Running a research project as an applied sociologist

Drawing of me sitting at a desk in front of my laptop. I'm wearing a bright multicoloured jacket and headband

Let’s chat about what it’s like to run a typical personal research project as an applied social scientist. Outside of my paid work, I laboured on a resource on equity and diversity, which began a couple of years ago. I let you know I published this a couple of months back, but I wanted to reflect on the journey.

Part of the reason why I’m sharing this is so that you can get to know me a little better, but also because many people don’t realise what it’s like to be an applied sociologist. It means all my scholarship needs to happen outside of my paid work. It is exhausting but incredibly important to my sociological practice.

The “Intersectionality, Equity, Diversity, Inclusion, and Access” project dominated much of my spare time when I first started, and then I would go months without having the right head space to plough through.

Earlier this year, I was determined to bring it home. I spent weeks over my annual break in December 2019 and January 2020 working on it, then weekends over the first two weeks of February 2020 proofreading. It is the size of a thesis, broken up into a series of short topics. It is meant to be an extensive (though not exhaustive) summary of the literature, as well as actions organisations can take to improve anti-racism, inclusion and accessibility. This is a topic dear to my heart. I despair that so many organisations think they need to reinvent the wheel. They rely on personal impressions to design interventions that don’t work, or they subject staff to countless poorly designed surveys that don’t lead to meaningful change. I wanted to produce something that shows the extensive evidence of the issues, and some of the solutions, to improving equity and diversity in organisations, especially in research sectors.

Once the draft was completed, I spent one entire day making sure all of the images were loaded properly into the backend of my website, as well as finding relevant examples from my previous social media posts to illustrate the points that I was making. Another day was taken up by linking the academic references and collating relevant articles that I’ve written. Chasing up my Twitter and social media posts to pepper throughout the resource took an especially long time. I also had to ensure that all my images have alt text, so that disabled people using readers can read descriptions of the images.

I had struggled on the ideal layout. Should I keep it as an exceptionally long webpage, with hyperlinks so that people can jump up and down to different sections, or should I split it up into five different pages? I received feedback from my Instagram followers via a poll. They advised the latter and so that’s what it ended up being. I used a lot of text boxes to break up the text and to visually signal advice for institutions on how to eliminate discrimination.

By the time I was ready to schedule publication, it was almost 11:00 PM on a Sunday night. The “Intersectionality…” project was done and released on my own terms, at a time that suited me, and to little fanfare. I was elated! The resource is being used widely by practitioners from Australia to the USA. Around 1,500 people have read it since February, which is modest but satisfying, given the heavy topic of institutional change.

At the best of times, because my research blog consists of original research, one post can take a few hours, and up to two days finalise. So you can imagine why this resource has taken so much longer – two years in total!

On top of this resource, I was concurrently working on a couple of research papers and presentations.

Ahead of my presentation at the Australian Critical Race and Whiteness Studies Association conference in early February, I had to polish my twenty-minute presentation, reflecting on my career in equity and diversity. I drew on a number of modern classics, from the 1990s Australian collection, Intersexions, looking at their lives and work of Aboriginal and migrant women, to books by Professor Sara Ahmed, who’s been a big influence on me in the past six years. I also cited the work by Patricia Hill Collins, who was incidentally the keynote speaker, and Professor Aileen Moreton-Robinson’s Talkin’ up to the White Woman.

It’s unfortunate, but my paid work does not recognise my external academic research. Yet if I only concentrate on my paid job, I would not feel as fulfilled as a sociologist. I enjoy my day-to-day work, but I need to remain engaged with race scholarship and social justice activism. These are activities that ultimately sharpen my contribution to social policy research. If I did not keep up to date with these discussions, I would miss opportunities to bring in new ideas to my applied work, and our work would likely have less impact on the public we aim to support.

In almost every context I’ve found myself in throughout my career, I’m either the only person of colour in the room, or I’m the only minority speaking up on intersectionality. I hope this changes one day, and soon. Until then, I’ll keep sharpening my tools, during slivers of borrowed moments, right here, on this blog we share.