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The Next Generation of Problem-Solving Sociologists

IPR-led workshop helps PhD students develop dissertations to solve real-world issues

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Funded by the National Science Foundation, the workshop welcomed 23 graduate students from across the nation who were in the process of developing their dissertation proposals.

Doctoral students in sociology from across the country—studying topics such as youth in the sex trade, police use of Narcan, and food insecurity among community college students—came to Evanston twice this academic year to learn how to solve the social problems they study.

sociology
Northwestern's Sociology Department is home to the Problem-Solving Sociology Dissertation Proposal Development Workshop founded by IPR's Monica Prasad.

IPR sociologist Monica Prasad founded the Problem-Solving Sociology Dissertation Proposal Development Workshop to offer coaching and feedback from fellow graduate students and scholars to launch PhD students as problem-solving sociologists.

Monica Prasad
Monica Prasad leads the workshop's second session.

The problem-solving method does not isolate sociological theory from finding solutions to social problems. Rather, the problems are a way to test theory, and theory becomes a resource for solving problems.

“Attempting to solve real-world problems can be a catalyst for breakthroughs in the basic understanding of society,” Prasad wrote in a Contemporary Sociology article, “posing new questions, suggesting new research paths, and demanding new methods.”

Funded by the National Science Foundation, the workshop welcomed 23 graduate students from across the nation who were in the process of developing their dissertation proposals.

The workshop took place over two sessions. At the first, held in late fall 2018, students described the sociological problem they were interested in and received feedback from other participants and Prasad.

“We all read each other’s work,” participant Matthew DelSesto, a Boston College graduate student beginning his dissertation research, said. “We spoke about what we were doing—here’s the problem I’m trying to solve—which was helpful and kind of refreshing.” 

At the second session six months later, students had the additional challenge of connecting their research problem with sociological theory in five-minute presentations to the group that included their fellow students, research associates, and several sociologists, including IPR fellow Celeste Watkins-Hayes and IPR associates Mary Pattillo and Héctor Carillo.

DelSesto noted that “having people in the room who have a focused interest in achieving a certain goal with their scholarship [was] powerful and encouraged me in my future to continue seeking out communities, or making communities, where the kind of work I want to do is shared.”

Monica Prasad is a professor of sociology and an IPR fellow.

Published: July 25, 2019.