Exercise 1a: Course Flights

  • Get a printed copy of your transcript or log in to myMills and go to your transcript.
  • (5) Identify all of the social/human science courses you have taken (at Mills or elsewhere). Write the name of each course on a separate large yellow card numbering each one.
  • (10) Now think about all of these courses and identify clusters of two or three that can be thought of as building on one another, reinforcing one another, complementing one another. On a separate sheet of paper make a note of these and then (1) come up with a name for the cluster, and (2) try to think of something that you might study "next" in this sequence.

Urban Sociology + Sociology of Oakland = my city cluster. Could be followed by learning about (1) economics of cities or (2) GIS and city planning.

Schulman's organizations course + Sociology of Education = education systems cluster. Want to build on this by learning more about how urban education systems work as organizations.

  • (5) Try to create at least five of these. Record your sequences in your notes. We'll go around and hear a few.

Exercise 1b: My Social Science Domain

  • (5) Now think about each course and try to list 3 to 5 "big" ideas that stuck with you from each one. Again on a yellow card, but this time small ones, write each down on a separate card, making a note of the course number and giving each card its own number.
  • (10) In groups of 4 or so, go around naming a course and one of your take away ideas. If someone else also wrote down that course, compare notes about take aways and add a new card to yours if any appeal.
  • Arrange these temporarily like this:
  • (15) Next we will do a pile sort exercise. Gather all your cards into stack and then go through them one by one assigning them to one of two piles based on being more similar or more related. When you are finished, record what's in each pile (just the numbers) and name or explain the piles. For example you might have:

Pile 1: 1,2,4,6,9,12,14,15,16,18,19,21,22,24
Pile 2: 3,5,7,8,10,11,13,17,20,23,25

Explanation: pile 1 are all micro ideas and pile 2 are all macro ideas.

  • Now do the same to each of these piles. Maybe you end up with something like this:

Pile 1.1: 2,12,14,19,21
Pile 1.2: 1,4,6,9,15,16,18,22,24

Explanation: first group are ideas about attitudes, second group about actions

Pile 2.1: 3,7,8,11,17,20
Pile 2.2: 5,10,13,23,25

Explanation: first group all have to do with social movements, second group with states and governments

Explanation: pile 1 are all micro ideas and pile 2 are all macro ideas.

Repeat once or twice more.

When you are done, write a paragraph that describes the "shape" of the things you've taken away from your social science courses.

Exercise 2: Life

  • (5) Identify 3 to 5 "socio-cultural things" you know or care about (based, for example, on internships or jobs you have had), books you have read, etc. Put each one on a large orange card. Mine, for example, might be "technology," "communities," "science," "homelessness," and "design."
  • (5) After you have your set, for each one identify 2 to 5 things you know about it. These might be facts you know, things you don't know, questions people have, current issues, things you wonder about. Write these on small orange cards and arrange all of these similar to the course based notes.
  • (10) Repeat the pile sort exercise. Record your piles and explanations in your notes.

Exercise 3: Emergent Topics

  • (10) Take all of the cards you have created and create clusters (this is sometimes seen as a reverse pile sort - you can in fact accomplish it by putting together any cards that go together and then grouping the small groups into larger groups and so on). The goal is to arrive at 4 to 6 clusters.
  • (10 + homework) For each cluster, write up a "topic treatment." It should have the form "I have studied/encountered X in Y and Z. In Y we saw that … while in Z we saw that …. X is personally interesting to me because I care about …. X is intellectually interesting to me because I wonder whether/how …. X might be politically interesting because …. X might be theoretically interesting because…. X might be empirically interesting because …. What about a research project that looked at whether L are ever M under conditions of N." Your goal is to create a short narrative that establishes a possible research idea as being rooted in stuff you have studied or done.