Category Archives: Skills and Advice

Ping-Chun Hsiung’s “Lives and Legacies”provides interactive instruction in qualitative interviewing

ping-2016Teaching the skills needed for qualitative interviewing poses particular challenges. Students need to learn how to frame and ask questions, how to practice reflexivity, and how to analyze interview data. Such skills cannot be learned simply by reading about them in a textbook.

Recognizing that practice provides the best way to learn the skills involved in qualitative interviewing, in 2010, Professor Ping-Chun Hsiung developed an interactive on-line guide to provide help for those seeking to teach (and learn) qualitative interviewing. Drawing on a dataset of original interviews conducted in 1993 under the supervision of Professor Nancy Howell, Professor Hsiung worked with a web developer to prepare Lives and Legacies, an open-access piece of courseware designed as a resource for learning or improving qualitative research skills.

The courseware consists of lessons on interviewing, reflexivity and analysis and in each case uses examples from a study of immigrant families. The guide provides shared data from an archive of qualitative interviews to demonstrate the methods for interviewing and analysis. It highlights both exemplars in interviewing and “informative mistakes” and provides eighteen interactive exercises.

Many instructors have found Lives and Legacies to be an invaluable resource. According to Google Analytics, the guide has been accessed almost 4,000 times since it was posted in 2010. Professor Hsiung has also heard from colleagues in Canada, US, and UK who describe the website as “fabulous” and “incredible.” They applauded the courseware for its contribution to the teaching qualitative interviewing, and have incorporated it into their own teaching practice.

Around the World with a U of T Sociology PhD

We’ve had 263 PhD graduates since 1978. About a quarter of these find employment outside of the academy. The 170 others are employed in tenure track positions in universities around the world.

Home is Canada

The vast majority of our PhD alumni (72%) are or have been employed in Canadian Universities. In fact,  every Canadian university with a PhD program has at least one of our PhD graduates on faculty. Almost half of those are clustered southern Ontario, suggesting that our graduate students develop roots to this part of the world and are happy to stay in the region. The others are spread across the country representing U of T in all regions of the country where there are colleges and universities.

The USA is a close neighbour

Next to Canada, the United States is the most popular destination for our PhD graduates who seek and obtain tenure stream faculty positions. Twenty-three of the 170 alumni in faculty positions have or had careers in universities south of the border, representing U of T in twenty-one institutions of higher learning across thirteen states.

A Global Reach

Outside of Canada and the US, we have PhD alumni working in colleges and universities in twenty-one different countries. Our graduates have found jobs on all continents except for Australia (and Antarctica but, to be fair, there aren’t a lot of opportunities there). Feel free to browse the map to see the details.

PhD Pathways Mini Conference

A Sociology PhD can lead down many pathways. While PhD programs and the academic culture that supports them have traditionally focused on training students for careers as tenure-track faculty members, the Sociology Department at the University of Toronto is starting to think more broadly about its students’ futures. This shift involves intentionally recognizing the successes of our alumni who find careers outside of the traditional tenure stream, encouraging discussion around diverse career opportunities, and supporting professional development opportunities that help graduate students take advantage of opportunities ‘beyond academia’.

As part of this effort, the Department of Sociology at the University of Toronto was pleased to host a student-led two-day mini-conference event entitled Beyond Academia: Alternative PhD Pathways. This event explored the increasingly diverse fields and occupations in which Sociology PhDs are employed and consisted of two main events: a Parallel Planning Workshop and an Alumni Panel.

When PhD students begin to plan for their post-graduation careers, they may want to engage in “parallel planning” – anticipating the skills and strategies needed for success in a career as a professor and/or for a career outside of the professoriate. Our Parallel Planning Workshop focused on identifying and translating skills accrued during the PhD, as well as uncovering the fields and occupations in which social science PhDs work and recognizing accompanying job search strategies appropriate for different fields. Led by Jonathan Turner from the University of Toronto Career Centre, the workshop highlighted concrete steps for graduate students and provided information about the resources available at the University of Toronto. Concrete steps and strategies include, for example, developing advanced and transferable research, communication, and teaching skills through general U of T resources such as the Graduate Professional Skills Program and the Teaching Assistant Training Program, and leveraging specific Career Centre Resources such as the Flexible Futures for Graduate Students Workshop to learn how to build a professional network and conduct non-academic or alternative-academic career exploration while completing the PhD.

About a week after the Parallel Planning workshop, five alumni from the University of Toronto joined us and presented about their experiences transitioning to the alternative-academic and non-academic workforce.  The panelists represented Sociology PhDs working in a variety of sectors – non-profit, government, public, and private:

  • Xingshan Cao, PhD 2006, Biostatistician at Sunnybrook Health Services Centre
  • Jeanette Chua, ABD 2012, Project Manager at Trillium Gift of Life
  • Loretta Ho, PhD 2012, Manager of Student Programs at the Royal Conservatory of Music
  • Karen Myers, PhD 2009, Research Director at Social Research and Demonstration Corporation).
  • Sarah Reid, PhD 2013, Human Capital Consultant at Deloitte

With Allison Meads, a current graduate student, moderating, the panelists discussed their experiences navigating the job market and their insights regarding the pursuit of non-academic or alternative-academic work. Panelists shared their expertise on a variety of topics, including recognizing and reframing marketable skills (i.e. research design and methodology, grant-writing, and conference presentation), how to identify pertinent (and fulfilling) post-academic work opportunities, and how to develop one’s network and resume to best take advantage of such opportunities. Panelists suggested, for example, that graduate students’ in-depth experience with crafting literature reviews can be reframed as a capacity for conducting ‘jurisdictional scans’, reviews of best practices and developments in a sector that are employed by many institutions to evaluate and draft policies. PhD students at the session were reassured that the skills they are learning are, in fact, relevant for employment outside of the Ivory Tower. As one panelist, Xingshan Cao, pointed out: “I’ve never had to do something as a Biostatistician that was more complicated than what I learned in Blair Wheaton’s mandatory graduate stats class in this department – trust me, you can handle this!”.

A lot of people contributed to making this event a success. Thanks go out to the graduate student working group who coordinated it: Kerri Scheer, Anelyse Weiler, Chris Tatham, Andrew Nevin, Andreea Mogosanu, Meghan Dawe, Paul Nelson, Diana Miller, Christian Rangel, and Matt Parbst. This event was financially supported by the School of Graduate Studies Innovation in Graduate Professional Development Fund and the Department of Sociology at the University of Toronto. The working group is indebted to Kat Kolar, Merin Oleschuk, and Allison Meads for their work on the SGS Fund application, Dr. Melissa Milkie for her encouragement on the application and guidance throughout the planning process, Research Coordinator Sherri Klassen for assistance in identifying prospective panelists, the Interim Business Officer Grace Ramirez and GSSA Secretary-Treasurer Yuki Tanaka for assistance in coordinating and distributing funds, and the Graduate Sociology Students’ Association (GSSA) for collaboration and support.

Thanks also to all of the graduate students and faculty members who attended the workshop and/or panel and offered feedback. These collegial contributions ensured the success of the event and signal that the Department of Sociology at the University of Toronto is serious about training and supporting graduate students for the wide array of opportunities that await them after graduation.


Kerri Scheer, PhD Student

Seasonal Grant-writing Tips

When I started supporting grant-writing in Sociology at the University of Toronto, the vast majority of the grant deadlines were in September and October.

By the time the winter break rolled around, I was ready for a break. And so were all the faculty members I worked with.

Now that there are a couple of deadlines between the end of January and March, I am finding more and more researchers needing to spend some time grant-writing over the winter break.

Every year, a handful of researchers tell me they will write their application over the break and every year those same researchers come back with the proposal unwritten.

I can’t blame them. I wouldn’t want to be the one gathered around the Christmas tree with my laptop open while everyone else was sipping mulled wine and opening presents either.

But I’ve given it some thought and come up with 5 tips to help get you through some holiday grant writing.

  1. Cocktail party guests long to talk to you about your research ideas. If you’re hosting a party this year, make sure you have lots of educated non-specialists on the invitation list. You just got yourself an informal peer review committee.
  2. Nothing says Holiday like snuggling up with a good book (and 20 or so articles for that literature review). Wear your new cozy slippers.
  3. Wandering among the crowds while shopping will naturally start your mind thinking about people in groups. How large should your sample size be? How representative are these shoppers? Pause in the food court to write your methods section.
  4. Cookies and eggnog go well with webforms. Honest – every little green checkmark beside a common cv item deserves a snickerdoodle.
  5. Your extended family are there to remind you that knowledge mobilization involves more than conference presentations and academic articles.  Just imagine how your op eds will eviscerate all the points your drunken uncle loudly asserts every year over Christmas cake and port.

Happy Holidays!