Sociology and Law IE Pre-Grad Intern Tina Le
As I began this past fall semester, I believed I had everything figured out about what I was going to do after I graduated from college. My dreams were set on going to law school for criminal law. I originally wanted to pursue a Masters in criminal justice when I registered for the IE program, but I decided towards the end of the summer I actually wanted to go to law school. I had spent that summer working on a research project for my former professor who taught an upper division organizational communications course. This research involved searching through databases and books for organizational communication narratives that could be used in his novel. On this research project, I was on a team that consisted of a graduate student and two other undergraduates. The graduate student I was working with said the type of research we were working on was what I would be doing if I was in graduate school for communication studies. After I told him I enjoyed and liked researching, he suggested that I pursue a Masters in communication studies since I was highly motivated and had the mindset for that type of research. I quickly dismissed his suggestion because I was determined on going to law school. Once the summer was over, I signed up for a LSAT prep course and spent hours each day researching different types of law schools that provided a criminal law program. Months later and upon my own graduation from college, I have decided to not to apply to any law school or graduate school. One thing I learned from being in the IE program from working with my mentor is that the only constant thing in school is change.
When I decided to do the IE Internship program I was interested in pursing a Masters in criminal justice. Since the University of Texas did not have a criminal justice program, the closest thing I could do was to find a mentor in the UT Sociology Department with an interest in criminology. I found Danielle Dirks, a doctoral candidate, whose interests included criminal justice and systems of domination and oppression. When I first met her, she was working on a dissertation about how the death penalty provided closure to homicide survivors.
Overall, my research consisted of researching databases for articles Danielle could use for her qualitative data for her dissertation. In the beginning of the mentorship, Danielle gave me a long list of articles she already had from 3-5 years ago on a past project, and I would have to find new articles where the previous authors from the list were cited since then. Once I found the articles, Danielle and I looked at the new list of the previously cited authors to see which new articles she could use. I would also compile her abstracts and citations in a word document to make an easier reference guide. Since I began working with Danielle, her dissertation's direction changed multiple times and as of now she is working on Children and Families Impacted by Incarceration. She also had multiple projects come up where she needed my assistance. One of them involved researching the final statements of the condemned. On this research, I had to find the states that have the death penalty and search their Department of Corrections websites for information about final statements, number of executed, final meals, crime information and organize it in an excel spreadsheet.
This research experience with Danielle provided me a sense of what researching in a different field is like. Before this, the only research I've been exposed to was in communication studies. Working with Danielle taught me a lot about sociology as a field. I also discovered I was interested in researching groups of people. The topics Danielle researched in her projects that involved race were closely tied to social-economics; these were topics I already found fascinating from taking courses in other majors. I was always interested in learning about how certain aspects of society affects its people, but it just never clicked in my head that there was a field that just focused on people in society. Basically, from my previous coursework, I learned about societal issues but only analyzed it from that major's perspective. It wasn't until working with Danielle that I understood there are many ways of looking at an issue, that there is just not one viewpoint. I realized most issues from the different majors I studied from in the past 4 years overlapped, and this gave me a new perspective at looking at everything I've been learning since.
There were days when I shadowed Danielle around campus. I found these days very helpful in understanding what graduate life is all about. The most informative day was when she invited me to lunch with another graduate student named Sara. I learned so much from their conversation during lunch about how life is as a PHD student is like and how the UT Sociology Department functions. They went into details about the people in the department, their own dissertation research, how they have to discuss their dissertation in front of a panel, and their different conference experiences. During that lunch meal, I realized that this was the most informative hour I had about graduate school. Not only did they talk about what they did in school but also about their own lives outside of it. For the longest time I had the impression once you got into graduate school that meant your life was set, that you knew everything you were going to do afterwards and your priorities were in order. After listening to Danielle and Sara talk about their lives, I realized graduate students weren't as different from undergraduates. They still have that uncertainty lingering around and questions about continuing with school. What was really interesting from this meal was I learned more about the PhD programs in general. It takes five to seven years and it drags on so long that people just give up sometimes. I didn't realize school was so intense that it could make people break.
Sometime early in the semester while working with Danielle and preparing my applications for law schools, I realized I was really fascinated with studying groups of people in society, and I really enjoyed researching. In preparation for law school, I attended a graduate school fair held in October so I could speak to different recruiters about their law schools. In one conversation with a recruiter, I brought up my researching experience and how I was interested in criminal justice and sociology. At that point he brought up that maybe I should look into public policy school. After that fair, I went home and researched different public policy schools and realized they had programs for my all my interests of research and society, and in addition it dealt with law. I began to shift all my preparation from law school to public policy school and I knew I had only a few months to catch up.
I believe from that point on, this internship became one of the most important resources a person could have in preparation to graduate schools. Not only did I had a mentor that already went through the same application process and was willing to help me out, it also created a network of people that were also willing to talk to me. Once my entire direction for school after I graduated shifted, I had to create a new game plan in a short amount of time. The IE meetings helped by providing me a lot of answers to questions that at the time I didn't have but realized later on that I needed to ask the same ones. This internship was a stepping stone to opening up all the aspects to graduate school, as to financial aid, teaching assistantships, the application process, CVs, life as a graduate student, and research. As I began the internship, I found it easier to talk to my current teaching assistants about their experiences in graduate schools as well to the graduate students Danielle introduced me to. I found it useful from listening to other individuals in their own application process to graduate schools to see what worked for them. Also through this internship with the interview a faculty assignment, I was able to meet the professor Danielle assists for, Dr. Ekland-Olson. Since then, I am able to seek advice from him about pubic policy schools because he actually taught at one.
For the past semester had many different commitments going on. I had a part-time job, volunteering for the Austin Police Department Victim's services, taking six hours, working on a conference paper with my research team from the previous summer, and researching different graduate schools and financial aid, and assisting Danielle with her research. Everything I have done in the past semester represents things I am interested in or I believe is necessary for me to do in order to apply for graduate schools. Also, I found this program as necessary as a part of my research for graduate schools as it opened so many doors to so many experiences and answers that I couldn't get from anywhere else. I am very fortunate enough to have had an excellent mentor whom I could learn a lot from. She was always able to think of events that would be in my best interest and invite me to them. The biggest revelation I had came through this entire experience of the IE internship where I have decided to take a year and a half off of school in order to gain more experience in public policy and have more time to research the different public policy schools out there. Before this internship, I would have thought taking a year off was a bad idea, but after listening to current graduate's students about what they have done in the past, or wish they would have done, helped guide me in making my decision. Through this program, I am able to admit, I'm not ready for graduate school, and I'm glad I realized this now rather than later.