Interview: Sociologist at Work

The following is an excerpt; the second of a two-part interview with me on Mendeley Careers, first published on 17 May 2017. (Find part one here.)

Everyone knows how hard it is to get a tenure track role, but we maintain this illusion that this is the only way we can have a fulfilling job. I advise researchers to look beyond the stigma: once you step off the academic track, there’s a world of opportunities. I’ve done work with government, I’ve led a research team investigating environmental health and safety, I’ve worked with nonprofits. I come to my career with the knowledge that there is a lot of fluidity in what I can do. I may do a lot of consulting for a while, and then go back into working for a traditional research organisation.

Researchers should know: our skills are highly valued outside academia, we need to learn how to market them. We should find a way to show to clients and employers how those research skills can be useful. If you can master that, potential employers and clients will give you amazing opportunities. For example, I once went to a job interview for a role as a researcher, and based solely on the questions I asked, the employers in question offered me a management role on the spot.

A non-academic career role is nothing to be ashamed of; it is a source of pride that strengthens research impact on society, as it brings knowledge to new sectors. There are many, many organisations which are in dire need of scientific skills and expertise; in the process, you can achieve great progress for a variety of communities.

Read more on Mendeley Careers.

Community day out on a sunny day
A non-academic career strengthens research impact

Interview: Sociology at Work

Workshop participants reading

The following is an excerpt; the first of a two-part interview with me on Mendeley Careers, first published on 17 May 2017.

Your speciality is the “Sociology of Work” – what are your sociological observations of the research workplace?

My focus is on gender equity and diversity. I have worked with many different organisations as a consultant and project manager; I’ve instructed them on how to review, enhance, and evaluate effectiveness of different policies. I’ve also provided consultancy on how to provide training at different levels so organisations can better understand their obligations and responsibilities.

My work includes enhancing workplace culture, particularly, the everyday cultural dynamics that impact on working life. For example, by offering more flexibility for workers, and looking at where there may be gaps or opportunities to enhance existing procedures. I also study how everyday interactions can enhance productivity. In other words, I don’t just look at how organisations can meet their legislative requirements, which are merely the minimum standard. I also work with teams to see how they interact and how organisations can create policies to suit their unique workplace needs.

In the course of my career, I have worked with a number of research organisations, mainly here in Australia, such as the Academy of Science. I helped them implement their gender and diversity programme. I have also worked with several other national and state research programmes, looking at how they can meet the challenges of intersectionality issues; that is, how they can better understand how gender equity and racism intersect along with other diversity needs, including those associated with class, sexuality, and disability.

I’m sad to say that the research community is far behind other sectors: bullying is much higher in academic and research contexts. Although there ought to be a better understanding of diversity, minorities report they are targeted via a variety of forms, including microaggressions – everyday comments and “jokes” that exclude or demean differences. Furthermore, compared to industry and government, lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, queer, intersex and asexual (LGBTQIA) people in the research sector are more likely to remain “in the closet.” Studies indicate people working in universities feel less safe in disclosing their sexual identity to their managers, and they feel more susceptible to harassment and homophobia. This is particularly prevalent in Australia and English speaking countries including the UK and USA.

Read more on Mendeley Careers.

Black woman at work
I recommend that leadership groups incorporate gender equity and diversity as a central organising principle

Turning Social Science Into a Business

Home office desk with laptop, phone, coffee cup and notebooks

In mid-2015, I was featured on the University College London Researchers about my time running my consultancy. Read more below about my career transition and how I use social science when working with not-for-profit organisations and businesses.

Dr Zuleyka Zevallos earned a PhD in Sociology from Swinburne University, Melbourne, where she remains an Adjunct Research Fellow. She currently runs her own business, Social Science Insights, a Research and Social Media Consultancy working with small to medium businesses, government, and not-for-profits who require social research, training and policy advice. She also provides research-driven social media content to help public education and health campaigns. Here Zuleyka shares her career journey, and offers tips to researchers thinking of moving out of academia.How did you move from studying for a PhD to starting your own consultancy?

After completing my PhD at the end of 2004, I continued to work as a lecturer. I left in 2006 because there was no job security in academia. I found it difficult to find full-time academic work in my field, but once I started looking in business and policy sectors, the job choices were surprisingly abundant. I’ve reflected on the fact that, at first, it was very disheartening to give up on my dream job in academia, but once I realised the multiple career possibilities in other industries, the decision to leave was empowering.

A career beyond academia leads to diverse experiences, and the work will likely take you to places you may not have expected. Having had little luck for months trying to get an academic job, I decided to apply for unconventional roles that sounded interesting. I received a number of different offers, which showed me how valuable my PhD degree was to non-academic employers. I took a job in federal government as a Social Scientist. I moved interstate to take the position. Within five years, I had led two interdisciplinary team projects working on social modeling and intercultural communication, and I also conducted research on a range of topics, from political violence to media analysis to the socio-economic outcomes of migrants and refugees. The role was varied so that I worked with many different clients, and I also attended conferences and published articles, which kept me engaged with my academic peers.

In late 2011, I decided to move back to my home state permanently. I worked as a Senior Analyst on an environmental health and safety investigation. I led a team of 23 researchers examining 30 years worth of reports and company data, as well as analysing interviews with 300 emergency service workers. We evaluated the connections between training and environmental practices, the chemicals used during exercises, and the high rate of cancer and other illnesses amongst emergency service workers.

After the investigation ended, I decided to set up my business. I had plenty of leadership experience, and had worked autonomously in setting up various projects in my previous roles, plus I had worked with many different client groups. Setting up the business required a lot of research, and I also took a business management course. I’ve been working as a consultant for the past couple of years.
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The Lofty Symbolism Of The Philosopher’s Stone: Working Outside Academia As A Sociologist Of Migration, Ethnicity And Multiculturalism

This article was first published in 2007 by Nexus. It makes reference to a previous job to which I am no longer affiliated.*

Image by FreakyKitty, ‘Mad Alchemist’, via Deviant Art.

Postgraduates are often reminded that ‘Nobody ever reads your PhD, except for your examiners’. My PhD examined the identities of second-generation migrant-Australian women living in Melbourne. I chose to investigate this area out of a deep and personal sense of passion for the topics of migration, ethnicity and multiculturalism. These three interconnected topics remain perennially important in Australian society, but when I decided to steer my career outside of academia, I wondered how I might apply my skills in new research areas to maximise my knowledge. My job hunting adventures saw me cheekily applying for every job that tickled even my slightest fancy, but never did I imagine that one day I would be working for the Defence civilian research centre [within the Australian public service],* especially given that, on multiple occasions, I have marched in anti-war protests. How did my travels out of the ethnicity studies/academic track begin?

One day, as I diligently read through The Australian Sociological Association (TASA) elist email, as all good little TASA members do, I saw a position advertised for a ‘social scientist’ for Defence research. I can still hear myself laughing incredulously over this advert: ‘A sociologist in Defence? Surely an oxymoron’, I thought to myself. ‘What could they possibly want with us?’ At first I dismissed this anomaly in my job searching horizon, but my sociological imagination had been spiked (‘Yeah, what do they want with us?’). The position description was typically obscure, and it revealed very little about what the job actually entailed. So I did the only thing I could do in order to satisfy my curiosity: I decided to apply for the job and get myself an interview in order to find out more. (Plus, it meant a free trip to Adelaide and I had never before ventured to the beautiful festival state – or the ‘city of churches’, as my friends still prefer to call it.)

This job interview was by far the most fun of all the jobs that I had applied for – the interviewers would later become my bosses, and I walked out thinking, ‘I could work with these people’. They were serious about employing sociologists to inform their work, and, more broadly, they have been attempting to challenge the existing defence culture by employing sociologists – this was encouraging to see. Peter Berger, however, may disagree. He once likened sociologists who work outside academia to a tragic pawn used by some scheming Machiavellian figure:

Continue reading The Lofty Symbolism Of The Philosopher’s Stone: Working Outside Academia As A Sociologist Of Migration, Ethnicity And Multiculturalism