PhD in Sociology

Virginia D’Antonio, 2017

Virginia D’Antonio

December 2017 graduate, Virginia D’Antonio, spent the past three and a half years as a part-time student in the PhD in sociology program in George Mason University’s College of Humanities and Social Sciences. After earning her bachelor’s at Chapman University in Orange County, California and her master’s from DePaul University in Chicago, Illinois, Virginia took a 15-year break before coming back to school to pursue her PhD. She said, “getting my doctorate was something I always wanted to do, especially since I’ve been teaching sociology for so long. I wanted to get the terminal degree to open myself up to more opportunities to get published and get more work in research and academia. I always wanted to do it, I just wanted to wait until I had more job security and for my daughter to get a little bit older.”

D’Antonio chose George Mason because of the program’s affordability and accommodating course schedule. “I found the scheduling of classes fit my needs because of when they were being offered,” she said. “The professors were also available outside of the classroom for mentoring and networking, helping introduce students to opportunities in the region that were available. This was all in addition to the coursework I took, helping me prepare for what I want to do in the future.”

For her dissertation, Virginia researched how Corvette communities are an example of the way to reengage individuals in voluntary leisure communities. “Over the last 60 years, America has experienced a significant decline in volunteer organizations like book clubs, gardening clubs, bowling leagues, PTA, etc.,” she said. “It’s dying out. I show through my research that people are providing a consumer activity. The sports car they love is actually helping them find common interests and creating social cohesion. Members of the community are building social capital that then helps reengage them with their local communities to do significant philanthropic work and meeting the needs of the local communities that maybe the government or private entities haven’t done.”

Virginia selected the topic because of her husband and two stepsons. “They’d take me to see local car shows on weekends,” she said. “We’d meet people, see their classic and new cars, and I found a sense of community that was really inviting and I wanted to be a part of it. I liked how the owners of each car had stories to tell about what drew them into car culture. Nostalgia and patriotism were both variables that I looked at and measured quantitatively, and I found The Corvette symbolizes the American dream. It is a reflection of their successes in life and how hard they had worked to get that car after building their own dreams.” She added that gathering data for her dissertation was never an issue and that she enjoyed every minute because the individuals she studied were inviting and interested in sharing their experiences to be part of her research.

Despite her job title and degree program, D’Antonio doesn’t consider herself a sociologist in the most traditional sense. As a PhD student at Mason, her dissertation committee encouraged her to explore research in other disciplines. She took that opportunity to study consumer behavior, consumer culture, and consumer marketing theories and looked at the role sociology played in all of those. This interdisciplinary approach helped her complete her dissertation, and now plays a part in the classroom when she’s teaching her own students. “My approach to sociology is interdisciplinary,” she said. “I like to look at what economics, history, psychology, business, and marketing have to say about things and how they overlap with sociology.”

Now that she’s completed her degree, Virginia plans to continue teaching sociology, whether that be at her current institution (Northern Virginia Community College) or in a tenure track position at a four-year university. She is also considering a career in marketing research and studying consumer behavior as a result of the interdisciplinary experience she received at Mason.

For future students considering a PhD program, Virginia said “I’m really proud of the fact that I worked my way through and paid my own way through this program. People say you should never pay for a PhD and always chase funding, but for me, that was never a consideration. It means even more to me that I did it on my own and didn’t seek outside funding. It’s a huge investment, but it’s worth it and can be done. If you set your life up correctly, you can do it.”