Introduction to Sociology/Being a Sociologist

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Introduction[edit | edit source]

Now that you know what sociologists study, you might be wondering: What can you do with a degree in sociology? In an ideal world, just studying social problems would make them go away. But, alas, as you've learned from reading this book, we don't live in an ideal world and there is far more to do than just study social life with a degree in Sociology. The American Sociological Association, among others, has looked into this question and has some pretty intriguing answers.[1] What follows is a brief explanation of what you can do with a degree in Sociology.

Sociology Majors[edit | edit source]

Despite the many tests that suggest otherwise, there is no correlation between personality and career choice.[2] Thus, there is no particular "personality type" among sociology majors.

The average graduating sociology major is a young female (early 20s) who is white and single. Almost 80% of students graduating with sociology degrees are female, and nearly that many (75%) are white. Less than half of the parents of sociology majors have baccalaureate degrees of their own.[1]

Many sociology majors choose the major because they found their first exposure to the discipline engaging (usually through an introductory course). Most sociology majors chose the discipline because they found the concepts discussed in their course interesting. Only 7% of sociology majors choose the discipline because it appears easy, and relatively few (5%) choose it because the major they wanted was unavailable. In other words, sociology majors find the discipline exciting and challenging and generally enjoy studying sociology.[1]

By the time they graduate, 90% of sociology majors report understanding the basic concepts of the discipline (e.g., social structure, social stratification, etc.). Most also grasp the differences in the theoretical paradigms of sociology (e.g., structural functionalism, conflict theory, etc.). Sociology majors feel confident in the following skills as a result of their degree: identifying ethical issues in research, developing evidence-based arguments, evaluating different research methods, writing reports that are understandable by non-sociologists, forming causal hypothesis, using computers to develop reference lists, interpreting the results of data analysis, and using statistical software (though slightly less than 50% feel confident in their ability to use statistical software).[1]

Sociology majors are generally satisfied overall with their experience earning a sociology degree. Most are also satisfied with the quality of teaching, the accessibility to technology and faculty, their interaction with other majors, and getting the courses they need to graduate. Unfortunately, most students (between 80% and 92%) are dissatisfied with the information provided on graduate school and career opportunities (hopefully this brief chapter will help fill this void).[1]

Bachelor's Degree Occupations[edit | edit source]

What can you do with a Baccalaureate degree in Sociology? While it may not seem like it when you are deep into studying race relations or gender stratification, the training you receive as a sociology major is actually quite applicable outside academia as well. College graduates trained in sociology bring unique and valuable insights into business decisions concerning issues surrounding race, ethnicity, gender, age, education, and social class.[3] To give a specific example, a sociology major could help a company like CVS realize the problem with tagging hair care items for African Americans with anti-theft measures while not doing the same for hair care items for whites.[4] Practices like these may seem pragmatic to the managers of these stores, but they also alienate consumers.[4]

College graduates trained in sociology bring many skills to their jobs, including: the ability to recognize trends and patterns, the ability to create concise reports and essays, strong critical thinking skills, oral presentation skills, strong interpersonal communication skills, skills in data collection and analysis using statistical software, grant writing skills, management skills, and planning and organizational skills.[5] All of these skills are potentially invaluable contributions to workplaces.

Most graduating seniors (around 72%) plan on getting a job right out of college. Around 40% plan on going on to graduate school (these paths aren't mutually exclusive of course, you can work while going to graduate school). There are a number of institutions where sociologists find employment, including: schools, churches, hospitals, corporations, government, and social service agencies.[3] For those planning on getting jobs, all of the following are career paths sociology majors are well-suited for: organizational planning, development, and training; human resource management; industrial relations; marketing; public relations; organizational research; and international business.[6]

The Corporate World[edit | edit source]

Some sociologists find the adaptation of their sociological training and insights to the business world relatively easy.[3] Corporations want and need to understand their customers' habits and preferences in order to anticipate changes in their markets. This drive to understand consumers is called consumer research and is a growing interest of corporations. Sociology majors are particularly well-suited for this type of research as the ultimate goal of empirical sociological research is to predict human behavior.[7] This particular niche may be the single largest opportunity for sociologists in the corporate world.[3]

Another budding area in modern retail firms is site selection, or the determination of the best locations for new stores. Site selection requires understanding human ecology and consumer spending patterns, both of which are addressed using the sociological imagination.[3] Some additional direct applications of sociology include concept and product testing (which will put to good use training in research methods), the evaluating of global market opportunities (which will draw upon understandings of various cultures), long-range planning and forecasting (which draws on both statistics and futurist perspectives), marketing and advertising (which applies consumer studies directly), and human resource management (which relies on studies of organizational behavior).[3]

Future Educational Plans of Graduating Sociology Majors[1]
Field of Study %
Education 22.6
Counseling/Psychology 14.9
Applied Sociology, MA and related areas 11.6
Masters in Social Work 11.3
Law Degree 11.0
Criminology 7.7
Doctorate in Sociology 5.7
Medical/Nursing 4.8
Marketing/Business Administration 3.9
Public Affairs/Public Policy 3.3
Communication 2.1
Other 1.2

One way to situate yourself well for the corporate world after earning your Bachelor's degree in Sociology would be to double major in Sociology and Business or minor in Business. This would give you the credentials that hiring departments in the business world are looking for while simultaneously allowing you to focus on Sociology. Another key to succeeding in the corporate world with a degree in Sociology is to market your specific skill set.[8] As noted above, a degree in Sociology provides you with skills that many other college graduates lack. Emphasizing those skills on your resumes and in job interviews increases the odds of you being hired and you using those skills in your job. There is also evidence to suggest that sociology graduates who use their sociological training in their jobs post graduation are more satisfied with their jobs.[8]

Non-Governmental Organizations[edit | edit source]

Non-Governmental Organizations (or NGOs) are legally constituted organizations created by private persons or organizations with no participation or representation of any government. Examples of NGOs include Oxfam, Catholic Relief Services, CARE International, and Lutheran World Relief. Many NGOs are concerned with the very social problems and social issues sociologists study, from poverty to gender stratification to world population growth. NGOs are ideal opportunities for sociology majors to apply what they have learned in college.

Continuing Your Education[edit | edit source]

For those planning on continuing their education, the table to the right breaks down the most frequently chosen fields of study for sociology majors:

Many professional degree programs (e.g., medical school and law school) do not, in fact, require someone to have a specific undergraduate degree. Sociology majors can carry the sociological imagination into medical practice, offering sociological insights while practicing medicine. In 2001, sociology majors had a 42% acceptance rate into medical school.[9]

Sociology majors should view their undergraduate education as opening doors for them into many possible fields of work and study. Two factors seems to limit the occupational prospects of sociologists: The first limiting factor is their own imagination. The sociological imagination is applicable to almost every occupation and field of research, from studying how physicists do their work [10] to union organizing.[11] The second limiting factors is that many people do not know what sociologists are trained to do. This should only be a limiting factor up until they meet a sociology major!

PhD Degree Occupations[edit | edit source]

What can you do with a PhD in Sociology? A PhD in Sociology prepares an individual for a variety of career options, including all of those mentioned above for someone with a Bachelor's Degree in Sociology (e.g., marketing, non-governmental organizations, etc.), but it also means you will be much better qualified for these types of jobs. Graduate training in Sociology includes a greater emphasis on research methodology and statistics. It also often includes training in qualitative research methods, like content analysis. Additionally, graduate training includes much more in depth analysis and discussion of many of the topics discussed in your undergraduate training. The format of graduate training may also differ as many of the classes are designed as a seminar rather than a lecture-oriented class - students will come to class meetings having read the assigned readings and then discuss them under the supervision of a professor.

Sociology PhDs by Employment Sector in 2003[12]
Employment Sector %
Educational Institutions 74.6
Private Industry - For-Profit 6.5
Private Industry - Not-For-Profit 8.3
Government 6.9
Self-Employed and Other 3.4

All of this additional training will prepare a PhD in Sociology for advanced careers in fields as diverse as corporate marketing and statistical forecasting to community organizing and lobbying. A PhD in quantitative research and demography could lead to a career at the Census Bureau or the World Bank.

Another obvious occupation one can pursue is as an academic sociologist, working at a college or university. Depending on the type of university or college where one works, the job description will vary substantially. Some colleges - typically four-year liberal arts colleges - focus on teaching. In contrast, research universities - which include PhD programs - focus on research. Thus, what your job description would be as an academic sociologist could range from a heavy emphasis on teaching undergraduates to a heavy emphasis on teaching graduate students. In both types of institutions, there are both tenure and non-tenure track jobs. Tenure refers to a lifetime appointment and carries with it a contractual right not to have the position terminated without just cause. Adjunct instructing is another option, which is usually teaching on a contract basis.

According to Forbes magazine, Sociology is one of the top-ten highest-paying rare jobs in the United States and is generally rated as one of the most satisfying occupations. This may be due to the fact that Sociologists are often engaged in trying to remedy social ills, which can be a very satisfying life pursuit.

According to data compiled in ASA’s 2007 “Beyond the Ivory Tower” report, one-fourth of PhD sociologists work outside academia. Of those in academia, as of April 2008, the average sociology faculty salary was $68,857, ranging from assistant professors making $53,844 to full professor earnings of $87,938.

Personal Experiences of Individuals With Degrees in Sociology[edit | edit source]

Additional Reading[edit | edit source]

Discussion Questions[edit | edit source]

  • What are some jobs you can do with training in sociology?
  • What are some of the skills you would learn with training in sociology?
  • How might sociologists think about the world differently from other people?

References[edit | edit source]

  1. a b c d e f Spalter-Roth, Roberta, William Erskine, Sylvia Pociask, and Jamie Panzarella. 2005. "What Can I Do with a Bachelor's Degree in Sociology?": A National Survey of Seniors Majoring in Sociology. Washington, DC: American Sociological Association (Accessed April 30, 2008, not available as of January 15, 2012).
  2. Manuel Garcia-SedeÑo, Jose I. Navarro, Inmaculada Menacho (2009) Relationship Between Personality Traits and Vocational Choice. Psychological Reports: Volume 105, Issue , pp. 633-642.
  3. a b c d e f Mercurio, Joe. 2008. “A Perspective on Business Careers for Sociologists.” Footnotes, February 2008, 3.
  4. a b “Urban Legends Reference Pages: CVS Hair Care Products.” (Accessed April 30, 2008).
  5. “Sociology Major | What Can You Do With a College Degree in Sociology?.” (Accessed April 30, 2008).
  6. “Sociology Major - Preparation for Careers | American Sociological Association.” (Accessed April 30, 2008).
  8. a b Spalter-Roth, Roberta and Nicole Van Vooren. 2008. Pathways to Job Satisfaction: What Happened to the Class of 2005. American Sociological Association Department of Research and Development.
  9. “Acceptance to Medical School by Undergraduate Major, 2000-2001 Entering Class.” (Accessed April 30, 2008).
  10. Garfinkel, H., M. Lynch, and E. Livingston (1981). The work of a discovering science construed with materials from the optically discovered pulsar. Philosophy of the Social Sciences 11(2): 131-158.
  11. Lerner, Stephen. 2007. Global Corporations, Global Unions. Contexts. 6:3.

External Links[edit | edit source]

Sociological Practice