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Throughout my academic career, I have focused my research on studying groups that I am familiar with. This approach to practical research originated early on when I was an undergrad and I needed a reason to support my abstract analysis of philosophy. I decided that a practical application of philosophy to professional ethics would be more productive than armchair theorizing. I possess a strong belief that research can be exponentially beneficial to the reader when the subject matter is something that the reader is familiar with. That belief carries over to my teaching philosophy. This research statement will explain how my particular expertise will fit the goals of the institution.
Prior and current research projects
The research proposal I submitted for my master’s thesis outlined the major reasons that eligible senior citizens are prevented from applying for public assistance, particularly food stamps. I determined there were three main causes leading to seniors’ unwillingness to apply: (i) lack of knowledge regarding their eligibility; (ii) misinformation about the program; and (iii) limited access or inconvenience to enroll in the program. The reason I chose this topic was that I was working at the time for a non-profit NGO that continues to seek new ways to enroll more seniors in public benefit programs. My research and contributions to that non-profit enriched the MiCAFE Program (Michigan’s Coordinated Access to Food for the Elderly) and enrollment increased during my tenure and afterward.
The research leading up to my doctoral dissertation is built around sports sociology. I chose to advance research in that field because it is an important, but often forgotten, sub-field of the sociology of health and well-being. It is also clearly a different sector of the life-course. To extend my knowledge of the entire life-course, it is necessary to focus on the causes of healthy outcomes later in life. The study of sports sociology is the perfect fit because groups can be analyzed for both social and healthy outcomes as well as group construction and participation. Such research can provide insight to entities including, but not limited to:
- U.S. Department of Education and consultation to charter schools developing curriculum to include physical education
- Private and public insurance health plans that offer information and resources to live healthier lifestyles
- City and county parks and recreation departments
- Larger professional athletic associations and organizations like the NFL, NBA, and Major League Baseball
- Collegiate academic institutions; university athletic conferences (e.g. Big Ten); and the NCAA
Current research – contributions to field, relevance, and importance
Presently, I am conducting a study on public descriptions of collegiate athletes (portrayals) in the media. The literature review focuses on mass media and commentators’ labels on black and white players, for example, that black players are often labeled as “athletic” while white players are regularly praised for “leadership” skills. I am extending the field by examining how the individuals describe themselves and then comparing that to the media descriptions determined through prior research. I am also analyzing how the institutions portray the players, e.g., how a university presents the player’s biography on a public web page. I perform content analysis, surveying, and participant observation (to study influence). The importance of the research is three-fold, relevant to:
- The study of the individual – attitudes, presentation, identity formation
- The study of groups – influence, formation, sustainability, social norms
- The study of institutions – effects on the individual, promoting certain stereotypes
Research goals for a 3-5 year period and potential outcomes
During the next 3-5 years, I will expand my research on the study of sports sociology to include more general sociological topics through direct applications to a wider spectrum of social problems. More specifically, I will be focusing on how sports relate to family and work. Research of social problems will include, but is not limited to:
- How family structure contributes to the likelihood of a successful athlete
- Whether paternal influence is a cause of more participation in sports at a younger age
- If participation in sports at a younger age increases healthy habit frequency later in life
- The ways recreational sports strengthen racial segregation including corporate culture analysis
- Benefits resulting from exercise programs established as part of a general working environment
- Tendencies of athletes to pursue a certain set of physical labor careers or otherwise
One outcome I foresee resulting from my research is an increased awareness regarding how sports sociology benefits and is applicable to many other sociological specialties. To separate sports sociology from the study of families, health and well-being, work, and race is simply delaying progress in the field of sociology. However, I understand this fact will not be widely accepted without pertinent, strong, and relevant research that conveys new approaches to social problems.
I am quite excited to push the study of sociology forward to new realms and foster research that attacks social problems through a progressive sociological lens. My general research plan is to extend and embrace the specialization of sports sociology in its relative infancy and see that it becomes a viable and accepted option of study. This approach has been influenced by sociologists who have anticipated social problems. Furthermore, I will expand the scope of sports sociology to connect and align more closely with other sociological topics like families, health and well-being, work, and race. I will conduct research that is relevant to the aforementioned topics while maintaining a focus on sports sociology as a distinct and important subject.