Graduate Program Updates

Professor Mary Nell Trautner.

Prof. Mary Nell Trautner serves as the director of graduate studies.

Changes in the Graduate Program

The UB Department of Sociology’s graduate program continues to thrive. We currently have approximately 20 Master’s students and 40 PhD students in the program. Recent PhD graduates are working in both academic and non-academic settings. MA graduates are enrolled in PhD programs at UB and elsewhere, and are also working in research and applied settings. Our students continue to publish in high quality journals, present at national and regional conferences, get grants for their research and win awards for their excellent performance in research and teaching. 

Two current PhD students, Jared Strohl and Vinay Kumar, were recently honored with university-wide Excellence in Graduate Student Teaching Awards. These highly competitive awards are given to instructors whose teaching exceeds UB’s already-high standards by demonstrating excellence in every aspect of teaching and mentoring. Fewer than 1% of graduate student instructors receive this award. PhD student Matt McLeskey received one of only four 2019-2020 Dissertation Fellowships from the Humanities Institute (HI). This is the first time a sociology student has won an HI fellowship since its inception in 2012. Two sociology PhD students, Dan Bagnall and Julia Schoonover, recently participated in the College of Arts and Sciences' new Social Impact Fellowship program. This program brings social science PhD students together with social work and business administration graduate students to partner with a local mission-driven organization to develop solutions to social issues facing the Western New York region.

One recent graduate, Aysegul Balta Ozgen, received UB’s 2019 Outstanding PhD Dissertation Award as the best dissertation written among all social science dissertations completed at UB in the past five years. Ozgen is now a postdoctoral researcher at the Center for the Study of Ethnicity, Race and Immigration at the University of Pennsylvania.

Students in a classroom.

Soon-to-finish PhD students Yulin Yang and Erica Boyce also have notable accomplishments. Yulin, who will complete her dissertation this summer, has been awarded a prestigious Weill Cornell Behavioral Geriatrics Postdoctoral Fellowship. Erica, who will also finish her PhD in summer 2020, is at the midpoint of a two-year fellowship with Harvard University’s Center for Education Policy Research, focusing on enhancing analytic methods and analysis that contribute to strategic K-12 student achievement policy decisions and system changes. 

Former Department of Sociology faculty members have established generous awards for graduate teaching and research. The Nathalie Devine Howe Award, endowed by Judge Barbara Howe, former associate professor of sociology, is given annually to recognize outstanding research and writing by masters or doctoral sociology students. Nominations have increased every year since the award’s inception in 2009, with the winning manuscripts often appearing in academic journals. The Adeline Gordon Levine Excellence in Teaching Award was endowed by Adeline Levine, former professor and sociology chair in 2013 and is awarded to outstanding graduate student instructors. Nominations for the Teaching Award are made by undergraduate students. Similar to the Nathalie Devine Howe Award for research, the number of graduate instructors nominated by their students for their excellent teaching grows each year.

The department has several other initiatives that support graduate training. The department offers modest awards on an annual basis for any sociology graduate student who wants advanced training in methods, statistics or pedagogy. Students have used these funds to attend ICPSR methods courses, UB Sociology Summer Research Institute workshops and pedagogy conferences. The department also recently created a micro-credential program in Applied Social Research that is open to MA and PhD students across the university. This micro-credential helps students showcase their skills in research design, data collection and data analysis to future employers. 

The Master's Portfolio

The department recently developed a new option for completing the MA in sociology. The master’s portfolio is an option for those pursuing careers after the MA degree rather than continuing in academia. The portfolio differs from the more traditional master’s project in that students conduct interviews with professionals working in fields of interest, develop resume and cover letter writing skills, and produce original writing samples more appropriate for work outside of academia such as policy briefs and white papers. Students graduating after the spring 2020 semester who have chosen the Master’s Portfolio option share their experiences below: 

Alia Aeid: “I chose to do the portfolio because I felt it would prepare me for a non-academic career after graduation. The portfolio gave me the opportunity to make important contacts and develop my interviewing skills. I also gained the experience of transcribing interviews and writing a white paper.”

Morgan Ferris: “I want to work with nonprofit organizations and the policy brief was a great project to have to provide to them. Being able to prepare my resume and cover letter with advisement from faculty was great, compared to navigating it by myself.”

Emily Foss: “It’s a nice break away from traditional academia that we’re surrounded by everyday. It gives us a real world applicable piece of work that we’ve been working on throughout our graduate career that we can take outside of the academic world and present to potential employers. It was also a good way to apply the skills we already learned, like interviewing techniques, working with raw data and honing our writing skills.”

Brooke Love: “I found the process of putting together the materials for the portfolio hugely helpful in not only preparing to navigate the job market, but in learning the variety of work I can do with the skills I’ve developed throughout my education. Through interviews with professionals working outside of academia, it is clear that sociology is an applicable and versatile discipline and that I will be using the knowledge I have gained in my graduate school experience constantly in my career.”