Ethan Czuy Levine PhD is a research and data analyst at the Coalition to Abolish Slavery & Trafficking (CAST). He continually draws on his sociological training: particularly what he learned from courses in research methods and structural inequality. The following interview with Dr Levine was first published in December 2022 on the Applied Worldwide blog through a partnership with the Association for Applied and Clinical Sociology (AACS), and is re-published here with consent.
Getting established as an applied sociologist
How did you get established as an applied sociologist?
This was my goal from the moment I started my PhD program! I maintained ties to advocacy throughout most of grad school, and returned to the field full time as an advocate towards the end of that programme.
I also built connections with folks in that world, including folks who had research-related roles. In my more conventional academic work — including a three-year stint on the tenure track — I consistently incorporated readings, activities, and case studies from my practitioner work into courses on interpersonal violence.
Using sociology in practice
In general, how do you use sociology in practice?
I often take an institutional or system-level approach to my work. My sociological training helps me to situate individual clients’ and individual practitioners’ experiences in a broader context. For example, thinking about how systemic racism in the criminal legal system contributes to patterns in clients’ histories of arrest, incarceration, and exposure to violence within and outside of that system. Working in a values-based organization, it’s also extremely helpful to think about the multiple levels in which an organization can uphold (or struggle to uphold) it’s values – going beyond individual staff attitudes and behaviors to think about what partnerships we form, what referrals we do or do not make, how we approach questions of equity and justice in the work.
How do you use sociological research methods in practice?
This is constant! I use quantitative and qualitative methods in my work. One of my main tasks is analyzing deidentified client data, both for internal evaluation purposes and when working on projects for publication. Those data are consistently quantitative, and also a bit messy and in need of some serious wrangling before I can do much analytical work. My colleagues and I are also continually working to develop research projects that may involve interviews, focus groups, and/or quantitative surveys.
Lessons for future practitioners
What types of courses should undergraduate students take in preparation for a career similar to yours?
Research methods—at least one qualitative and one quantitative course.
Electives that focus on social inequality, violence, or both.
Courses on similar topics in related fields, to get a sense of different perspectives—for example, courses on family violence might look quite different in fields like sociology, psychology, and social work.
What types of courses should graduate students take in preparation for a career similar to yours?
As with undergraduates, I would strongly recommend broad training in methods. If you can find a course that will allow (or require) you to get some experience with data management/wrangling/cleaning, that would be great. This might happen in a quantitative methods course where you have to find or create your own data source.
Courses on the systems you’d like to focus on—if you are interested in supporting folks who have pursued services, see if there are courses on victim services or child welfare available. If you are interested in supporting folks who have been involved with the criminal legal system or civil legal system, see if there are courses that will help you to get an understanding of how those systems work (alone and in tandem with other systems).
Also as with undergraduates, branch out! I took a policy course in social work and a program planning course in public health – both have been super helpful.
What types of experiences should undergraduate students seek in preparation for a career similar to yours?
Get out in the field! If you’re interested in work that connects to anti-violence advocacy, there are plenty of volunteer (and even some paid) opportunities that you may be able to work around your course schedule. I would suggest aiming for a range of experiences if you can – such as covering a crisis hotline, accompanying survivors to the hospital for exams, doing community outreach, and/or facilitating trainings. Even if you ultimately decide that you want a research-based role, you’ll be much better at that work if you understand the day-to-day work of advocacy.
What types of experiences should graduate students seek in preparation for a career similar to yours?
My main advice here would be that you should not feel locked in! Even if everyone else in your grad program is pursuing conventional research internships and post-docs, think about the kind of work you’d like to do and the values you would like to have driving your work, and pursue experiences based on that.
As with undergraduates, it’s great to have direct experience with anti-violence advocacy.
One challenge you may face is that many advocacy organizations aren’t necessarily sure what to do with someone who has advanced training in sociology—so if you can show them that you already have some experience putting your training to work in a non-academic setting, that will go a long way.
What skills or experiences do organizations like the one you work for look for when hiring employees?
The availability of jobs at any given time is going to be tied to funding – what grants are active and likely to be sustainable, what programs are we building out right now. CAST values the capacity to incorporate anti-oppression and survivor-centred values into the work (and sociological training is excellent for developing a broad understanding of structural oppression). Experience in research and/or teaching can be of value for folks interested in training & technical assistance, research, or policy work.
Undergraduate training in sociology can offer a solid foundation for some of our direct service roles (working directly with survivors). We also value a range of lived experiences relevant to the work.
This is true of a growing number of organizations in the field! If folks are interested in putting their sociological training to work in support of survivors of violence, there are many pathways for doing so.
What advice do you have for aspiring applied and clinical sociologists?
Same advice my graduate director gave to me, over 10 years ago! Think about what kind of work you’d like to do, and then look for people with similar jobs. You might look up specific organizations, or try sites like LinkedIn. If you feel comfortable doing so, reach out and ask folks if they’d be up for a 15 minute chat about their work.
Dr Levine’s work at CAST involves collaborating closely with staff in their case management, housing support, training and technical assistance, and legal teams to evaluate and improve services, and generate original research projects to fill in some of the gaps in research and practice on addressing human trafficking.