See Me After Class

See Me After Class is a weekly column where a different professor reveals their variety favorites.
Dr. Rachel Head is an assistant professor of sociology who received her B.S. from Missouri State University, M.A. from The University of Oklahoma and Ph.D. from North Carolina State University.
What sociology classes are you currently teaching?
Right now I’m teaching our Sociological Imagination course, which is the introductory course to sociology, and then Sociology of Family.
What classes are you teaching next spring semester?
Dr. Stromberg of Anthropology and I have developed a Social Sciences and Health course, looking at both anthropological and sociological work on health and these broader factors of culture, and social structure institutions that shape people’s health outcomes. Yeah, it’s gonna be an exciting course, I think, and really interesting. Definitely pulls in some of the biological mechanisms that shape health outcomes, but also the cultural factors of how people experience illness, and how they experience their interactions with the healthcare system. Also looking at some of the ways in which research on health gets done, and how that may reflect some of our stereotypes about different groups.
Are you a big fan of reading?
I am. I love to read. I’ve got a book right now “Spaces of Hope” by David Harvey, a Marxist geographer. I’ve just been reading that for fun, in hopes that it’ll eventually tie into the research I’m doing. My favorite books are a lot of the cheesy mystery novels. I’ve also really gotten into true crime. My first exposure to that was the book “In Cold Blood” by Truman Capote, which I read as a teenager. I kind of like that genre, too; the puzzle of it, trying to figure out what happened and who did what.
Do you live with any family members or pets?
Yes and yes. I live with my husband. We have a daughter who’s 12 and a labrador who’s eight.
What would you say is your favorite and least favorite food?
My favorite food is my mom’s lasagna. My least favorite food is probably asparagus.
What is your educational and professional background?
I got my bachelor’s degree in sociology from Missouri State University since I’m from Springfield, Missouri. Then I went to the University of Oklahoma where I got my master’s in sociology, then to North Carolina State, where I got my Ph.D. I also taught there, then I got a job at the University of Texas at Tyler for five years as a sociology professor, and then I came here to TU about four years ago.
What led you to teach at TU after all those other universities?
On a practical level, my family is very close by and my parents are getting to the age where they probably are going to need some assistance. But probably the bigger reason was the culture of the department; a small, rather collegial environment that was very student-focused, sort of a teacher-scholar model, where we really worked closely with students, but we were also producing scholarship and sort of trying to build that into our teaching as well. So that’s what I was really attracted to, just that kind of environment, much closer working with students. I’ve done quite a bit of mentoring students and research projects, which I really enjoy.
What about sociology did you find appealing enough to teach or get a degree in?
I received my bachelor’s and then I went to work on a psychiatric ward at a hospital in Springfield. During my time there, I learned a lot about how those systems work from experience in it. I was a psychiatric technician. My job was to keep an eye on patients and make sure they weren’t harming themselves, or sometimes lead mini-workshops on self-care and things like that. Typically women worked on the morning shifts, and then on the evening shifts, all of these very large men nurses would come in. I think that that kind of reflected this belief about the patients maybe being more dangerous or prone to violence at night. We got a lot of training on how to protect ourselves if we were attacked. All of that I thought really fed into the stereotypes about mental illness, and that kind of just triggered my interest. I could see how it tied back into my training in my Bachelor’s, and I thought ‘I need to go back to school’ because this is something that really interests me, and I want to understand more of the systemic issues that different institutions face.
What advice would you give to a first-year or transfer student just starting out in the sociology major?
Just starting out in the sociology major, we’re a smaller group of faculty, there’s me, Professor Lowe, and then Professor Foley. I think a good way to start out is to just come and meet the faculty, right, schedule a time to just come sit down and talk with us and get to know us, and also to share your interests, you know, so we’re very committed to kind of informally mentoring students in terms of their interests and their educational goals. So I think just coming and talking to us is a good place to show we’re approachable. Just to build those networks, I think I would recommend to any student to get to know their professors, which I know sometimes can be a bit intimidating, but I think it’s so important to try to get as much knowledge from them as you can not just in the classroom, but informally. If you’re afraid of the professor that’s probably diminishing your learning, right? And I think interacting with a professor, you can probably learn some things you didn’t even know you probably needed to know about the profession you’re going into as well.
What advice would you give students who are considering majoring or minoring in sociology?
There’s a lot of flexibility in terms of electives. And with sociology, there are a lot of opportunities in terms of jobs of what you can do when you graduate. So I would say, if you’re going into sociology to be reflecting on what it is you want to do when you graduate. Kind of consider what that career path might look like for you. I think that will help you to better plan courses that you might want to take. I would also say, trying to think what else in terms of the skills that are going to be required and that you’ll develop. Writing is a big component of our major. Also, we do a lot of quantitative research. and I know students are a bit phobic of numbers, sometimes. Professor Lowe typically teaches that course but you know, coming and talking to us, expressing concerns is a good approach.
What would you say is the biggest challenge you faced during college? And how did you overcome it?
There were several. I’m a first-generation college student, and I think that last year of my undergrad was really stressful for me. I didn’t have an idea of what I was going to do when I was going to graduate, and it created a lot of anxiety for me. Coming from sort of a working-class background, I was always taught that you take care of your problems yourself, you have to push through and work harder. I wish I had known that there are resources on campus for preparing for job interviews. So I think yeah, that’s one of the struggles I faced and I wish I would have known then, what I know now.
If you weren’t a teacher, what other career path do you think you’d be on right now?
Oh, my gosh, that’s a very timely question. I think I would probably be doing some sort of nonprofit work. Because I mean, a lot of my interests are around research that can be translated into policy, or to help support certain policy changes that could fund certain programs that might help members of disadvantaged or marginalized communities and help improve health outcomes for different groups.
What advice would you give me to make the most of my time at TU?
If you can find some groups on campus that fit with your interests, whatever they are, I would definitely take advantage of that. You have some fantastic faculty; I would reach out to them, meet with them, get to know them, and just really try to network with them as much as you can. But the other thing I would say is that your undergraduate degree is a great time to be selfish. And by that, I mean to really take the time to explore what interests you, to try out different ways of knowing and seeing the world. An opportunity to sample these different ways of knowing the world. Not that you have to commit to any of them. Just try them. I would highly suggest taking advantage of that.

Post Author: Michael Tran