11 STATE AGENCIES
Deb Greer is a management analyst for her state's department of aging and adult services. Her specialization is gerontology. She is responsible for management oversight and evaluation of programs funded by the federal Older Americans Act. This includes all programs for older and disabled adults such as pension programs, educational programs, aid to the blind, and adult protection. Deb notes that, "Programs like these are becoming more and more important as our population ages. This is happening two ways. More people are making it to old age and those who have reached old age are living longer. Since most of us will eventually become an older American these programs are in our own best interests."
Deb's preparation for her job included a B.A. and M.A. in sociology. Her M.A. certified her as a gerontologist (as with criminal justice, gerontology degrees have had their genesis in, and are often still found within sociology departments). As a part of her M.A. program Deb served a one–year internship where she worked in long–term care systems development. Her work there consisted mostly of writing proposals, reports, and presentations, and doing occasional presentations herself. As time passed it became evident that Deb could produce the written reports and presentations on "very short notice." This ability provided several important opportunities. First, she became involved in a wide variety of agency work. She was able to see how different parts of the organization functioned, and what their various objectives were. Second, by being involved with different parts of the organization she was building an impressive personal network. As she demonstrated her ability to respond to diverse challenges in timely fashion word about her work spread within the agency. Deb observed that, "These kinds of processes are at work in all organizations. If you realize this then you can work these processes to your advantage." Deb's advantage was that people who needed her skills sought her out. Prior to completion of her M.A. Deb's effective work and her network resulted in occasional consultive work. According to Deb, "I earned between $500 and $1000 a month, outside of my practicum, in consulting work."
Deb's preparation for entree to state government agency work was her degree in sociology. She notes that, "Agency work is information work. As such, you have to know how to process or handle information. In addition, the information available often comes in a variety of forms. If the information is to be productive you have to be able to synthesize and condense it. You have to be able to see connections and know to look for information that is missing. Just as important, you must to know when you need information, and how to get information. All of these are fundamental sociological skills." Added to these are methodological specifics such as an ability to use SPSS (Statistical Package for the Social Science) on the computer, understanding what statistical numbers mean, and being able to construct data collection tools. According to Deb, "Sociology appears to be more balanced than some other disciplines. Others tend to have more narrow objectives. The result is that the sociologically prepared researcher is more likely to `see' the big picture of some project. This perspective is essential."
In addition to the specialized skills there is a natural connection between the sociologist as an organizational member and as a scholar of organizational behavior. This helps keep the sociologist, as a member of the organization, from becoming too narrowly focused. It also means that the sociologist can employ organizational skills which have long been a part of sociological scholarship. Deb commented in this regard that she "balances her identity as a sociologist and gerontologist. In some circles the research strengths of being a sociologist give me organizational authority, while at other times, especially in presentations, the title of gerontologist is most important. I also have to be careful to not offend people with a title. There is a bias, particularly among long–time employees, against those who are `college trained'."
When asked to describe a typical day Deb used the term "eclectic." There is no set pattern. She said, "Even when I have specific plans I simply have to expect that things will change. I am constantly switching gears, quickly and completely. This is simply a function of multiple tasks." Lately these tasks have been concentrated on acquisition and distribution of funding for the various agency programs. These would include writing grants, developing RFP's (requests for proposals: grant application forms for other agencies seeking money from Deb's agency), choosing grant evaluation teams, developing contracts for successful grantees, and training grantees. This is in addition to other necessary intra– and inter–organizational relations. The real need, according to Deb, is adaptability to change. Deb's agency has continued to accept interns, as she once was. However, Deb says that "Student interns have often been disappointing. They need to be self–starters. They must show initiative. They need to be able to deal with ambiguity. They must accept change. Actually they must anticipate change."
Now, after ten years Deb is pursuing an additional degree in sociology, her Ph.D. The need is to stay current. She recognizes that anticipating change applies to her as well as to intern students. Since 1984 Sue's salary has kept pace and has given her the freedom to pursue her doctorate; she now earns approximately $52,000 a year. When asked about her future, Deb said that she "expects more twists and terms," but she knows she "is prepared to make whatever adjustments are necessary." When asked if she would recommend sociology to students making up their minds about a major, Deb said, "Absolutely!"
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