My Development as an Academic, Researcher & Educator

All the activities connected to the course of Economic Sociology in the first semester of the academic year 2004/2005 were very important for my own development as an academic, researcher and educator. I started to specialize myself in a new field of science, that of Economic Sociology. The Economic Sociology was taught in Romania only in Bucharest at the Academy of Economic Sciences. Probably the cause for this is the fact that the sociologists teaching this subject matter have to know a lot about Macroeconomics, Microeconomics and History of Economic Thought. This is very difficult because sociologists learn during the student years only a semester’s course in basic Economics. For me there it very helpful the fact I studied many economic disciplines as a 3rd year student in Finances and Banks. It was also an advantage for me the fact that I studied the topic of Business Elite during my Ph.D. in Sociology.
All through the implementation of my project I met different barriers.
First, it was the mentality of my students. They were accustomed to be evaluated in their student years only for their work at the end of the semester exams. Many of them are not very motivated to learn because they believe it is difficult to find a job as a sociologist in Oradea labor market. They believe the meritocracy in Romania means almost nothing and for all the good jobs they need social linkages in the private companies and the public organizations. Many of them are not motivated to learn English and this point caused me difficulties during the seminars. Many of them are not aware by the fact that in the future (since 2007) all the Romanian professionals should speak English if they intend to be connected to the realities of the European Union. I have to add that almost all students had difficulties in understanding Economic Sociology because of the lack of Economics knowledge. They learnt Economics in the first year and the temporal distance between the first year and the fourth year is huge.
Second, it was the institutional framework. In our system, most of the academics lay stress on the memory of the students not on their critical thinking. There are no mid-term exams as in the American academic system and only a small part of the academic staff lay stress on the critical thinking essays. If a subject matter is considered optional, many students and many academics consider that an optional course means a course where it is easy to learn and they can get good marks after assessment.
Another barrier was the presence of the invited colleague from the Economics department. She promised she would be present to all seminars but her enthusiasm diminished after the first presence. The problem was of course that she became the scientific director of the Economics Department and her daily schedule became very busy.
Last but not least, it was rather difficult for me to write and teach the course in Economic Sociology, because it is a new branch of sociology even for me. I had the experience of studying business elite and the labor market but these are just two chapters from a very large field of study. I can say that the preparations regarding the content of the course are the beginning of my specialization in a very attractive field of Sociology.
I tried to overcome the barriers in different ways. First, I considered I have to make myself understood during the lectures and the seminars. I tried to interact all the time with my students, I tried to provoke them to argue during the lectures and the seminars and I gave them a lot of examples from the real economy. I told them the world of the labor market is changing and they have to become more motivated to learn. I gave them a lot of explanations for the pure Economics topics.
I told them how important it is to speak English and how important it was the mastering of this language for my own career. Because usually just a few students were reading the articles for the seminars I tried to exploit the ideas of these students and to provoke the other colleagues to share with us their knowledge.
When I created the reader I understood that it was better if I a large part of it consisted of Romanian written articles. As a consequence, the reader contains 60% articles written in Romanian and 40% articles written in English. Then all the students had the possibility to read and to reflect on these articles. This is a very important outcome of my entire work for the CRC project.
For the first meeting with my students, I explained how important the CRC project is and I spoke about the assessment, the work for seminars and the importance of this border discipline. I stressed the idea that one of the most important objectives of the assessment is the critical thinking and I explained them how to create good essays.
I tried to motivate my invited guest telling her about the importance of the CRC project for our students. She seemed to be at the beginning very enthusiastic but, as I said before, this enthusiasm diminished. When I realized this, I talked to my father who helped me by coming to two seminars. The seminars where the invited guests were present created a very good impression to my students and motivated them to be involved in the discussions.
I worked hard to read as much as possible to create a good course content. I think that I could be glad about my work because many students told me the course content was very interesting and very easy for learning. It was a personal satisfaction for me to hear this.
I believe that as curriculum and as assessment my course is very innovative. I introduced two chapters that are the results of my own fieldwork. I introduced in a course of sociology two chapters where I analyzed different economics schools of thought from a sociological perspective. I also introduced a chapter on the “Social Meaning of Money” for the first time in a Romanian academic course.
The innovation of the project supposes the introduction of the midterm exam, the use of the reader for the seminar’s work and the stress laid on the critical thinking. In the assessment process the essay mark is 60% from the final mark.
By teaching the course in Economic Sociology I understood how important it is to know many things from your own fieldwork. I believe the best lectures I taught were those when I spoke about my own research experience. I remember that in France at the M.A. level the academics speak about their own books and a little about the theories written by the other authors in that particular field of the science. I understood that my course content will be better when I have field researches connected to all of the chapters of the course. It is very interesting to consider the American economy and society but the outcomes from the research of Romania economy and society are more important for a course as this one.
The best lecture from my own point of view was when I spoke about the economic elite. Between 1999 and 2002 I did a qualitative research on this topic and I presented to my students the outcomes of this fieldwork. This lecture was very interesting and very important because I reflected on the topics as the local business elite, the factors of economic success and the linkages between local business elite and local political elite.
I also spoke about the integration of the low educated in the local labor market stressing the situation of the Roma population. I proved to my students that the low educated are the least integrated on the labor market and I laid stress on the vicious circle of the poverty.
Of course after teaching a new course even the academic knows better the main issues of the discipline. I can say that when I improve the course content I will add new topics and I will diminish the importance of other topics. For example, I think it is not necessary to have too many pages on Keynes, the Classical and the Neo Classical economic thinkers. I could reduce all of these issues in just one lecture. I could also introduce a new class about the “Economic Development and Social Modernization”.
Teaching this course I understood better what New Institutionalism means in Economics and Economic Sociology and what are the main issues connected to the “Theory of the Transaction Costs”. Probably in a new course of Economic Sociology I will reflect more on this topic and I will add new examples.
I understood that the concept of the economic institution is one of the key concepts of the discipline. Because this concept is present in the explanations of many topics and Institutionalism is a paradigm where Sociology meets Economics.
I also understood that the concept of market is very important. In a new course of Economic Sociology I will write more on this topic adding the outcomes from new researches on financial markets. In the near future, I will research different problems connected to the labor market phenomenon and I can say that in the present I continue the fieldwork about the relationship between the low education and the labor market integration.
After the first semester, I understood that all the academics have to be not only educators but researchers. It is a problem in the Romanian academic system the fact that many academics are only theorists but they are not oriented to the fieldwork.
I also understood that it is difficult to work with the students using articles in English. In the near future, I will have to translate all of the articles into Romanian. It is better if the seminar articles are the outcomes of different field researches and it is very good if they are the result of the academic’s own work. I know now how important the presence of the invited guest at seminars is. I believe that this means 50% from a very good seminar. It is more attractive for the students. I did not know this before the project. I can say these seminars changed my own vision about the work with the students.
Now I also understand better that the internet resources could be very well exploited especially for the seminars and essay writing activities. It was very important to my students when I wrote on the blackboard different internet addresses from the American scientific centers.
A very important innovation will be for the near future the introduction of the video projector during the lectures. I will need this tool in my future lectures. I tried to be very interactive with my students but I believe that they could understand better if I use this modern educational instrument.
It was very important for me and for my students the introduction of this border discipline. The students understood that is a very important field of study and that many researches could be realized in this field, especially if they focus on topics such as education and economy, labor markets, financial markets, informal economy, consumerism, corporations, elite and globalization. In fact, the students understood that the economy is the engine of the social development but there are also cultural influences on the economy. The economy and the society could not be studied separately. How Mark Granovetter and Karl Polanyi well put the economic action is embedded in the social structure.
Of course, as I said before, this project is just the beginning for me in the study of Economic Sociology.
In June, I will participate at the annual meeting of the “Society for the Advancement of the Socio-Economics” in Budapest. I will present there an article about the local labor market.
In the future, I will try to become a specialist in this field. I want for the next two years to study the relationship between economy and education, the labor market and the informal economy. I plan to read in the next three years many books and articles written by the best authors in Economic Sociology. I want to write a better and larger book on this topic. And, of course, as the scientific European cooperation is necessary, I plan to participate to different research projects.
As a conclusion, I have to say that the most important idea after the completing of this project is that of the need of modernization of the entire Romanian higher education system. What I did in my case is a good beginning, but I have to continue and, more important, to persuade my young colleagues to change their vision about higher education. I believe that the students know that a modern approach is completely different from the old traditional style of academic education. They know, even if they disliked last autumn, that midterm exams could make their work easier for the final exams. They also know after an open analysis of their essays what a good essay is and what a bad essay is. They do not like the academics that are very severe in the assessment process but, if there is not exigency and objective criteria, there is no quality, performance and progress.