| | |

Career: Sociologist

A Day in the life of a Sociologist

Sociologists study human society and social behavior through the prism of group formations and social, political, religious, and economic institutions. How individuals interact with each other within given contexts, the origin and development of social groups are important indices by which the sociologist conducts his research and draws conclusions. Because of the breadth and scope of this field, sociologists usually specialize in one or more of a number of areas. Areas of specialty include education, family, racial and ethnic relations, revolution, war, and peace, social psychology, gender roles and relations, and urban, rural, political, and comparative sociology. Sociologists have keen senses of observation and analysis, and abundant and natural curiosity. Because they are engaged in observing, analyzing, defining, testing, and explaining human behavior, there is virtually no area of modern life in which a sociologist’s research or conclusions are not valuable. From advertising to industry to criminology to medicine to government, sociologists and the research they conduct can enhance sales, improve productivity, shape social policy, resolve social conflicts, promote political platforms and influence lawmakers. The presidential election of 1996, for example, turns on the tide of voter sentiment regarding the controversial issues of welfare, immigration, and abortion rights. Sociological researchers, with their evaluations of the relevance and effectiveness of social programs, have shaped and will continue to shape the direction and tone of political life as we know it. “Every political action committee, every group or organization with an agenda to introduce, extend, eliminate, or maintain legislative policies have or will at some time employ the services of sociologists,” says one professor of sociology. “There are a vast number of social programs which are on the budget cutting block (such as funding for abortion clinics, AIDS research, welfare, and Medicaid). Sociological research is an invaluable tool in determining the impact these cuts will have on its constituents.” Sociologists must be meticulous and patient in carefully observing and gathering notes on a particular subject. Some “results” are measurably slow in manifesting themselves and could take months or years. Statistics and computers are central to a sociologist’s work, but so too are qualitative methods such as focus group-based research and social impact evaluations. Preconceived notions must give way to scientific methodology of data collection and objectivity, as they must be open to new ideas and social and cultural situations. Strong analytical skills, statistics, data gathering, and analysis, qualitative methods of research, survey methods, computer techniques, and counseling and interviewing skills are all part of the core of sociology.

Paying Your Dues

To bypass most entry-level positions in social services, marketing, management, or personnel, be prepared to keep studying. At best, a Bachelor’s degree in Sociology with the requisite training in survey methods and statistics will get you a junior analyst post with a research company or a government agency. If you like the challenge of child care or juvenile counseling then an undergraduate degree will also get you there. But if you have your sight set on applied research or teaching at community college, then the minimum requirement is a Master’s degree in Sociology. But keep studying: A Ph.D. is the only route to most senior-level positions in corporations, research institutes, government agencies, and tenure at colleges and universities. If an extensive educational background is central to success in this career, then choosing the right graduate school is equally important. Applicants should look for schools which offer courses relevant to their areas of interest, adequate research facilities that provide practical experience and placement services that find research and teaching assistantships for students.

Associated Careers

Because the core requirement of sociology is an understanding of social institutions and behavior, the sociologist is not unlike other social scientists such as economists, psychologists, anthropologists, political scientists, and social workers in that their work also involves social impact assessment. Research methods crucial in sociology also form the basis of these other professions and thus ensure an easy transition to an alternate career.

USC Social Work Quiz Banner

Ask an Educational Advisor
Resume Services