Sociological look at gas drilling opens students' eyes

Sociology Research

A sociological look at the impact of Marcellus Shale natural gas drilling boom has led to a new perspective for a Bloomsburg University research team, particularly within the research process itself.

A sociological look at the impact of Marcellus Shale natural gas drilling boom has led to a new perspective for a Bloomsburg University research team, particularly within the research process itself.

Led by Chris Podeschi, associate professor of sociology, a student tandem examined focus group transcripts this summer from interviews Podeschi and colleagues did in 2013 about the impact of the drilling on communities in the region. It provided the students’ an up-close look, hands-on experience with research.

“We’re analyzing the data to see if gender played a role in the experience of the boom and its perception,” Podeschi said. “In short, we’re looking to see if women speak about the boom differently from men and vice versa.”

Podeschi and his students coded each comment based on a set of topics through computer software. They then reviewed the work to see if there were differences in what men and women emphasized. Their efforts were presented at the inaugural Energy Impacts Symposium at Ohio State University.

“They’re learning a lot about the social impacts of hydraulic fracturing by seeing what these people shared with us about their experience in a fracking ‘boomtown,’” Podeschi said. “They’re also learning a lot about research methodology, in particular fun stuff like intercoder reliability and Atlas.ti, a powerful data analysis software package.”

According to Jorden Rowe, a senior sociology major, this summer’s experience opened her eyes to the process of focus group research.

“It was intriguing to see how the participants really got into the questions and expressed their feelings after getting warmed up with the moderators and one another,” Rowe said. “It’s fascinating to see how the interaction in the focus group brought together the ideas that were shared and helped create new ideas.”

Rowe said the participants had both positive and negative views of fracking.

“It was appealing to read about their reasoning behind their feelings, as well as the similarities and differences within each focus group,” said Rowe, adding she gained an appreciation for the importance of intercoder reliability, the degree to which individual researchers are able to consistently interpret diverse data the same way.

“The whole experience was a learning process,” Rowe said. “It was great to be able to carry out the process of research I have learned in my courses here at BU.”

Anthony Taylor, a senior sociology major, agreed. Taylor added the experience motivated him to get involved in more research.

“I aim to conduct my own projects in the near future, so getting this experience now pairs so well with my academic interests,” said Taylor, senior sociology major. “Opportunities like this help me prepare for graduate school by having me work collectively with other professors and students. I want to become a sociology professor, but as of now working close with people in the major and other scholars prepares me for the teaching assistant aspect of graduate school.”

Rowe also sees this experience as a stepping stone for her next step after graduation.

“This opportunity taught me the importance of research and the effort that goes into it,” Rowe said “This was another new (learning) experience under my belt. I’m hoping this will help show potential employers my capabilities and willingness to work hard, as well as engage in new experiences.”

Why major in sociology?

Sociology appeals to both a careerist and an idealist, providing intriguing course content and intellectual development while offering diverse career options. As a sociologist, you can either run the world or help change it. Among the popular career options include research and planning, agencies, government, criminal justice and advocacy.

Sociology is a diverse social science that brings both qualitative and quantitative ("scientific") methods to bear on understanding human and group or institutional behavior. The focus is on understanding the impact of social, cultural or interactional contexts on behavior (i.e., it's an "environmental" science that looks at how contextual factors guide or structure the choices people and groups make).

As a sociology major, you will ... Bloomsburg University's sociology program offers majors the opportunity to look at various substantive areas in the discipline, as well as ample opportunity to explore personal interests.

Faculty specialization and teaching interests include:

  • economic stratification
  • race and ethnicity
  • crime and deviance
  • family dynamics
  • the workplace
  • sports
  • community and population
  • mass media
  • environmental issues