a big reason

A few posts ago, I talked about why I was re-choosing to go to law school and do the dual degree in law and sociology. I was talking to a friend today, and one of the biggest reasons I wanted to go to law school is that I’m bored.

Of what? you ask. I enjoy working on my current project, that looks at the role of racial inequality in how middle-class black parents raise their kids. It’s about how they navigate their class privilege with their low racial status, and how this differentiates them from middle-class whites and lower-class blacks. And I’m finding som amazing stuff, like the pressures on middle-class black kids to be “black,” not only with their black friends but with their white friends, as they need to establish a racial identity in both spaces. And how one goes about determining what it means to be “black” depends on if they live around black people – middle-class blacks in majority white neighborhoods with limited contact with black people outside of family may have a distorted view of what it means to be “black” that may be informed mostly be media images. Fascinating stuff, right?

But (most) in my department don’t find it so fascinating. An example – a few weeks ago, we had to rank which classes we wanted to TA. One of my fellow grad students summed up a lot of what I think many in the department feel – anything about race or ethnicity, he struck as “boring.” I asked him what was boring about them, and he was just like, “Oh, things that just don’t interest me.” It’s really hard to have a discussion about race in our department because most people just aren’t interested.

I talk a lot in all classes. Most things about sociology are interesting to me, and I try to really engage with it all. But it’s hard when with the thing you are really passionate about, others do not reciprocate that same engagement, or approach everything you say with such non-helpful antagonism. How many comments have I gotten that, “Well, white people have that problem too?” Even when I talk about the role of race in parenting!

So, one reason I want to go to law school is to engage with some different people. I understand that when I came here, I was expected to work with a professor who left before I even arrived, so my interests are somewhat outside of the department’s main strengths. So, the concentration of interest in things that aren’t my main interest is not really anyone’s fault. I’m hoping in the law school, where personal statements are usually not about any substantive area of law, I’ll find people and professors who want to talk about the stuff I want to talk about, even if they vehemently disagree. While those white people in college who disagreed with everything I thought about race were not my best friends, I was at least able to have conversations that stretched my thinking and challenged my own assumptions.

Right now, in sociology, I just feel like I’m swimming all alone with only a life vest in a huge ocean. And I can’t swim. I can stay afloat, but I can’t go anywhere. Without the joint degree, I feel like I’d be seriously alone, having to chart this course all by myself. I have a great mentor outside of the department, but she has her own students in her own school plus her own work to do. So a big reason for why I am going to law school is that I just can’t see myself spending 3+ more years only in sociology.

9 thoughts on “a big reason

  1. I feel your frustration- there are days where I feel like my research interests are not legitimate- or at least not in my present surroundings. It makes me question myself. I know it shouldn’t, but it does.

    Good luck with going the law route. I can’t imagine taking on another field on top of what I’ve already got going on. You are amazing.

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  2. Your topic is interesting to a lot of people, but different departments (in law or sociology) have different mixes of people with different interests. I’ve read an essay about what students call “boring” (I can’t remember where or who wrote it) that stressed that students call things “boring” when they don’t understand them, or find them too easy, or find them threatening. If most of the TAs say race and ethnicity is “boring” (and they are White), I’d adopt the threat theory. Which doesn’t help you I know. Around here, R&E isn’t seen as boring, although it is seen by some students as hard to teach, and lots of people think R&E topics are interesting. Law school might help, depending on the law school, but you might instead need a different sociology department.

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  3. i’d second olderwoman, as usual. i also am amazed any sociologist would cop to thinking race was unimportant — i don’t love reading studies about gender but i sure need it in my toolkit. maybe since i’m a criminologist but i generally stop talking to other crim folks if they say race doesn’t interest them because it’s a flag to me that their work must be stupid and missing a lot.

    mostly i’m fascinated by your post because it basically describes why i didn’t finish a jd. i’d always planned on doing both, though sociology was always my home and i had begun a soc phd program by the time i started law school classes. after about a year at the law school, i ran away screaming. the law students were NEVER interested in what i was interested in — the sociological influence of law. (i’d note that i was taking classes in a law school very friendly to law and society work.) all of my concerns had no basis in law or legal reasoning and i always felt like we were ignoring the most important things. i also violated law school rules — i kept raising my hand to weigh in and tried to ask questions of my own (not appreciated).

    anyway, hope your law school is a better fit for your interests but you might also think about a different sociology program.

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  4. and, yes, i think your work is fascinating stuff.

    now i’m just rambling, but i made a switch in grad school too. the first one was a terrible fit, no one interested in what i was, and i didn’t do well. moved to a better fit and did great (and, more importantly, felt a lot better about things).

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  5. gradmommy, you and i should get together and talk about our research sometime. but there are a couple of quick points that i want to make here.

    1) you are not alone in the dept — there are many people interested in race who are either studying it as their main focus (me!) or recognizing the importance of race in their substantive areas. the reason that you don’t see them is partly because of the lack of a race workshop that could bring students from different cohorts together. you’re still in your early years so the students you interact with most are from the couple of cohorts around yours, a lot of whom are still trying to find their interest and areas, so take their words with a grain of salt.

    2) we can talk about why the lack of a race workshop later and perhaps bring it up to the dept, but if you want to find a steady community where most people don’t find race boring, i think the center for comparative studies of race is a better place than the law school, honestly (i suspect newsocprof’s experience @3 isn’t a singular phenomenon). a number of our students have had various affiliations at CCSRE thru teaching or research fellowships and found it a great experience to talk to about race with people from all kinds of disciplines.

    3) i’ve come to terms with sociologists who think what i do is boring, or ‘duh’, etc. it’s sad but that’s almost an inevitable consequence of division of labor and overspecialization. i’ll admit that i find econ soc boring, for example. not that i don’t find certain individual studies in that field fascinating, but it’s a different set of theoretical perspectives that i don’t intuitively adopt. my worst disillusion is when sociologists who study inequality act sexist in their life and don’t seem to get gender at all, or when feminist leaders abuse power on a daily basis. this seems to be a sad reality that you encounter more as you go deeper into the profession. but in a way, recognizing the reality tells you how much more important your research is, and also how much more important you need to reach out — it’s hard work and wears you out, but it can also be motivation.

    i hope you find your community soon. let me know if you want to chat more.

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  6. Thanks everyone for their comments.

    OW: I know there are other departments where issues that concern me are more at the forefront. And if it were just me, I think I would have applied to switch. But now I feel that I am just too invested here, for both my financial situation, and also the rest of my family – we’ve established this “life” that i don’t think would be easy to leave simply for the possibility of something better elsewhere.

    NSP: I hear you – I don’t know that the law school is going to be much better. I just know what I have in soc and I’m hoping that a more diverse group of people will lead to a more diverse topics of conversation. I also feel like I have no choice but to love law school considering my options…I wish I could move, I really do, but it just is not an option – I think I’ve put my family through enough. And then go where? How would I know what’s a better fit? There’s one place that I can think of that would probably work well, but do you even ask current professors to write recommendations? How would a transfer work?

    And I TOTALLY here you about crim – I was going to do a Crim PhD where I got my MA, but there was only one prof interested in talking about race, and I did my thesis with him, but he’s one person, and if he leaves, then what? So I didn’t stay. And then what happened? I find myself in the same situation here. And I have other reasons for wanting to go to law school, namely that I always wanted to, and enjoy legal reasoning (I think!) and many who know me say that I am more a lawyer than a sociologist…plus I want to be more applied, and I probably won’t get that in my department here either…

    Yli: Yes! Let’s get together soon. As you know, I find your research fascinating πŸ™‚ And I agree – we do need a race workshop, right? I never even thought of that. I’m in the inequality workshop, and I leave each Friday feeling disenfranchised when race is glossed over in issues of inequality, even with the regression coefficient for “black” is huge in some negative way, even if it is only a control variable! After the break? (Or before – I’m here for the holidays, so whenever πŸ™‚

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  7. just a final note on the transfer thing — my current profs wrote good letters and i had a long-standing relationship with the person who became my advisor at the new place (he was bascially operating as my advisor the whole time anyhow). it was no big deal nor was it a shock to anyone that i left, people understand lack of fit issues. transfer might cost you a year but if you do it soon enough, it might not cost you anything. i’d be happy to talk over my n of 1 experience with you if you like.

    a better solution since you are close to a lot of good places is to work extra hard at reaching out to people at centers and in other soc departments (i’m already thinking of a few names) — it’s no fun and tiring, etc but then you don’t subject yourself or family to big changes. i’d be a little surprised if you found law school to be a more welcoming place but i certainly hope it works out that way!

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  8. just a final note on the transfer thing — my current profs wrote good letters and i had a long-standing relationship with the person who became my advisor at the new place (he was basically operating as my advisor the whole time anyhow). it was no big deal nor was it a shock to anyone that i left, people understand lack of fit issues. transfer might cost you a year but if you do it soon enough, it might not cost you anything. i’d be happy to talk over my n of 1 experience with you if you like.

    a better solution since you are close to a lot of good places is to work extra hard at reaching out to people at centers and in other soc departments (i’m already thinking of a few names) — it’s no fun and tiring, etc but then you don’t subject yourself or family to big changes. i’d be a little surprised if you found law school to be a more welcoming place but i certainly hope it works out that way!

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