Sociology and Your Internship

Given the changing nature of the labor market and the global economy, it is not always clear what skills a liberal arts, sociology major has to offer. But as we suggest it is precisely because we live in a much more complex, uncertain and fast changing world that your sociology is more applicable than ever!

Sociology has given you the instrumental skill of being able to interact in many diverse environments. As a sociologist, you have been taught how to interpret the social world. Being able to understand your environment helps you learn the expectations of the organization, and ultimately, helps shape the way you present yourself to others. The way you present yourself to others is imperative for determining how others perceive and act towards you. Thus, your ability to understand the paid work environment -- what its values are, how it is organized, who has power -- affects your ability to effectively interact within the organization.

Sociology has given you the evaluative skill of critically examining diverse environments. Not only do your sociological skills allow you to perceive and meet the expectations of others at your internship, but these skills also enable you to critique and evaluate what these expectations are. Through critical examination you can ask yourself two important questions: 1) Do the values and structure of the organization coincide? For instance, does the organization that claims it values diversity and flexibility have a structure that fosters these values? If not, you will need to think about why there is a disjuncture between values and structure and how this disjuncture can be dismantled. 2) Do your values and the organization’s values coincide? Does your company have a dress-code that clashes with your belief system? If so, you will need to decide if the skills you gain from the organization are worth your differing beliefs.

As a result of your sociological background, then, you have acquired crucial skills for interfacing in the global economy. More specifically, these skills are:

1. Communication and Writing Skills- Anyone familiar with liberal arts, sociology programs knows that sociology students write literally dozens of papers and make numerous presentations during their college career. In fact, there are few other majors that can match the extent and depth of experience which Employment Relations, sociology majors have in developing skills in writing and communications.

2. Conceptual-Critical-Analytical Skills- Sociology is about ideas. It is about whether these ideas make sense of the world around us. It is about understanding the world and the workplace as systems and structures and how different parts fit together as well as how conflict can hold us apart. It is about seeing the world in a different way -- without making taken-for-granted assumptions -- and seeing the possibility for alternatives. Employment Relations offers students a special set of skills which equip them with the ability to conceptualize workplace and employment problem/issues, critically analyze them and make recommendations for change.

3. Research Skills- These are the skills in the methods of scientific inquiry, that is how do we find out about workplace issues and problems, and how can we best test our ideas so we have valid knowledge to solve problems and create change. Being able to design a research project, collect data- by conducting surveys or interviews, through field observation or examining records and documents - and analyzing data using appropriate statistical techniques, are a special set of sociological skills.

4. Group Coordinating and Problem Solving skills- Sociology focuses on the relationship between the individual and the group as a way of understanding human behavior- this knowledge and skill are especially helpful in participating in and facilitating systematic small group, team-building activities designed to solve problems and create change.

5. Diversity Skills- Applying knowledge and awareness concerning the diverse backgrounds of participants based on cultural, gender, racial, class or sexual differences- provides skills in preventing and managing conflicts, and providing opportunities to empower and for equal opportunity in workplace activities.

6. Change Making Skills- Facilitating others in understanding and analyzing cultural and organizational change as a multi-level complex process, identifying barriers, redefining traditional roles, developing and implementing creative alternatives cooperatively.