Loyola University Chicago

Department of Sociology

Melissa Gesbeck

Education Research Associate - Division of Education at the American College of Surgeons (ACS)


Melissa earned her MA in Sociology from LUC in 2009 and went on to complete her PhD here in 2015.

How you have been engaged professionally since your time at Loyola. What organizations have you worked with and in what capacities?

As a medical sociologist, I am primarily concerned with improving well-being and health care in our society.  At present, I work as the Education Research Associate in the Division of Education at the American College of Surgeons (ACS).  I manage projects around the creation and evaluation of continuing medical education (CME) and continuing professional development (CPD) for surgeons, doing both academic and applied research in surgical education.  I am most excited about the use of surgical simulation technologies for new skills acquisition across the life course of the surgical career.  ACS is a key player in setting standards for surgical training worldwide and my work contributes to large-scale improvements in surgical outcomes for patients and training for surgeons.


How did your time at Loyola prepare you--both professionally and personally--for your eventual career trajectory?

I gained subject matter expertise in health care policy and the professionalization of health care practitioners through coursework and writing special field exams in sociology of the professions and medical sociology, an MA thesis on perceived access to health care services, and a PhD dissertation on professional diabetes care in the U.S. To prepare me for a broad range of career paths, I took every methods course that was available, including an interdisciplinary research-based experiential learning course on GIS.

Because I had teaching experience in sociology and made connections to the School of Nursing through the GIS course, I also had the opportunity to design and teach an undergraduate research-based experiential learning course in the Health Systems Management program.  By expanding my Loyola network beyond the Department of Sociology, I gained health care research experience and arranged several informational interviews that showed me ways I might do meaningful work to improve health care outside of the tenure track.

I have been most influenced by three mentors in the Department of Sociology: Dr. Anne Figert,  Dr. Judith Wittner, and Dr. Kelly Moore.  All three thickened my skin for criticism, teaching me how to ask better questions and helping me to take risks like pursuing a post-academic career. I am grateful for the ways they have challenged and supported me, especially Dr. Figert who fostered a culture of collegiality among grad students while she was the Graduate Program Director, making it easier to seek support amongst my peers than it might otherwise have been.  Dr. Sue Penckofer in the School of Nursing has mentored me through the transition into health sciences research.


Looking back on it, have you any advice for current or prospective LUC grad students?

Three pieces of advice:

1. Think long and hard about what sort of work you want to do with your education and ask multiple people in the field you wish to join, outside of the program, for their advice regarding your training. Do not be shy.  Graduate school is a long-term commitment and you will have experiences in both your academic work and your personal life that will change you over the years.  As you approach each milestone in your program, check in with yourself to make sure the path you are on is still the right one for you.  If you proceed in the program, you will have made a conscious commitment to do so, and each step forward will honor that commitment.  If you decide not to proceed, no matter at what point, nothing will be lost. Remember, not all paths require a PhD.

2. You are probably not going to be good at the thing you are trying to do for the first time.  That is okay.  Nobody knows how to write a dissertation until they have written a dissertation, and nobody expects perfection from you.  You are learning while doing, including how not to do things.  Failure is full of good data; do better.

3. Make friends with your classmates.  Not only will you have someone with whom to figure things out, but you will also have people in your life who understand the precious, difficult experience of getting through your program.