping to do in the next half-decade or so that you’re here in Maryland?  Besides getting a PhD, I’m hoping to get involved in the community, working with the youth.  I have some hobbies that I would like to enhance my skills in. Also, I want to embrace the diversity here and step outside of my comfort zone to have some new experiences, learn from them, and grow on a personal level.


What’s sociology good for? (in other words, what burning questions do you have that sociology helps you get at?)  For me sociology is a constructive platform to channel my concerns about the world; using my research as a conduit to produce what I hope will be useful solutions. For example, I am interested in issues related to mental health as it applies to African Americans and immigrant communities. More specifically, self-awareness, how mental health is framed in society and its impact on families and communities.

What are you liking most about living in the D.C. metro area?  I love the international vibe of the DC metro area. Having lived abroad for awhile living in a homogeneous environment just doesn’t feel natural to me anymore. I love having neighbors from all over the globe and being able to learn about different cultures.

Give us your (grossly abbreviated) essential reading list (both sociology and non-sociology suggestions welcome!)  I am a huge Malcolm Gladwell fan, so I would highly recommend reading his books – Blink, The Tipping Point, Outliers.  I also like Allan Horowitz’s book Creating Mental Illness, it gives you a new perspective on mental illness in the U.S.

If you were stuck in the data dungeon (aka the department computer lab) for hours on end with your whole month’s worth of Pandora access spent, what one song would you sing to yourself over and over and over again while you worked?  I would have to create another email account and profile to register for Pandora under another name. When I am working I like to listen to New Age music like Enya, Libera, Kitaro, etc. There is no way I could replicate that kind of music with my own voice, nor would anyone care to hear me try.

Besides getting a PhD, what are you hoping to do in the next half-decade or so that you’re here in Maryland?  I hope to explore the DC Metro area more. There are so many cool places to go and explore. We have been in the DC Metro area for two years now (we were on the VA side) and just have not found a lot of time to branch out and explore, so definitely looking forward to squeezing a little bit of it in over the next five or six years.

Free for all! Insert and answer your own question here.  I don’t have a nickname, but when I was in middle school I was desperate for one so I crafted one together with my initials S.A.B. then I told people to start calling me Sab. I learned two important lessons from that experience 1. Never ever give adolescents fuel to call you something that could either be pronounced like a car (Saab) or an icky crusty thing that appears after a wound (scab) and 2. Being called Shanna is just fine for me.


What’s sociology good for? (in other words, what burning questions do you have that sociology helps you get at?)  Sociology helps me to grapple with and understand the components that make up our identities, and why we tend to react strongly when we feel our identities challenged or threatened

What are you liking most about living in the D.C. metro area?  I grew up in the area but haven’t lived here for a while, so it’s nice to be back where many of my friends and family are. D.C. is cast in the American psyche as a pit of political jostling and cynicism (and there’s plenty of that to go around, especially these days), but the city doesn’t get due credit for the strength of its cultural, culinary, and artistic offerings.

Give us your (grossly abbreviated) essential reading list (both sociology and non-sociology suggestions welcome!)  Most of my essential reading is non-sociology related. Anything by Kurt Vonnegut, J.D. Salinger, F. Scott Fitzgerald, Voltaire, and Patricia Highsmith is essential to me (I know, all except one of them is a white male…the shame!). As for sociology-related reading (though the writers are not necessarily sociologists by training), Imagined Communities by Benedict Anderson has had a considerable impact on my thinking, as has the work of Kenneth D. Bush & Diana Saltarelli. I am also very fond of anything written by my undergraduate sociology professors, especially Reconstituting Whiteness: The Mississippi State Sovereignty Commission by Jenny Irons, States of Passion: Law, Identity, and Social Construction of Desire by Yvonne Zylan, and Beyond Caring: Hospitals, Nurses, and the Social Organization of Ethics by Dan Chambliss. These three amazing people have had a bigger intellectual influence on me than any other teacher, and they are the reason I want to become a sociologist.

If you were stuck in the data dungeon (aka the department computer lab) for hours on end with your whole month’s worth of Pandora access spent, what one song would you sing to yourself over and over and over again while you worked?  This is probably the most perplexing, vexing, and significant question I’ve ever been asked. Seriously, I don’t know how to answer it. I cannot overstate my dependence on music for the maintenance of what meager shred of sanity I have left. In fact, I’ve often fantasized about starting all over, going to school to study music theory, and becoming a philharmonic conductor. Well, that, or just becoming a roadie for the Stones.

Besides getting a PhD, what are you hoping to do in the next half-decade or so that you’re here in Maryland?  Settling down and starting a family would be nice.

Free for all! Insert and answer your own question here.  Besides the D.C. area, where have you lived? New York City, Central NY State, Northern Ireland, Indonesia, New Hampshire, Cambridge, MA, and France.


What’s sociology good for?  Sociology is good for helping me answer the burning question, why does the restaurant Hooters exist? … and all other issues that question implies.

What do I like about the DC metro area?  Food.  Restaurants.  Lebanese food, Ethiopian food, Vietnamese food, sushi, tapas… I like it all, and having most of it readily available within walking distance.

My grossly abbreviated reading list:  Harry Potter 1 – 7 (yes, this really is the first item on my list), The Second Wave: A Reader in Feminist Theory, The Red Tent by Anita Diamant, Sula by Toni Morrison

What song would I sing to myself over and over?  Eric Whitacre’s Lux aurumque or the Flower Duet from Lakme.

What do I hope to do in the next half decade that I’m at Maryland?  Figure out how to eat at all my favorite restaurants on a grad student’s budget.  I would also like a dog at some point in the near-ish future.

Fun Facts about me?  I like to sing, I do not like to cook despite my obvious obsession with food, I consider Hermione Granger to be an alter ego of sorts, and I was once interviewed on Honduran television.


What’s sociology good for? (in other words, what burning questions do you have that sociology helps you get at?)  Sociological research allows me to delve into real issues that affect real people.  In my previous work, I needed to understand how highly educated Malawians evaluated their nation’s public health efforts to stem the spread of HIV/AIDS.  No one had ever asked Malawians who are quite versed in international public health initiatives and their own government’s policies regarding HIV/AIDS.  So I went to Malawi and interviewed such individuals because I felt that they might be able to provide a unique perspective on things.  The research was enlightening.  Now I’m trying to define the next big burning question that will occupy me for some time and hopefully turn it into something practically applicable.

What are you liking most about living in the D.C. metro area?  I really like being close to The Mall and in a good sports town—Redskins, Nationals, and Capitals mainly.  I also like that the campus is a little ways away and how College Park is beautiful in its own right.  The combination of the two settings will allow me to thrive.

Give us your (grossly abbreviated) essential reading list (both sociology and non-sociology suggestions welcome!)  The Essential Foucault—Rabinow and Rose, The Presentation of Self in Everyday Life—Goffman, Uncertain Honor: Modern Motherhood in an African Crisis—Johnson-Hanks, Selecting Immigrants: National Identity and South Africa’s Immigration Policies 1910-2008—Peberdy, and “ ‘Teach a Man to Fish’: The Sustainability Doctrine and its Social Consequences”—Swidler and Watkins.

If you were stuck in the data dungeon (aka the department computer lab) for hours on end with your whole month’s worth of Pandora access spent, what one song would you sing to yourself over and over and over again while you worked?  One by U2—undoubtedly. I pretty much do this already.

Besides getting a PhD, what are you hoping to do in the next half-decade or so that you’re here in Maryland?  I hope to get some grants, conduct several research trips to sub-Saharan Africa, meet a lot of new people, make some great friends, and catch some football and hockey games.

Free for all! Insert and answer your own question here.  As for other random facts…I used to play volleyball at the University of Alberta in Canada.  We won back to back Canadian Interuniversity Sport (CIS) National Championships in 2008 and 2009.  Along the way we routinely beat NCAA Div. 1 champions and runners up (along with virtually every other Div. 1 team we played) in exhibition matches.  As I alluded to above, I spent three months in Malawi for my master’s degree fieldwork.  That was quite interesting considering I’d never travelled outside of North America prior to my time in one of the world’s poorest countries.  Other than that, I’m sure you will get to know some of my quirks along the way! I look forwarding to getting to know the faculty, staff, and my fellow grad students.


What’s sociology good for?  One of the main things that I find so appealing about sociology is that it’s good for answering a really broad array of questions.  Our current first-year methods course is helping me to think through lots of issues, to come up with new questions, and to conceive of old questions in new ways.

Living in the DC area … I’m excited to be living in a new place, and doing new and different things.  I’m especially looking forward to trying lots of new restaurants!

If you were stuck in the data dungeon (aka the department computer lab) for hours on end with your whole month’s worth of Pandora access spent, what one song would you sing to yourself over and over and over again while you worked?  I am partial these days to Rye Rye’s “Sunshine.”





** Not pictured, MATTHIAS WASSSER


Sociology Across Disciplines: Thoughts from a Kinesiologist by Bryan Clift

 In August 2009, I arrived at University of Maryland for the fall semester in the Department of Kinesiology. You ask, “What is a Kinesiologist (whatever that is) doing in a Sociology newsletter?” The shortest answer is that I have been asked! The short answer is that within Kinesiology there exists only recently a program called Physical Cultural Studies (henceforth PCS) that communicates in some ways with Sociology. For those unfamiliar, PCS is organized by a cultural studies approach toward conceptualizing and contextualizing the (in)active body (see http://www.umdpcs.org/). A longer answer is owed in part to historically contingent political affairs within disciplinary knowledges and specifically the multifarious tensions between Culture Studies and Sociology. But I digress… As a student of the relatively new PCS project, I am attracted and encouraged to take courses across campus. With few pre-determined courses and considerable flexibility I chose courses based on theoretical and methodological foci. In addition to required Kinesiology courses, I have taken courses in: American Studies, Women’s Studies, English, Education, and Sociology. You might say I have no “home,” which is both enlivening and discomforting. To date, I have taken three courses in Sociology: Postmodern Social Theory and Spaces and Places with Dr. Ritzer, and Contemporary Social Theory with Dr. Collins. Importantly, my discussion about my experiences is as much about the content of coursework as it is those who participate in it—the instructors and students.

It isn’t easy locating someone as well versed in Social Theory as Dr. Ritzer. As someone coming from across campus and a discipline in which canonical readings differ from but overlap with those in Sociology, Dr. Ritzer’s knowledge base is a rich resource for learning about and developing theoretically informed ideas related to my own interests. In his courses we read selections theorizing across, within, and outside of sociology drawing upon disciplines such as psychology, philosophy, history, political science, and geography. Guided by his penchant for unpacking and communicating the complexities of Theory, some of which can be a challenge to work through (e.g. Bourdieu or Baudrillard), Dr. Ritzer encouraged not only the critique of frameworks ranging from Marx to those attached a post- moniker, but also their relevance today. Consistently, our classes discussed how various concepts may or may not be mobilized for our own interests within contemporary society. In articulating contemporary social phenomena using a critical lens, we were challenged to anchor our thoughts to theoretical lineages.

In Contemporary Social Theory with Dr. Collins, together we read a selection of “canonical” works in Sociology (e.g. Pierre Bourdieu, Michael Burawoy, Jurgen Habermas, Max Horkheimer, and C. Wright Mills). Right from day one Dr. Collins prompted those of us in the classroom with one overarching theme: “Who is in the Sociology canon, who is not, and why?” Bringing into this Sociology classroom the works of Gloria Anzaldua, Kimberle Crenshaw, William E. B. Du Bois, Frantz Fanon, Stuart Hall, Donna Haraway, Aihwa Ong, and Edward Said, to name a few, Dr. Collins’s explicit intent to challenge the Sociology canon and the People in the classroom was and is an imperative necessary for anyone doing critical inquiry. Throughout the content of the course, the processes within the classroom, and our individual and collective intellectual revolutions, each of us were encouraged to continue the critical examination of not just texts and who wrote them, but also why, for what purposes, and for whom. Paradoxically, I might say that those who embraced Sociology as a contested terrain as encountered with Dr. Collins have been, apologies in advance, “Collinized.”

It remains unclear what is and is not knowledge within Sociology. Broadly defined as the study of human society, Sociology theoretically encapsulates all socio-cultural approaches across a number of disciplines. And yet, numerous sociological works that do not stem from people housed in Sociology are absorbed into Sociology while other sociological works remain on a periphery. What is sociological does not neatly dovetail with what is considered Sociology. This lack of clarity is as enlivening as it is problematic. Around the negotiations of what counts the porous boundaries of sociology delimit the field while opening spaces for imaginative thought. A decided position of relinquished control between certainty and skepticism wherein one locates and positions oneself reserved yet bare to the sources and positionalities of knowledge while wary of the power of categorization remains a privileged, often uncomfortable, contested, and wonderful space of occupancy. Undoubtedly, this is one message I have taken with me as I walk through sociological, critical, and qualitative terrain.

Specific to my research interests, I am currently working on two publications based on an ethnographic project I conducted over nine months located in Baltimore, MD. One of those pieces seeks to explicate how individual and collective participant understandings in a program called Back On My Feet (http://www.backonmyfeet.org/) (re)configures tensions among personal growth, social responsibility, health and well-being, and citizen governance. For its part, my coursework in sociology has provided different frameworks and ideas—namely Stuart Hall, David Harvey, and Michel Foucault—for understanding, conceptualizing, and contextualizing the articulations of individual and collective experiences within broader structural processes.

Bryan is a 3rd year graduate student in Physical Cultural Studies.

Undergraduate Spotlight: Elliott Eig

Navigating college has not been as easy for me as it is for many.  I struggled for a number of years to find the direction I wanted to take academically—graduating high school in 2002 then finally choosing sociology as a major in 2009—and there were spans where I put my education on hold all together.  During my time away from school, I held some really labor-intensive, hazardous, and low paying jobs that included moving furniture and hauling junk; I got a taste of what it’s like to make ends meet performing unskilled, nonunion labor for unscrupulous employers.  My experiences at these jobs eventually led me to become interested in worker’s rights and labor studies.  From there, I found an academic direction—sociology.

In a way, my story probably isn’t all that different from a lot of sociology students; my interest in sociology began, as it does for many, after experiencing adversity.  On the other hand, the way I got here may be more atypical.  Without a sense of direction after high school, it was difficult for me to become invested in college and I dropped out after my first semester.  I didn’t realize it until years later but, perhaps somewhat ironically, I would begin to find my academic direction outside the classroom when my friend Puck (an amicable vagabond and punk with whom I had been getting into trouble for years) introduced me to his boss at Gulliver’s Movers and helped me get a job moving furniture.  It turned out to be an eye-opening experience.

Being a mover at Gulliver’s was a survival lesson in a myriad ways (not just in terms of how to avoid getting crushed under a piano, etc.) and it illustrated to me many of the struggles involved with unskilled, nonunion labor.  Hiring was done on a day to day basis and every morning dozens of guys would show up looking for work.  There were always more workers than positions to fill and this surplus of labor made for an uneasy situation as it created a competitive undercurrent; our relations with one another were generally friendly, but ugly emotions often bubbled up to the surface upon hiring time because it was inevitable that some of us would be turned away.

All of us wanted to improve our own chances of being hired, even if it meant undercutting each other.  It helped to be related to someone with seniority, so Puck introduced me to his boss as his cousin (this was a common ruse at Gulliver’s).  Still, even though it was during the busy summer months, I didn’t get placed on a moving crew to go out on a job until my third or fourth day.  It also helped to network and make friends with the drivers who were hired more consistently, typically led the crews, and had a say in who came on jobs with them.

If you didn’t get placed on a crew, Puck taught me that if you stuck around the dispatch office long enough the crowd of laborers would start to thin out and some work around their warehouse might come up.  These instances didn’t exactly provide a full day’s pay, however, usually accounting for two or three hours of wages.  After I had worked there for months, there were still days when I had to settle for limited hours in the warehouse as did other workers who were more tenured than me.  You really had to be observant, persistent, and an active networker if you were going to find work at Gulliver’s because it was easy to go unnoticed.  This all illustrated to me some of the compromise and struggles unskilled workers often have to cope with because their lack of professional skills affords them minimal leverage in employment negotiations.

Gulliver’s management usually upheld a reasonable standard of ethics, but they did occasionally exacerbate their employee’s struggle.  There were a couple instances where our paychecks bounced and we had to wait a few days until they deposited more money into their payroll account.  I can’t imagine what it was like for those who had families and were living paycheck to paycheck to be caught in such a situation.  Also, on a number of occasions, our paychecks were written for less than we were owed and correcting them was a hassle (I once had to drive to their location in Alexandria in order to get reimbursed).  Lots of workers kept a separate record of their hours as a safeguard.  This illustrates another problem that unskilled workers deal with more often than you might think—being unpaid or underpaid.

I’d had crumby part time jobs in high school, but my time here really helped me understand what it’s like to be unprivileged in the workplace.  It wasn’t, as I would later find out, my most frustrating, hazardous, or unscrupulously managed job.  If Gulliver’s was a lesson in what it’s like to be an unskilled, nonunion worker in terms of competing for work and dealing with compensation issues, my job at 1-800-GOT-JUNK? was a lesson in protecting your own health and safety in the face of unscrupulous management.

1-800-GOT-JUNK? is a full service junk removal company.  The service they offer involves the removal of junk from wherever it might be located (mostly inside homes and offices); it’s not a service where the junk has to first be taken to the curb by customers before it is hauled away.  The trouble with hauling junk out of indoor spaces is that they are often extremely dirty, sometimes to the point of posing a hazard to workers (from the inhalation of dust and toxic materials).  Unfortunately, while I was working here, management wasn’t very concerned for our health in this regard and wasn’t as keen as they should have been on providing us with proper respirators.  It was common for us to run out of the cheap dust masks they preferred to offer and I often found myself reminding them (or even arguing with them) to buy more.  Some jobs involved removing dusty debris from renovations.  Others were in filthy, moldy storage spaces and basements nobody had set foot in for years.  The use of proper respirators was really necessary in order to be protected under these circumstances.

Unfortunately, the danger of inhaling hazardous materials became apparent at one site in a neglected basement apartment when I experienced chest pain.  A coworker (actually my friend Puck who had quit Gulliver’s by this point) got is worse than me and had to take a couple days off work due to the pain.  It’s really disturbing to be exposed to this kind of hazard because there’s little that can be done to find out exactly what had been inhaled.  For all we knew, we inhaled chemical fumes from old household cleaning products or hazardous mold and toxic dust from the rotting interior (it appeared that the apartment hadn’t been lived in for decades).  Furthermore, in an old building like the one in which this occurred, the presence of asbestos is always a possibility.  This kind of exposure to hazards is common in many occupations and, as this story illustrates, workers cannot always rely on management to look out after their health.

Injuries from lifting were also prevalent at 1-800-GOT-JUNK?.  We were supplied with hand trucks (the two-wheeled carts delivery men often use), which were helpful to lift heavy items up stairs and to roll them out to the truck, but it really wasn’t sufficient for some of the things we were expected to haul such as copying machines.  Sometimes we would get heavy items out to the truck without much problem, but would then be caught in a dangerous situation trying to push them up the truck’s ramp.  Injuries didn’t only occur while hauling the heaviest items, however, and could easily happen merely by lifting with improper technique.  These instances revealed another area where management showed a blatant lack of ethics; sometimes, as illegal as it is, employees were fired after being injured because management worried about repeat injuries and the resulting rise in insurance costs.

Had we been unionized, we would have been more knowledgeable about our rights as workers and would have had a support network for assistance—I’m confident we would have had proper respirators and job security upon being injured.  However, practically speaking, it’s difficult to convince unscrupulous management into complying with safety standards or to deal with the legal process for remedying wrongful termination without a support network.  One of my coworkers was able to get compensation after being wrongfully fired, but a lot of his success had to do with his family supporting him with the process.

As I burned out from working at 1-800-GOT-JUNK? and was preparing to quit, I knew I wanted to return to school in order to afford myself better working conditions.  So, I quit and started to take classes at Montgomery College (a nearby community college in Montgomery County, MD) and, shortly after enrolling, I realized my academic interest in worker’s rights and labor studies.  While learning more about worker protections, I couldn’t help but think how a lot of the adversity my former coworkers and I faced could have been addressed.  I continued to work a number of odd jobs during my time at Montgomery College and, even though they weren’t as tough as Gulliver’s and 1-800-GOT-JUNK?, I took lessons away from them as well.  Among them were jobs at a small video store (similar to the one in the movie Clerks by Kevin Smith) and at the company Doody Calls (a “premium pet waste removal service” where I drove around in a pickup truck collecting dog waste in people’s backyards).  These jobs, too, offered…a certain kind of insight (it was hard not to notice a few social dynamics at Doody Calls).

Upon transferring to the University of Maryland, I chose sociology as a major with a specialization in social stratification.  Even though there aren’t any classes specifically about labor studies, I’ve found much of the sociology curriculum to be relevant and I take every opportunity I can to incorporate labor into my schoolwork.  For the spring semester, my final semester here at UMD, I’m arranging an independent study with Dr. Pease about labor unions.  This semester, as part of my supporting course requirement, I’m taking an anthropology course (ANTH498N, Ethnography of the Immigrant Life taught by Dr. Freidenberg) that involves a service learning component at the community organization CASA de Maryland.

Dr. Freidenberg has a friend, Maria Walsh, who is involved with various community organizations in Langley Park and they were able to arrange volunteering positions at these organizations for everyone in the class.  After expressing my interest in worker’s rights and labor studies, they introduced me to labor organizers at CASA de Maryland who specialize in the organizing of day laborers.  CASA does a great service by helping day laborers because they’re likely the most vulnerable segment of the labor force; because most of them do not have papers and are hired under informal circumstances, they are easily exploited by employers.

CASA’s organizers help day laborers deal with many of the issues I faced at Gulliver’s Movers and 1-800-GOT-JUNK?.  Wage theft is probably the most common way in which day laborers are victimized.  According to a study published by the UCLA Center for the Study of Urban Poverty, “nearly half of all day laborers (49 percent) have been completely denied payment by an employer for work they completed in the two months prior to being surveyed…[and] 48 percent have been underpaid by employers during the same time period” (Valenzuela et al. 14).  CASA helps to remedy this situation by providing facilities through which hiring is monitored and by offering legal services in cases of wage theft.  They also host Occupational Safety and Health Association (OSHA) presentations about workplace safety, including information about respiratory hazards.

I’m grateful for the opportunity CASA de Maryland has given me to help workers in this regard and I plan on pursuing a career along these lines.  In the meantime, however, I continue to work an odd job in order to cover my living expenses; the past four years I’ve worked for a business that buys and sells used camera equipment online, mostly through eBay.  It doesn’t sound like that odd of a job, but it is.  It’s run out of my boss’ house and I have a wide array of tasks that range from herding sheep and assisting his girlfriend with her art business (which is also setup in the house) to detailing cars, repairing cameras, and making spreadsheets in Excel.  Now that I’m getting close to graduating, I’m considering my next steps toward career building.  Among my considerations are interning at Service Employees International Union (SEIU) and enrolling in a Teaching English as a Foreign Language program (TEFL) this summer as I need to improve my Spanish for this line of work.

Elliott is a senior undergraduate sociology major.

Graduate Student Spotlight: Graduate Students Dreaming of Comprehensive Exams by 7 Anonymous Graduate Students

In the last edition of the newsletter, we piloted the sneak-attack sample study (see “Happy People,” Spring 2011).  This time there was a little bit less sneaking and a little bit more story-sharing. We (the editresses) are in the midst of comprehensive exams, you see, and so we’ve been talking with others about their experiences. And many people, it seems, have found their comprehensive exams in their dreams – or nightmares. So the graduate student spotlight this go-round shines a beam on deep dark dreams of comps. All contributors remain anonymous.

“Well, I was done with comps and I thought I did really well.  And then [insert name of professor here] called me into his office and I thought he called me in to tell me how great I did.  Instead he said, “In all the years I’ve been doing this, I’ve never seen anything like this.  This comp was amazing!”  And I was getting more and more excited!  And he said, “We had to invent a new category for this comp …”  And I was getting even more excited!  And then he said, “It was so bad that we had to invent a new category for this comp … A Failure with Distinction.  Hard.”  And then I woke up.  Crying.  And scared.” – Anonymous Graduate Student #1

“I’m not sure if this is directly related to comps, but for about 2 years of graduate school I kept having dream after dream about high school.  The dreams are set on my old high school campus and I’m a high school student in the dreams.  But while some people exist from high school in the dream, like old friends and teachers, a lot of people exist in the dreams from Maryland. Like in one dream Bill Falk was the high school band director and he was in a band hall locker-room telling us highschoolers to get to class.” – Anonymous Graduate Student #2

“I was writing my exam and got thirsty – so thirsty that I felt like I was choking. So I reached out for some water, and then all of a sudden I couldn’t breathe! And I was soaked! And awake. In my sleep, I had reached out and picked up the water glass next to my bed, and instead of drinking from it, as I was trying to do in my dream, I had dumped it on myself. Neither spouse nor cat was happy.” – Anonymous Graduate Student #3

“I kept having these images of this question on research design that I would have no idea how to answer, and I’d look at it, go completely blank, and then offer the wrong procedures.” – Anonymous Graduate Student #4

“Well this will probably clearly give me away, but after reading theories about mass killing for a week straight, I had a nightmare that my apartment complex was being carpet bombed and I had to run to the Art/Socy building for cover.” – Anonymous Graduate Student #5

“In my dream it’s almost go-time, and somehow, I have progressed no further in my study schedule than I had been five months before the exam. So It’s like T- 2 hrs. to go, and I’m thinking [minor sub-field!] – I have to study [minor sub-field]! And of course my study partner is super prepared and he loans me his study materials and I am trying to find a place to go read them. For some reason I don’t look anywhere outside the building for a place to read his notes and copy them. I’m panicking because I can’t find a spot to sit – and then it hits me – I can use a bathroom stall. So I’m all excited feeling hopeful, and then as I am headed into the bathroom, another graduate student tells me all the toilets are clogged and no one can go in. At this point I wake up because I have to pee.” – Anonymous Graduate Student #6

“The week before I took comps I had this really strange dream about a baby I was babysitting.  The baby got really sick while in my care, on the verge of death.  But in the dream I was able to resuscitate the baby back to health.  I was really thrown off by the dream so I told a couple of friends/colleagues in the program.  Right after I finished recounting the dream to them, one friend/colleague exclaimed, “That means you’re going to pass comps!”  Thankfully she was right, at least about passing!” – Anonymous Graduate Student #7

 Thank you, 7 Anonymous Graduate Students!

Networking at Large Conferences | Advice from Professors

Larry David

Michael Burawoy

True ASA story: I (Meg) am riding up the escalator in Caesar’s Palace, when I notice that just about four moving steps behind me is Larry David. I’m star-struck. And torn: Should I alert him that the stairs up which he is traveling lead only to a conference full of sociologists and not to the nearby Coliseum at which his old pal Jerry Seinfeld would perform that very evening? I opt not to say anything; perhaps this is a private back-route he’s been told to use avoid people like me. But when we get off the escalator, Larry David heads the same wayI’m headed: to the opening plenary of the American Sociological Association’s annual meeting. And he’s heading there quickly, charging by me as if I were standing still, entering the giant conference room, beelining for the front, and taking the stage. Larry David does ASA! Only moments later, “Larry David” is introduced as Michael Burawoy, as in the (Burawoy 2005) citation that I snuck into as many paragraphs of my second year paper as I possibly could. I missed my opportunity to talk to Michael Burawoy. Rats!

I leave the plenary and head down the escalator. And lo and behold, just about four moving steps behind me is Michael Burawoy. And once, again I’m star-struck.

Now even if I had thought of something to say there on the escalator, I know I really wouldn’t have been “networking” with Michael Burawoy. But whether the conference goers I meet are superstars or just super cool people to have conversations with, “networking” at huge conferences is daunting. So we solicited some thoughts from the pros (the profs) about their conference experiences, and about what they’ve found to make a productive meeting with colleagues (thousands of them) old and new:


1) Once you know generally what your interests are, find groups with whom you can interact — thereby strengthening greatly your social network.

2) Join regional and/or national professional associations that reflect these interests.

3) Once there, if possible, join sections or smaller groups which make attending larger meetings more manageable, pleasant, and productive.

4) Attend these smaller group social gatherings and/or business meetings; don’t be afraid to volunteer to participate in their activities whatever they are (e.g., being a student representative or organizing a session for a forthcoming meeting).

5) Bug your mentor (or faculty who share your interests) to introduce you to people at meetings and/or get you hooked up with opportunities to be involved in them.

6) Agentic behavior (on your part) and a certain amount of self-promotion are necessities!


You want develop a 30 second, 1, 2, and 5 minute statements about your work. For the 30 second statement, what would you say if you were on an elevator with a scholar whose work is similar to your own? Write the statements down and revise them over time.


Back in the days when I taught Contemporary Theory, and Robert Merton was regarded as a contemporary theorist, I used participation patterns at professional meetings to exemplify the difference between manifest and latent functions (I am an unreconstructed functionalist). People get department support to give papers at professional meetings. That’s the manifest function. Most of the important work of staying at the cutting edge of your field (and of getting/changing jobs) is accomplished in informal conversations with others in your field. That’s the latent function. The latter requires the former because the department won’t give you support to go to places like Las Vegas to have coffee or beer with colleagues and talk about your research.

Since my graduate school days at Chicago and my early faculty days at Michigan, mentors and senior colleagues have taken the responsibility of introducing me to the senior people in the fields in which I was doing research. I regard that as one of the tasks of mentorship. I have tried to do that with my own graduate students. The important lessons I have learned are:

— Do use professional conferences as venues for meeting people in the areas in which you work;

— Do not be hesitant to ask mentors and other senior faculty to make introductions;

— These relationships are generally easier to build at regional conferences or conferences of specialized research communities than at national or international conferences of major learned societies. People tend to be busier at the latter.

— When such introductions take place, be prepared with something to talk about, e.g., papers of theirs that you have read.

— This may elicit questions about what you are working on. Be prepared with answers.

— Have business cards with your contact information printed up. Ask for theirs. They increase the likelihood that contact will be maintained.

Thank you, professors!

Sociologists Join Forces with the White House to Support Military Families** by Mary K. Kniskern

When Barack Obama was campaigning for the presidency, Michelle Obama traveled around the country with him, speaking to Americans about issues facing their families. While most of what she heard was familiar to her, she discovered one group of American families with which she had no prior experience: military families. She found that military spouses face unique challenges: frequent relocations, which make continuous employment difficult; frequent and long deployments, which result in family separations; and the risk of physical or psychological injury or death to the service member, which may turn young family members into caregivers or single-parent households. She pledged that if her husband were elected president, she would become a voice and an advocate for military families. Thus, even before her husband won the 2008 presidential election, First Lady Michelle Obama made the well-being of military families a priority.

After the inauguration, Obama’s first trip as First Lady was to visit the families of service members stationed at Fort Bragg, NC. She found a kindred spirit in the Second Lady Dr. Jill Biden, who had experienced the stress of being a military mother when her stepson, Beau Biden, attorney general of Delaware and a member of the Delaware Army National Guard, was mobilized and deployed to Iraq for a year. Obama and Biden began to develop a team to support them in their efforts regarding military families. The Obamas and Bidens have committed to coordinating government and civilian resources to support service members and their families, who are the one percent of Americans who bear the burden of the nation’s  international security commitments.

Last year, the Office of the First Lady asked sociologists at the University of Maryland-College Park to team with the U.S. Department of Defense and the Treasury Department to confront issues of military family economic well-being, specifically military spouse employment. The welfare of military families has been one foci of the Center for Research on Military Organization at the University of Maryland for almost four decades. The Center with graduate and research programs in military sociology as well as gender, work, and family, coupled with the university’s location inside the Washington beltway, made the University of Maryland a natural academic partner for this project.

Teaming Up With Sociology

Building on research by former University of Maryland graduate students Bradford Booth (PhD, 2000) on the employment of women, particularly military wives, in monopsonistic military-dominated labor markets, and Richard T. Cooney, Jr., (PhD, 2003) on the impact of tied migration on the employment of military spouses, doctoral student Mary Kniskern and Professor David R. Segal prepared a report for the Office of the First Lady. Using data from the American Community Survey conducted by the Census Bureau, the report looks at unemployment, underemployment, and returns to human capital investments among military wives compared to their civilian counterparts. Mady W. Segal, whose work on the military and the family as a greedy institutions, provides a foundation for much of the social science research on military families. Although a Professor Emerita since 2010, she agreed to work on the First Lady’s project. Recognizing the importance of place, other research underway at Maryland in support of this project deals with the geographic distribution of employment problems for military spouses and the concentration of military spouses in occupations involving state certification and licensure, which requires them to start afresh when military service involves out-of-state moves.

Strengthening Military Families

In January, President Obama broadened federal responsibility for military personnel and their families from the Departments of Defense and Veterans Affairs to the entire executive branch, with the publication of Strengthening our Military Families: Meeting America’s Commitment. The report contained 50 commitments by federal agencies to establish a comprehensive and coordinated approach to support military families, and it was signed by all members of the Cabinet. The commitment to address military spouse employment issues cited the Maryland research. See www.defense.gov/home/features/2011/0111_initiative/strengthening_our_military_january_2011.pdf.

With the viewpoint that the military is woven into the fabric of society rather than isolated from it, in February, Mrs. Obama, at a White House meeting of the National Governors Association, announced a campaign to go beyond the federal government and rally citizens, businesses, and nonprofit organizations to support military families. On April 12, David and Mady Segal were invited by Mrs. Obama and Dr. Biden to join them, the President and Vice President, military family members, members of the Cabinet, members of the Joint Chiefs of Staff and their wives, members of Congress, and senior officials from federal agencies, commerce and industry, foundations, and nonprofit organizations, in the East Room of the White House for the inauguration of the new initiative: “Joining Forces.” For a description of this program, see www.whitehouse.gov/joiningforces.

Mary is a fifth year graduate student. This article is republished from ASA Footnotes.**