Best Advice: Undergraduates [From the Hey Jane archives]

March 24, 2009 at 2:04 am | Posted in Hey Jane Column, Undergraduates | 1 Comment

Hey Jane! is a monthly advice column on the SWS listserv that addresses issues of interest to feminist sociologists and sociologist-activists. The name honors Jane Addams, a feminist sociologist not always recognized enough. This Q&A is hosted by the Career Development Committee, who solicits anonymous questions and responses from multiple SWS members.

Column 23 (January 2008)

For this month’s Hey Jane! Column I asked you to send me your “best” piece of advice.

My best bit of career advice came when I was a senior in college – I had applied to graduate schools and also to law schools, gotten into both and was trying to make up my mind. My political science professor asked me what was attractive about each option — I said that law school seemed to be a route to self-support (since grad school led to the academic job market and in those days it was truly terrible) but the classes in grad school seemed more like fun to me. He urged me to do what I thought was fun “and when you can’t afford to do that anymore OR it gets boring, then shift to something that seems more practical” I then got some good (not great, but ok) fellowships for grad school that allowed me to indulge myself for at least two years and after that I thought I’d have to bail out and head to law school. But I’ve been in sociology for over 25 years and haven’t gotten bored yet! And I keep managing to pay my bills. My cousin, with whom I was close as a kid, made the opposite choice — he’s making a bazillion bucks as a drug company lawyer — but I have never once regretted following the fun rather than the money, and while I am not rich, I’ve never been poor since grad school either. It’s the classic “do what you love and the money will follow” moral but it really is the best advice — and vice versa: if you get bored and unhappy, quit! There are other routes to making a living, and you are never actually making a decision that you can’t revoke if you decide the career really isn’t fun for you after all.

One of the more interesting pieces of advice I received as an undergrad was to think less about one’s major and more about the type of work you want to do.  Otherwise you can end up like someone with a BA in history who hates teaching; what do they do next?  There are, of course, a few other things to do with a history degree, but what if they are no more appealing to you then teaching?  Then what?  This advice was based on the idea that if you like teaching, you could probably teach several things–what you majored in, almost majored in, minored in, or a couple of your hobbies–and be happy.  But if you study a subject and don’t see a job that you will be happy at, you’re in trouble.  The other good advice I got, which is contradictory on the surface, but can be combined with the above, is even if you are clueless where it is going, just study what you are interested in– rocks, languages, music, whatever–and just go with that. The third piece of advice I found useful, was don’t think about any of this stuff too much.  Something like 80% of people are away from their major within five years of graduating (with a BA). Personally I just ignored the conventional advice and picked the area where I thought I could have the greatest effect (as an activist/organizer/etc.)

Choosing a Specialization:

Go with your heart and passion.   We don’t make enough money to be in this business unless we really believe what we do matters.  So choose to do what matters to you.

My best advice was NOT to do an interdisciplinary Ph.D. degree…. I have seen people pay the consequences of doing so…. you can still do Women’s Studies within disciplinary departments. I see some of my students being encouraged to do Women and Gender Studies in graduate school and there are so few jobs out there.

Regarding choosing my area of specialization, as a graduate student I wanted to study sexualities. My graduate school advisor told me to pick an established field in sociology, learn to speak “mainstream” sociology, and then do more marginal sociology within that field.  So I now identify myself as a family sociologist with a focus on gender and sexualities. I have a great tenure track job – and I’m not sure I would have gotten it without fitting squarely into the larger field. And I still study the sociology of sexualities.

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1 Comment »

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  1. i always seek career advice from my parents and from industry professionals,’.


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