Date of this Version
McQuillan J, Hill PW, M Leadabrand. 2022. Expanding graduate education and career placement through CER. Footnotes: A Magazine of the American Sociology Association 50(1): Winter 2022. https://www.asanet.org/expanding-graduate-education-and-career-placement-through-cer
The University of Nebraska-Lincoln (UNL) is an R1 (doctoral granting and high research activity) institution with decades of experience with community-engaged research (CER). The UNL Sociology Department has long emphasized research methods, particularly survey methodology and social network analyses, in academic and practice settings. The department offers many opportunities to conduct CER, as well as general applied sociology, and encourages faculty to publish with students out of those opportunities. In part through insights gained through ASA efforts (e.g., leadership development about careers in practice settings), and in part learning from graduate students who perceived discouragement from considering jobs in applied settings, as department chair coauthor McQuillan encouraged efforts to promote paths to possible careers in multiple kinds of settings (e.g. as professors, in government agencies, nonprofit, and for-profit settings).
Our impression is that many faculty in R1 universities are most comfortable mentoring students to careers in academia. Lack of familiarity with applied careers can lead to unfortunate concerns, such as faculty telling students they are “throwing away a career.” However, graduates from the UNL Sociology Department make vital contributions to societal wellbeing through studying and effectively communicating results in settings such as a global religious organization, global hiring consulting firms, government agencies, for-profit companies, and health research. There can also be worries about department reputational prestige if students are not placed in academic positions. UNL department members in 1998 explored the question of what matters most for reputational prestige and found that past prestige was so much more important than student placement and current faculty publishing that many of us decided to focus on supporting our students in their chosen career path rather than trying to mold students to pursue positions that we thought would elevate the department reputation.