Meet Manisha Desai, Head of Sociology

Department of Sociology
Ph.D.: Washington University
Office Location: Harry Grant Manchester Hall

What would you say are the Department of Sociology’s areas of strength in your field?
We have several areas of strength, including research and teaching in the areas of gender and sexuality, race, ethnicity, political sociology, stratification, human rights, and transnational and global sociology. We are also an increasingly diverse group of excellent faculty and graduate students.

What interests students in studying sociology?
Undergraduates often come to sociology via our introductory and general education classes, where their assumptions of who we are as a society and how we function are challenged. In these classes, they learn to think more critically about social issues. Graduate students often come because they have been bitten by the sociology ‘bug’ and have begun to see their own experiences in light of larger social forces in new and exciting ways.

What are the most popular classes taught in sociology?
Among the more popular classes are Social Problems; Criminology; Deviance; Race, Class, and Gender; Sociology of Health; and Sports and Society. Students like these classes because most of them are issues that they are familiar with, and that they can relate to. Students also have strong opinions about these issues.

What types of jobs do undergraduate and graduate students pursue after attaining a sociology degree?
Most undergraduate students pursue jobs in the non-profit and social service sectors with state or non-state institutions. More recently, they are interested in jobs that feature social media and communications expertise. Graduate students primarily purse academic careers or work as researchers in social service fields.

Have there been recent changes in the Department of Sociology that have strengthened the department?

The department has hired several new faculty, many of whom are joint appointments, which has diversified our offerings and increased our ties to a variety of programs across the University. We are also in the process of working with other faculty and departments across the campus on a criminal justice minor.

What do you see as upcoming challenges or opportunities for your department?
Although we currently have more than 300 undergraduate majors, in recent years, fewer students have declared sociology as a major. We hope to address these via our curriculum and programming in partnership with others across campus. While we have been successful in placing our graduate students in tenure track positions, a challenge is the nationwide decrease in such positions.

Are there any common misconceptions about the field of sociology?
Although there aren’t specific misconceptions about the field of sociology, more often than not, students come with a lack of knowledge about the field. Hence, our goal is to provide courses that introduce them to our field broadly.

Where do you see your field going in the next 10 years?
Given the rising inequalities, technological changes, and the market driven focus of our society, sociology will keep pace with trying to make sense of these social issues as they impact people across a range of social locations.

What first interested you in sociology?
Social movements and social change were what drew me to sociology, after I earned an undergraduate major in microbiology and a masters in social work.

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