Shannon Compton: D.P.T. OU Health Sciences Center

Greetings, current Sociology students! I am a former Sociology student, asked by Dr. Chase to write some things about my occasionally messy path from college to where I am now, so that perhaps you can all glean some lessons from it.

Currently, I work as a physical therapist for individuals with traumatic brain injuries. How I got from TU to where I am now was a convoluted process to say the least. Deciding to go back to graduate school for a degree in physical therapy was not an easy choice, and one I arrived at only after much deliberation and self-reflection.

I graduated from TU in December ’09, and accepted a job at the Tulsa City Council, thinking I wanted to wear suits and work in politics. Thanks to that first job, I learned that I hated both politics and sitting behind a desk all day. In my attempt to escape and find something else to do, I think I applied for about fifteen different jobs, looked into eight different graduate degrees, and briefly considered selling high-end running shoes just to get away from my job. Without boring you with too many specifics, the following principles helped me get to where I am now:

  1. Have At Least One Wise, Well-Connected Friend (WWCF) This is my one piece of advice in my short career that I have learned is invaluable. It is good to maintain a relationship with a WWCF to whom you can occasionally do some light bemoaning of your situation. Usually, this person can help you find solutions to problems, or get you in touch with the right people to do so. This works for me all the time, and it is how I have gotten most of my job leads and networking connections.
  2. Shadowing Real Professionals Thanks to my WWCF and some casual bemoaning, I ended up shadowing dietitians and discovering that career is not for me. I also shadowed physical therapists and realized my passion for my current profession. Shadowing gives you a great idea of what everyday life is like at a certain job, and most people are surprisingly open to having a random stranger follow them around at work. If someone is nice enough to let you shadow them, please buy them coffee and send them a thank you note later, and pay it forward in your own career down the line.
  3. Horrible, Horrible Self-Reflection It took me a long time to admit I was not happy at my job and do the hard work of figuring out what career I wanted. Self-reflection helped me realize that ultimately I craved the job security of belonging to a definable profession. Unfortunately for those of us who thoroughly enjoy living the unexamined life, stopping to take stock of your thoughts turns out to be important.

Physical therapy might seem to have nothing to do with my undergrad degree, but studying sociology changed the way I look at the world, and it’s hard to close that box once it’s been opened. Watching my professional association duke it out on a regular basis with the chiropractors and osteopaths on the definition of physical therapy and who can provide it is a living lesson ripped straight out of the Medical Sociology class I took. I also spend an admittedly weird amount of time dreaming up qualitative research projects I want to do with my patients and their families. Finding the right career path can be messy, frustrating, and occasionally rewarding. Don’t ever feel limited by the idea of what jobs you “belong” in as a sociology major, because sociology applies to every aspect of life, and the skills you are learning now will serve you well in many different careers.

(Shannon Compton, B.A. Sociology, 2009)