Doing Secondments as an Applied Sociologist

Throughout my career, I have taken on roles that require secondments both interstate and overseas. I have always treated these as a type of ethnography – I’m there to do a job, but I’m observing workplace relations and surroundings. This helps me cope with the “culture shock” that comes with gliding into a new work environment, and being expected to hit the ground running, with little time to get acclimatised.

In one role, I was in a tall building with windows that wouldn’t open, and in this one I had a gorgeous park at our doorstep. Regardless of the environment, secondments are always tough. Isolated from your team, delivering under tight deadlines and sometimes in a less than ideal setting, and without exception, I am the only trained sociologist trying to communicate complex sociological ideas in new ways.

There is an output that needs to be almost immediately be submitted, whether it’s an evaluation, the concept for a new tool, a framework for a new program, guidelines for policy-makers, or recommendations for a pilot.

Secondments can be great in terms of learning a lot in a compressed time, but they are incredibly taxing, with or without sunlight, near or far from home. Secondments are nothing like a holiday; your employer and your client are both trying to get as much out of your time as possible. That usually means long hours and little time to travel and sight-see.

Having a good support network of researchers to “talk shop” outside work makes a huge difference.