Manager of Research and Strategy - Minding Your Business, Inc. (MYB)
Stephen earned his MA in Sociology from LUC in 2015.
How you have been engaged professionally since your time at Loyola. What organizations have you worked with and in what capacities?
About one month after I graduated from Loyola University Chicago, a dear colleague of mine presented me with an intriguing research opportunity at a strategic consulting agency in Chicago. The very prospect was replete with an air of foreignness; a non-academic setting, new skills to master, unfamiliar politics, and general uncertainty. Nevertheless, I was drawn to idea of charting somewhat different territory, fully leveraging the tools and techniques I developed during the Master of Arts Program in Sociology.
I was healthily anxious to begin my journey with Minding Your Business, Inc. (MYB) as an interviewer and qualitative analyst. MYB is a strategic consulting agency that specializes in growing organizations and their impacts by tackling such issues as member engagement, meeting assessment, and branding and marketing strategy. In the past seven years, MYB has worked with over 100 associations, corporations, and destinations. Their data driven approach to devising business solutions produces highly relevant and practical recommendations. I was eager to contribute to the research aspect of the business, and to absorb all I could about corporate structure and implementation of research in this industry. The business, in essence, aligns with my sociological training. We are both interested in the development of frameworks for understanding and contextualizing human action. Because of this commonality, everything just worked out really well.
In addition to qualitative analysis, my responsibilities grew to encompass database management, survey construction, survey management, quantitative analysis, and research presentations. I became a Manager of Research and Strategy in 2017 and am currently the research lead for three separate projects.
How did your time at Loyola prepare you--both professionally and personally--for your eventual career trajectory?
Loyola consistently bestowed valuable lessons in effectively communicating complex ideas. My initial experiences with project management came from the array of graduate courses at Loyola that refined crucial research skills: clear, accurate, and precise writing, setting and executing a research agenda, defining and operationalizing variables, writing literature reviews, conducting quality field work, thinking critically about arguments, and many more prized lessons.
The multidimensional exposure to research I gained at Loyola will stay with me forever. At Loyola, you are immersed in a network of individuals who share the same passions and ambitions and want you to succeed. My experience taught me that graduate school is the principal time during your career when you can really dive in, be bold, ask big questions, and make big mistakes –knowing someone, faculty member or colleague, will be there to pull you out of the rabbit hole, dust you off, and give you a carrot of wisdom before nudging you in another promising direction.
Dr. Marilyn Krogh was my instructor for two rigorous courses on social statistics which bestowed powerful techniques to situate and comprehend our research endeavors. Identifying measures of central tendency and statistically significant results are fundamentals that help us to be increasingly detailed and effective sociologists. Under Dr. Krogh’s instruction, I became proficient in factor analysis and logistic regression –techniques I deployed when writing my thesis, and continue to use in my every day work. I was also fortunate to have Dr. Judy Wittner as my professor for courses on qualitative methods which illuminated the meaning of “showing, not telling” when recording field observations. Dr. Wittner’s courses honed my ability to extract knowledge and see order in complex and seemingly chaotic situations. Dr. Rhys Williams, in addition to being my instructor for classical sociological theory, offered incredible guidance as one of my thesis advisors. Together he and Dr. Elfriede Wedam were instrumental in helping me drill down deep to tease apart signal from noise in the evolution of my project. I learned the true meaning of a cogent research agenda, mindfully operationalized variables, and clear, purposeful writing. As a Graduate Fellow for Loyola’s Center for Urban and Research and Learning, I worked alongside Christine George on a longitudinal evaluation of new educational curriculum in dental colleges that sought to elevate the importance of community based care among its students. This experience deepened my grasp of what it takes to bring a project to fruition, drafting compelling reports, and actualizing research to provide impactful and relevant recommendations. I am enduringly thankful for these collaborations and the many ways that they have enriched my career, heart, and mind.
Looking back on it, have you any advice for current or prospective LUC grad students?
My sole expectation entering graduate school was to be prepared for a whole mess of work. Even after getting into the swing of things, it took constant readjustment of my sails to stay resilient. But I would never trade the experience for anything. Even in tough times, there were always incredible lessons to elucidate. If I could give any advice to current or prospective students (or my past self), I would explain, it is not about going out and unearthing massive findings or ground-breaking contributions. You do not need to worry about being super impressive. Be yourself. You bring incredible uniqueness to the fold as you are.
As your professors will say, it is really about establishing dialogue with other topics and works, in order to create a more rigorous body of understanding and to further the conversations at hand. Regarding thesis writing, choose a topic that satiates your innate curiosity and go with it. Read up on that topic until you love it and hate it at the same time. Settle upon an unanswered question in all of your thorough reading. There is bound to be one. Create a sound method and clearly defined variables or themes. Once that outline is vetted, stay focused on that framework and get it done. Pour your heart into, no doubt, but realize this is but one chapter of larger to work to come.
Aside from that, keep your friends, family, trusted colleagues, professors, and support networks close. Graduate school is a grand endeavor that requires an immense expenditure of time and applied energy. It is not something one can lone wolf. The “you’ll never see me sweat” act does not last. Your health and well-being comes first. Call upon your religious and spiritual guides regularly. Talk to people about your experiences. Form comradery within the program. Remember to eat and sleep. Establish a work/life balance that works for you. Soak up the love and wisdom of those going through the same process and those who have been through it before. You can do it.