Insight from an ‘Academic’ Turned ‘Applied’

Written by Nicole L. Rosen

“You know, a lot of people go to school for seven years.” – “Yeah, they’re called ‘doctors’!” ~Tommy Boy

So I Earned My Degree…Now What?img_1992

When I committed to a graduate program in Sociology, I hadn’t thought of a career outside of academia. When I started my Ph.D. program at the University of Akron, I had already been teaching at the college level for over six years. Teaching undergraduate students was familiar to me – it was fun and kept me on my toes; It required me to stay abreast of social trends and challenged me to make the material applicable to student’s lives.

However, when the opportunity arose to leave academia and take on the role as Director of Community Outreach at the Susan Hirt Hagen Center for Community Outreach, Research, and Evaluation (CORE) at Penn State Behrend, I was reminded of just how many skills my education prepared me for. As a sociologist, I have been trained to see how society influences the individual, to be aware of social inequalities, and remain sensitive to diversity issues. I’m a researcher, facilitator, and writer – all skills that come in handy when working at an evaluation and research center!

Putting Sociology into Practice

So while I got my start in academia, I see now that it may have just been the beginning of my blossoming career as an applied sociologist. As an applied sociologist, I am able to apply my knowledge of sociological theories and methods to help address various problems in Erie county – quite literally putting “sociology into practice.”

And although I’m enthusiastically embracing my new position, there is still a part of me that longs to fill the hungry minds of undergraduate students and answer their thoughtful questions (though I don’t think I’ll ever miss grading papers and for Pete’s sake – “It’s in the syllabus!”). Fortunately for me, I have not left academia far behind – CORE is located on Penn State Behrend’s campus! As a result, we at CORE have opportunities to collaborate not only with local schools, education sites, and nonprofit organizations, but also with professors and fellow researchers who are determined to make the world a better place. There is a plethora of opportunities for interdisciplinary action research!

qualimageEmbracing the Change

As I settle into my new career, exchanging my elbow-patched academic jacket with boots hitting the ground, I am open to the new challenges and experiences that await me – comfortable and confident that positive social change is around the corner and made possible by collaborating with the local community.



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