Tag Archives: Sociology

Graduate Student Minority Liaison Initiative Celebrates Students of Color

With generous support from the College of Liberal Arts, the Depart of Sociology piloted a new program aimed at diversity and inclusion.

This program, the Student Minority Liaison initiative, is an effort led by Carmen Gutierrez, Shannon Malone, and Gloria Gonzalez-Lopez (our faculty Minority Liaison), with support from Rob Crosnoe, Becky Pettit, Christine Williams, and with assistance from Evelyn Porter and Julie Kniseley.

The Student Minority Liaison initiative is designed to enhance inclusion by making diversity and the experiences of underrepresented minorities a priority in all areas of the department.

As part of the Student Minority Liaison initiative, we launched a Brown Bag Series focused on underrepresented minority scholars and their research. We kicked off this Brown Bag Series by honoring four of our department’s graduate students who are all making successful transitions into academic jobs in the fall of 2017. These scholars include Anima Adjepong, Shantel Buggs, Hyung Jeong Ha, and Cristian Paredes.

The Brown Bag presentation consisted of each one of these students sharing their experiences on the academic job market and offering their advice for other students navigating this process in the future. Below summarizes each person’s unique background, academic position, experience on the job market, and advice to fellow graduate students.

ANIMA ADJEPONG, PhD (@amankrado)

Anima is joining the faculty in the Sociology Department at Simmons College in Boston, Massachusetts. During graduate school, Anima conducted research on a range of social issues related to race and ethnicity, gender and sexuality, and migration. Anima’s dissertation is a study of a black immigrant community, their political and cultural formations, and how they relate to and shape the discourse in both the United States and their African country of origin.

While conducting this work and navigating the academic job market, Anima decided not to conform to the expectations of others, but instead marched to the beat of her own drum. This decision was also strategic to Anima in that the process of staying true to herself ensured the work she could expect to take on as a tenure-track professor would be consistent with the work she was committed to conducting.

This way of navigating the academic job market also ensured Anima with a great deal of self care. By checking in with herself and her well-being throughout the dissertation-writing process, Anima was able to uphold both the commitment she made to her work and the style of working that best suited her strengths. This strategy helped her fulfill her basic needs, including finding joy throughout a year filled with job applications and dissertation writing.

Anima also worked with a small group of people on the academic job market who helped her in multiple ways. This group helped members organize deadlines to prepare materials for the job market. People in the group provided feedback for one another, offered accountability, and shared announcements for jobs. Working in this collective space also provided Anima with important emotional support during a time filled with uncertainty and anxiety.

SHANTEL BUGGS, PhD (@sgbuggs)

Shantel is joining the faculty at Florida State University in Tallahassee, Florida with an appointment in the Department of Sociology as well as an affiliated appointment in Program in African American Studies. Throughout graduate school, Shantel’s research has centered on the ways race and ethnicity and gender and sexuality shape family and romantic relationships. Shantel’s dissertation investigated how mixed-race women navigate race as well as form and maintain relationships in the context of online dating.

Through the process of applying for academic jobs, Shantel juggled a number of responsibilities given her involvement in external teaching positions, service work, and planning committees. Because of her multiple commitments, Shantel emphasized the ways she was kind to herself by being realistic with her work—sometimes extending deadlines associated with getting grades out for students needed throughout the semester.

Despite her heavy workload, Shantel applied for academic positions widely and broadly. Shantel emphasized the way this practice reflects a common fear among graduate students of not getting an academic job. If this is a decision made my other graduate students, Shantel recommends making strategic choices along the way. For example, Shantel advises to be sure to make double use of the work required from both the job market and the dissertation. Publishing should represent work from your dissertation. A job talk should serve as an outline for your next dissertation chapter.

Shantel also recommends that graduate students use deadlines for conferences or other events to push work required for the job market and the completion of the dissertation. Doing so helps you make progress in your daily tasks associated with graduate student life during the process of getting a job.


Hyung Jeong will join the Sociology Department at the University of Notre Dame in South Bend, Indiana as a postdoctoral research fellow through the Global Religion Research Initiative—a program designed to advance social science research on religions around the world. Hyung Jeong’s dissertation studied ethnic and religious minorities in the Middle East and North Africa, and the way that these personal features interact within political and geographical boundaries to shape minority identities. Her dissertation draws on ethnographic work conducted in Cairo, Egypt.

As an international student from Korea studying issues pertaining to the Middle East, Hyung Jeong anticipated others asking her to explain why she was studying a place she was not from—a question not generally imposed on white majority students.

This type of additional work disproportionately experienced by people of color reflects the nature of advice Hyung Jeong provided in preparing for the job market. Hyung Jeong emphasized that although there are many aspects of the job market outside of our personal control, there are still many features of it that we can control. For example, Hyung Jeong encourages graduate students to get in touch with their dissertation chair, dissertation committee members, and other mentors to discuss the types of jobs they want. In doing so, graduate students inform these individuals on the best ways they can support us in our experiences on the academic job market.

Graduate students should give information to their committee members as early as possible—sometime during the semester before sending out job applications—to ensure they receive the support needed throughout the tiresome process of navigating the job market. That way, professors can help you focus on the strengths related to your work that best fit with the skills needed for your job after graduate school, whether you want to work as a professor at a research or a teaching institute.


Cristian is joining the faculty in the Sociology Department at Loyola University in Chicago, Illinois. Cristian’s work is shaped by his personal experiences living in the United States after growing up in Lima, Peru. During graduate school, Cristian’s investigated the influence of immigration on several social dynamics in U.S. cities.

Cristian encouraged students to also take on work that fit their personal experiences. This strategy helped Cristian explain the motivation for his research and also demonstrate his unique position in conducting this work. Cristian mentioned, however, that the process of choosing your work should also reflect the needs of the job market.

For example, Christian recommended that graduate students find research topics suitable for the academic job market by adjusting their interests to correspond with the social relevance of the field. In this way, graduate students should consider balancing a topic that is realistic to their skills and ability, but also attractive to the market.

In terms of long-term preparation for the job market, graduate students should consider what jobs are announced and what areas of interest in are often hiring for positions. Graduate students often enter the PhD program with set ideas of the work they expect to take on, but Christian advises that it is important to be open and flexible to the needs of the job market. Graduate students should consider tailoring their work to best situate themselves as competitive applicants, even if it means making temporary changes to their anticipated research agenda. Landing a job allows people to expand their work in their own personalized ways that are first constrained by the job market.

Christian also encouraged graduate students to think about alternative career paths. The job market and the process of landing an academic position involves a great deal of circumstances that are outside of our control. We also must accept that there are simply not enough tenure-track positions for every graduate student. Some students earning their PhD inevitably work outside of academia.

“Assuming Direct Control”: Understanding the Mass Effect ending controversy with sociology

When we’re not hard at work, sociologists here at UT Austin try our best to unwind.  Sometimes, that means enjoying the beautiful Austin air, and sometimes it means sitting down on the couch, picking up a controller, and playing some video games.

One of my favorite set of video games I have played since my parents brought home our Super Nintendo in the early 90s has been the Mass Effect series, which takes place roughly 200 years in the future.  Humankind has stumbled upon interstellar travel and has found itself mixed up in a complex web of galactic politics that has been brewing for centuries amidst a variety of different alien civilizations.  Just as we’re solidifying our new position in space, massive synthetic life forms known as the Reapers begin harvesting the galaxy’s civilizations.  It’s up to you, as Commander Shepard of the Human Alliance Navy, to stop the Reapers, save humanity, and restore peace to the galaxy.

OK, but what really makes Mass Effect such an interesting series?  Like most other video games, the player has a considerable amount of control over the protagonist’s actions.  When I’m reading a novel, I may identify with a protagonist, but I don’t expect to be able to exert any control over him or her.  In a video game, I can make Mario jump, duck, and run.  Mass Effect takes this to an entirely different level: I can make my Shepard be male or female and adjust his or her physical characteristics, jump over carts, duck, run, shoot… and make weighty moral and ethical decisions that could potentially impact my entire experience moving forward.  Part of the fun with Mass Effect is engaging in conversations and learning more about the galaxy and the diverse individuals it’s made of.  I can have Shepard use her influence as a paragon to uphold peace in the galaxy, or I can act in a more renegade fashion, serving humanity’s best interests with brutal efficiency.  The choices don’t just matter in one given game, however: players can import their characters and their decisions from the first game into the second, and from the second into the third.  As a result, decisions I made as Shepard in 2007‘s Mass Effect 1, and 2010’s Mass Effect 2, matter today in 2012 when I play Mass Effect 3.  My female Shepard was an orphan war hero, but yours might be a grizzly looking guy who let his whole squad die. It’s easy to see how gamers have become intensely attached to their own, personalized Shepards.

Of course, Mass Effect”s developer, BioWare, is well known throughout the industry as giving players considerable choice throughout their games.  In their 2003 critically-acclaimed Star Wars: Knights of the Old Republic, you could fly around the Star Wars galaxy, wielding your light saber, and play as a “light side” or a “dark side” character; and Dragon Age: Origins had hours upon hours of side quests to explore with your character.  With increasing success, BioWare was bought for $860 million in 2007 by Electronic Arts (EA), widely considered to be one of the foremost video game publishers in the business.

If this sum seems like a lot, we have to remember that the video game industry itself is huge.  According to the Entertainment Software Association, more than $25 billion was spent on games, consoles, and accessories in 2010 alone.  In fact, The Economist recently released an article citing a consulting firm that actually put the video game industry’s worth at closer to $56 billion.

Certainly, money is one way of understanding influence, but when over 70% of American consumers are playing with interactive media, it seems a ripe site for studying social forces. But, with some notable exceptions, the industry and its products are generally left relatively undiscussed in sociology.

Now, originally, I had planned on writing a post on gender and sexuality in the Mass Effect series.  There are not too many female sociologist gamers, and I felt that I could offer a unique perspective on the series.

Then, I finished Mass Effect 3.

And by “finished” I mean, I threw my hands up in the air, my eyebrows scrunched together, and said, “That’s it…? Really?!” I would be lying if I said there weren’t expletives. Without spoiling the ending itself, after learning the Reapers’ motivations, the player is left making one final choice. The differences between the choices are inconsequential, though, and there is arguably no resolution of your weighty decisions over the course of hundreds of hours of rich, meaningful gameplay.

Apparently, I am not the only one that felt a bit hoodwinked, though. The last two weeks, the internet has been ablaze with impassioned discussion on the ending to the series.  Video game websites such as Kotaku, GameFront, and Penny Arcade have each expressed gamers’ discontentedness with the ending.  Mainstream news outlets like the Wall Street Journal, Forbes and USA Today noticed the uproar, and even the game’s Executive Producer, Casey Hudson, and BioWare’s co-founder Dr. Ray Muzyka weighed in on the discussion in attempts to address fans’ criticisms.  [Of course, please note that these external links may include some spoilers]

Why did the Mass Effect series leave us feeling so cheated? And why is sociology helpful in trying to explain this?

First, let’s talk about structure and agency, one of the frameworks we in sociology use to explore how individuals act in society and how society acts on individuals.  Imagine that I need to get from point A to point B:

Now, there are any number of ways that we could get there, as evidenced by my bright-colored squiggly lines a la Microsoft Paint:

I have the agency to get from A to B in whichever way that I choose. But of course, this isn’t how real life works. We live in a society that is in many ways constricted by laws and norms of behavior, one that gives us boundaries and structure:

 While I can still get from A to B in a path of my own choosing (my agency), I am forced to go through socially constructed channels to get there (structure). As a result, sociologists often question how much agency individuals truly have in deciding their own social situations.

But why talk about structure and agency? What does it have to do with Mass Effect and its ending? As it turns out, everything.

In Mass Effect, we exhibit our agency and make different choices or perform certain missions in a different order, but, at the end of the day, all Shepards will experience certain key plot points and missions through the plot structure that BioWare has laid out for us.  It’s sometimes hard to remember this, when it feels like it is we ourselves who are convincing a squad mate to make amends with his son, or saving data that could potentially save an entire alien species from a genetic birth disorder.

What I imagine fans of the series had envisioned of the ending was a series of vignettes that would show how your choices across the series, both big and small, had impacted the galaxy.  Of course, these endings would still be governed by BioWare (the circle “structure”), but the amount of variety between my experience as Shepard and someone who made different choices would be notable (the different colored dots):

 Instead, BioWare gave us these potential endings:

Even more frustrating, the three endings differ only slightly from one another.  Sure, many video games and other plot-driven media only feature one ending, so why be upset at all?  I suppose the ending to the Mass Effect series seems a bit underwhelming, especially after the series has been established as one that has placed heavy emphasis on a relatively wider structure of choice and outcome.  As a gamer, it’s hard to realize that, ultimately, my resolution with Shepard is not actually determined by me, but by the game’s producer.  And while my background in sociology helps me understand why my experience with Mass Effect 3‘s ending was so jarring, I’m not sure it actually makes me feel better about how BioWare overly constrained players’ agency with too narrow of a structure.

2012 Recruiting Events – what a pleasure

Our 2012 Recruiting events at the Scholtz Garten, the plush SAC Conference room and our dear old Burdine were enjoyed by all. I have to say that listening to everyone talk enthusiastically about their research and our community makes me very glad to be in such good company. Please take a moment to enjoy our 2012 recruiting movie. Hope to see many of you in Fall 2012!

UT Austin SOC – ASA Issue

Welcome to the new Sociology graduate program blog.  Our inaugural issue highlights UT Austin research being presented at the 2011 American Sociology Association’s annual meeting in Las Vegas, Nevada.  We will be blogging and tweeting from the corridors of Caesar’s Palace, mixing business with pleasure, watching how “what starts here, changes the world.”

Call for submissions! Bloggers and tweeters needed.

UT Grad Sociology Facebook page

Our website: http://www.utexas.edu/cola/depts/sociology/

Congratulations to Yuka Minagawa!

Yuka Minagawa was recently awarded the Honjo International Scholarship from the Honjo International Scholarship Foundation. The Honjo International Scholarship Foundation was created to strengthen academic partnerships between Japan and other countries. Yuka’s selection in this very intense competition was based on her outstanding record of academic achievement to date and her scholarly promise. Yuka specializes in the sociology of health, with a particular emphasis on Russia and eastern Europe. She holds a masters degree in Russian Studies from Harvard University and is working toward her Ph.D. in Sociology here at the University of Texas at Austin. Her scholarship was awarded for two years, beginning September 2011.

Kudos to Christine Wheatley, elected as the next student representative to the council of the International Migration Section of ASA!

Sociology Brownbag
Tuesday, July 5th 11:30 – 1:00 In BUR 214

Tackling Auburn Football: Losing by Winning and Winning by Losing
Dr. James Gundlach

Dr. Gundlach, earned his PhD in Sociology at UT in 1976 and was a Sociology faculty member in the Auburn Department of Sociology, Anthropology, Social Work, and Criminology from 1974 to 2001. During that time he worked his way up from Instructor to Full Professor and Director of Sociology. Dr Gundlach ended his career at Auburn by challenging the offering of sociology classes in directed reading format to Auburn athletes by a Criminology professor in a way that gave them A’s for doing almost no work and learning no sociology.

In this informal presentation Dr. Gundlach will first describe how he became a UT PhD and got his job at a university that marginalized the social sciences (note the department’s name). He will then describe how he ended his career by tackling Auburn’s abuse of Sociology to help Auburn win this year’s national football championship

New York Times Article: Auburn Ousts 2, but Doesn’t Fault Athletics