Jackie Henke, PhD: Identifying & Interpreting Patterns in Data for the Superior Court of California


Editorial Note:

This profile is presented as a part of a larger project with the intentions of: 1) providing students with examples of applied sociology, 2) providing market value to sociological skills and services, and 3) promoting the work of individual sociological practitioners and organizations. You can find a directory of all profiles included in this project here. We'd like to thank all those who participated by sharing their experiences as applied sociologists!


Jackie Henke, Ph.D. 

Jackie Henke,  management analyst and sociologist, earned her B.A. in Sociology as well as two master's degrees in sociology—one focused on family and gender studies and the other focused on law and society. In 2019, Dr. Henke graduated with her Ph.D. in sociology with a focus on law and society. She is now working as a management analyst with the Superior Court of California - Alameda County, which serves a mission to "fairly and efficiently resolve disputes arising under the law" and "apply the law consistently, impartially, and independently to protect the rights and liberties guaranteed by the Constitutions of California and the United States."

When we asked Dr. Henke about future employment opportunities with the Superior Court of California, she mentioned sociologists interested in such employment opportunities should have "knowledge of or experience with court processes and procedures, justice administration, public policy, data visualization, data analysis, query-writing for data extraction and formatting, statistics, PowerPoint, Excel, and dashboard design."

Read the full interview with with Dr. Henke about her applied sociology career below:


Using Sociology in Practice

In general, how do you use sociology in practice?

I draw upon my background in sociology to design and explain my research protocols, make sense of the data I work with, and communicate my findings to others. My training in sociology equips me to look at claims, data, and research findings critically. It helps me create replicable research processes. It informs how I visualize and report my conclusions.

How do you use sociological research methods in practice?

Much of my job involves identifying and interpreting patterns in data. I design procedures for querying and analyzing data. I produce statistics and visualizations to evaluate performance metrics. I communicate the implications and inferential limitations of data outputs. This process involves operationalizing concepts, identifying measures and indicators, developing hypotheses and model logics, and theorizing about social phenomena. These tasks require a solid understanding of research design, the complementary uses of qualitative and quantitative methods, and research interpretation.

Lessons for Future Practitioners

What types of courses should undergraduate students take in preparation for a career in your type of practice?

Data visualization, research design, qualitative coding, statistics, computer languages for data analysis (SQL, Stata, VBA, M-language, DAX, and/or R), sociology of law, criminology, criminal justice, sociology of punishment, social deviance, social inequalities, social problems, sociology of technology, critical theories, interpersonal communication, comparative ethics, and accessible design/communication.

What types of courses should graduate students take in preparation for a career in your type of practice?

  • Volunteer to be a court information officer.

  • Seek out internships in government or justice nonprofits.

  • Attend training sessions on research software and tools.

  • Start developing an online portfolio of data visualizations or data processing scripts.

What types of experiences should graduate students seek in preparation for a career in your type of practice?

  • Submit your research to conferences.

  • Seek out research fellowships and opportunities for applied research work. 

  • Gain experience applying for grants (small grants, travel grants, research grants, outreach grants).

  • Ensure your portfolio is a polished representation of your work, skills, and capabilities.

  • Look through descriptions and requirements for jobs you are interested in.

What are the best outlets to learn more about a career in your type of practice?

Reading through job descriptions on GovernmentJobs.com can be valuable. Government agencies vary in their data analytics maturity. Some agencies may need an analyst with advanced data scripting and analysis automation skills. Some agencies may just need an analyst who is willing to work with messy data and learn on the job. Reaching out to professionals in your field can be useful too. Ask about arranging an informational meeting or a shadow day with an analyst. Also, consider applying to internships or fellowships in your field if you can secure funding and your schedule allows.


What advice do you have for aspiring sociological practitioners?

  • Build a portfolio of reports, data visualizations, tools you've developed for data processing, or presentations.

  • Do research work outside of academia. Look for research internships and fellowships at nonprofits and government agencies. Seek out programs which fund and place student researchers with partner organizations.

  • Learn about software for data visualization and data analysis. Take courses from your university. Take online training courses. Some school and public libraries offer free subscriptions to online learning courses (like Lynda.com or LinkedIn Learning). Use these resources.

  • Build your network in small ways. Talk to other students in your program; volunteer at agencies or professional organizations relevant to your interests; attend talks and lectures you are interested in; and work on projects you care about. Being present in professional spaces, even if you aren't actively "networking" or "making connections," is valuable.


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