Sociology faculty share their paths to academia

Director Mora shares about her high school experience as a member of the student council.

As students start to think about what they will do once their undergraduate years are over, they can feel like they are being presented with many pathways and little direction. In an effort  to connect students with more information about their options, Sociology Berkeley Connect planned two major career-oriented events: one focused on academia and one on non-academic careers.

In March, faculty director Cristina Mora and the Berkeley Connect mentors hosted the first of these events, the faculty panel.  Professors Karen Barkey, Samuel Lucas, and Dylan Riley participated as guest speakers.

The faculty members began the two-hour session by discussing their journey through academia. Each shared their unique backgrounds and the interests that compelled them to study sociology.

Professor Barkey, raised in Istanbul, Turkey was born to a family of ethnic conflict and tension. Despite being ethnically Jewish, Barkey’s uncle fought for the Ottoman Empire in the First World War. Barkey’s father, in comparison, served in alliance with Turkey for the Second World War. Wanting to understand the convoluted politics that impacted her community, Barkey began her academic career as a Jewish studies major. Barkey became entranced with the successes and failures of the Ottoman Empire and decided to switch into sociology with a concentration in comparative and historical study.

Like Professor Barkey, Professor Lucas first observed societal issues within the context of his home. Lucas’s parents and siblings were always engaged in political discourse around the dinner table. Curious about many subjects, Lucas began his studies as a religious studies major, drawn to its interdisciplinary relevance: the major involved “social justice, state policy, philosophy and literature.” However, through his studies, Lucas realized that he desired a more systematic approach to social issues. Impacted by the Statistical Package for the Social Sciences (SPSS) Manual, Lucas switched into sociology explaining, “Sociology and all of its research manuals allow for systematology.”

In contrast to his fellow panelists, Professor Riley developed an interest in sociology by looking into subjects from the outside. Riley was raised in Kentucky by educated parents. From childhood, he began to attend unconventional schools outside the public system. This unique upbringing prompted Riley to look into the society around him with an observing eye, “In some ways you need to be distant from your object of study to say something interesting about it.” Constantly seeking new ideas and perspectives, Riley read the magazine Soviet Life growing up. Interested in the different methods that institutions or countries implemented, Riley eventually pursued a major in sociology with a concentration in comparative history.

After the guest panelists shared their experiences, Director Mora presented her own story. As a member of the student body council in high school, Mora visited public high schools in her area. Noticing the shocking differences between high schools, Mora was inspired to learn more about the dynamics of her society. As a result, she began to take notice of the people in her classes and reflect upon her own participation in classes, observing, “It was a lot of the women, the minority, and the first-generation college students who were not raising their hands.” This awareness set her on the path to becoming a sociology student at UC Berkeley, and eventually led her to graduate school and to her current role as a professor on the faculty.

The faculty members of the Sociology department entered academia from many different backgrounds. However, they were united in their efforts to understand the society they live in, and to create knowledge that can make a difference in the world. By applying their powers of observation and their critical thinking skills, these professors overcame challenges and became integrated into an academic community they deeply value. On the experience of arriving in  graduate school, Professor Barkey commented, “I could think, I could talk to people. I just felt great,” and  Professor Lucas concurred: “After all that wandering, I found my people.”


posted by Gloria Choi

Berkeley Connect Communications Assistant