Meet the Professor: Rachel La Touche

February 15, 2019 by Kate Paik

The Department of Sociology at the University of Toronto has a diverse faculty of professors who have a wide range of experiences. While they share backgrounds in sociology and its intersecting disciplines, each faculty member has individual experiences that have shaped their academic careers. In this series, we interview faculty at the St. George campus to acknowledge and share these stories, and get to know the influences behind their journeys.

Professor La Touche is an Assistant Professor at the University of Toronto. Her research centers on inequality at the level of interaction, and within the social contexts that individuals routinely participate, such as how higher education institutions structure the mental health of those within them. In this interview, she discusses the experiences that led to her career in sociology, as well as her positive teaching experiences at U of T.

What led you to pursue a career in sociology?

I started as a Psychology major during undergrad, intrigued by questions in mental health and social psychology. In fact, early in my undergraduate studies, I considered a career in biomedical ethics. After a number of undergraduate courses, though, I felt Sociology was the best fit for my substantive interests. I didn’t start thinking about a “career”  in Sociology until the end of my undergraduate degree – and all thanks to a graduate TA who told me to consider graduate school. I’m not sure I fully understood what that meant at the time, but I did take the recommendation seriously, and considered what doors might open if I pursued an advanced degree. After doing an honours thesis in my senior year, I decided to move forward with an MA and then PhD in Sociology. In a strange (and very privileged) manner, I followed my substantive interests first and foremost; pursuing a career in Sociology came afterward.

What, in your own undergraduate experience, was important for you?

Writing an honours thesis was my first opportunity to conduct research in undergrad, and that helped build my confidence as a young scholar. While it was frustrating at first – in particular, crafting a well-developed research question – I had excellent supervisory support, and was able to design a research study, collect and analyze data, all within a single semester. I’m especially grateful that it taught me the value and challenge of thorough research design – something I continue to develop (and teach) as a scholar today.

What do you enjoy about teaching sociology to undergraduate students?

Sociology gets a bad reputation for just being “common sense,” so teaching allows me to debunk that myth and show students what the discipline really has to offer. More than anything, teaching sociology helps bring students renewed energy for engaging in the world, encouraging them to examine taken-for-granted assumptions about the world, and engage in new lines of inquiry. I feel grateful for the opportunity to help students through this process. Teaching Sociology isn’t one-directional though – I learn so much from my students as well, and I get as much out of that as I do teaching them.

Do you have any stories about particularly positive experiences you have had teaching sociology to undergraduates?

I’ve been fortunate to teach undergraduate Sociology for numerous years, before and during my time here at U of T. In those years I’ve had many positive experiences, from students telling me they decided on Sociology as a major after taking one of my classes, to winning awards for undergraduate instruction. If I had to choose the most rewarding, it would be hearing updates from students after they’ve completed their undergraduate degrees, whether they entered the workforce immediately or continued onto graduate training. It is very comforting to hear past students recall fond memories of the courses they’ve taken and material they covered, and to hear them talk about how they continue to make use of it. There really is nothing else I hope for – I want to see students make use of the material they’ve learned in my courses and well beyond.