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PhD in sociology and transitioning to health research: Mental health, psychology, or public health?

ConfusedPhD

Full Member
2+ Year Member
Sep 25, 2016
11
2
  1. Other Health Professions Student
    Hi everyone,

    I am about to complete my PhD in sociology on a topic unrelated to health. The past four years have taught me a few things. First, I really like researching. I genuinely enjoy spending hours of the day scouring through articles, books, and reports and synthesizing them. I also like gathering data firsthand, presenting my work, attending professional conferences, and collaborating with others. Second, I also enjoy teaching and engaging with students. I love talking with students and hearing about their future goals and generating interesting class discussions. Third, I also realized that I disdain sociology. Long story short, I hate the fact that the field emphasizes cutting edge theory over practical problems. I hate the pompousness and narrow-mindedness of professors, other students, and just about everything these people do. Leaving it at that, academic sociologist is out of the question for me as a career path.

    In the process of seeking alternative career options, I have begun reading research on a wide range of mental health issues. I was instantly drawn to this work and its practicality. As an undergrad, I was a pre-med and pre-health major before switching to sociology. Rereading this literature again from a new perspective was really enlightening and I am considering trying to make my way into working in the mental health field.

    The big question is how should I do that? I am assuming I might need to go back and obtain another degree and more training, but I am not sure which one is the best to get me to where I want to be. Research on the topics I find most interesting is mostly being written by clinical psychologists and different types of counselors. But I don’t particularly want to work with patients as much as I want to research mental health related issues in populations more generally. I also understand clinical psychology programs are extremely competitive. Next most obvious would seem to be an MPH or DrPH. But it seems that not much of the literature I have found interesting has come from public health specialists. And I prefer qualitative research methods to quantitative ones. I could be wrong, but it seems like MPHs are more interested in quantitative work.

    Thus, I am on here questioning what to do next. Any input would be warmly welcomed.

    Thanks everyone.
     

    MamaPhD

    Psychologist, Academic Medical Center
    10+ Year Member
    Aug 2, 2010
    2,355
    2,633
    1. Psychologist
      Long story short, I hate the fact that the field emphasizes cutting edge theory over practical problems. I hate the pompousness and narrow-mindedness of professors, other students, and just about everything these people do.

      But I don’t particularly want to work with patients as much as I want to research mental health related issues in populations more generally.

      I'm afraid that academic psychology, even clinical psychology, has more than its share of theory zealots, pomposity, and work that is tangential to practical solutions. It's still academia.

      Have you considered the possibility that you trained in a particularly insufferable department and that perhaps there are other departments that would be more inviting? Medical sociology is pretty fascinating IMO, and you might be able to turn your career in that direction. A multidisciplinary postdoc might be another good way of getting experience in this area without stepping backward in your career path. Think health systems, health services research, health policy, and things of that nature - there is plenty of room for well-trained social scientists in these fields.
       

      ConfusedPhD

      Full Member
      2+ Year Member
      Sep 25, 2016
      11
      2
      1. Other Health Professions Student
        MamaPhD,

        Thanks for your input. I certainly understand your point and realize psychology is not free from these traits as well. But, I’ve been reading the work of a lot of clinical psychologists and their work on behavioral addictions and treatments and I’ve yet to come across an ill-defined buzzword such as “neoliberalism.” Certainly, I concur they exist, but at least in the independent research I’ve been doing, I’ve yet to come across anything of the sort that is significantly abstract or nothing more than a sexy buzzword.

        Have I considered the possibility that I am trained in a particularly insufferable department? No because I actually think my department is one of the better ones! My advisor is surprisingly helpful and genuinely understands where I am coming from and is always supportive. And my committee members are probably as balanced as I could find. It is the people at conferences, on hiring committees, and so on that I cannot tolerate.

        A multidisciplinary postdoc is something that I’ve been strongly considering. But I am thinking that I might need some additional training and/or publications to make me competitive for this. Since my PhD research has nothing to directly do with public health, I am thinking that I can’t just graduate and apply (though I may be wrong). Have you got any thoughts about how I might be able to turn my sociology experience into something a postdoc might see as useful?
         

        MamaPhD

        Psychologist, Academic Medical Center
        10+ Year Member
        Aug 2, 2010
        2,355
        2,633
        1. Psychologist
          But, I’ve been reading the work of a lot of clinical psychologists and their work on behavioral addictions and treatments and I’ve yet to come across an ill-defined buzzword such as “neoliberalism.” Certainly, I concur they exist, but at least in the independent research I’ve been doing, I’ve yet to come across anything of the sort that is significantly abstract or nothing more than a sexy buzzword.

          Maybe we have different ideas about what constitutes "ill-defined," since I find a lot of the behavioral addictions work to be very vague and speculative. "Sex addiction" is an example of a term that has no agreed-upon operational definition or observable neurological substrate.

          A multidisciplinary postdoc is something that I’ve been strongly considering. But I am thinking that I might need some additional training and/or publications to make me competitive for this. Since my PhD research has nothing to directly do with public health, I am thinking that I can’t just graduate and apply (though I may be wrong). Have you got any thoughts about how I might be able to turn my sociology experience into something a postdoc might see as useful?

          It's hard to say, since I'm not sure exactly what your focus has been. It's OK to use the postdoc to specialize or change directions as long as you can make a case for yourself. If you have methods training (say, qualitative research, survey design, large datasets, etc.) you can sell that.
           
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