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.

Present and Future

Once, an undergraduate degree in sociology would ensure upward mobility in this profession. Today, advanced degrees and specialization are the norm. As society becomes more sophisticated and fragmented into special interest groups, there are no boundaries limiting the work that sociologists will be called upon to do. The fast-paced growth of technology means that sociologists will have to keep current with computer techniques which make research easier. Sociologists will also need to keep abreast of social institutions and be able to anticipate trends while constantly updating or reviewing research in particular areas.

Quality of Life

PRESENT AND FUTURE

The first two years are the groundbreaking years of this profession. A recent sociology graduate will probably find herself reading, researching, and writing reports, articles, and books. At any level of the educational ladder, and in any setting, private or public, the sociologist will experience the pressure of deadlines, possibly heavy work loads, and long hours. Those specializing in clinical or applied sociology should be certified by the Sociological Practice Association (SPA).

FIVE YEARS OUT

At this level, the sociologist has gained significant experience in the core elements of the profession and should be amassing a small bundle of published articles and reports. By this time the professional should have risen up the ranks to a middle-management or senior-level position. If the sociologist has a Ph.D. and is a college professor, then he should be seeking tenure.

TEN YEARS OUT

At the ten-year level, the sociologist has made remarkable progress in her career. By now she should have a few publication titles to her credit, should be abreast of the latest computer techniques and should have returned to school for refresher courses, development seminars, and ad hoc workshops and conferences.