Any time there is more than one person in a room, there is potential for a social interaction to occur or for a group to form. Sociologists study these interactions—how and why groups and societies form, and how outside events like health issues, technology, and crime affect both the societies and the individuals. If you already like to think about how people interact as individuals and in groups, then you're thinking like a sociologist!
Keen observation skills, an interest in people, and an open mind about different cultures, lifestyles, and beliefs
Subjects to Study in High School
algebra II, pre-calculus, English; if available, statistics, sociology
Elementary school teachers, such as math teachers, except special education
Training, Other Qualifications
Bachelor's degree holders have limited opportunities and do not qualify for most positions as a research sociologist. A bachelor's degree does, however, provide a suitable background for many different kinds of entry-level jobs in related occupations, such as research assistant, writer, management trainee, or market analyst.
Sociologists usually require at least a master's degree. For positions at a college, university, or think-tank, a PhD is needed. To advance to the top positions in the corporate world, a PhD or a MBA (master's in business administration) is advantageous.
Education and Training
A master's degree or higher is recommended for a career as a sociologist. A bachelor's degree in sociology has great potential in related careers, but not as a research sociologist.
In addition to traditional sociology classes, students who are interested in becoming sociologists should take a variety of statistics, mathematics, and data-modeling classes. The size and complexity of data sets available to sociologists for analysis has steadily increased as Internet and other telecommunication resources grow. Such data sets require you know more complex mathematics in order to analyze them.
Sociologists need excellent written and oral communication skills to report research findings and to collaborate on research. Successful sociologists also need intellectual curiosity and creativity because they constantly seek new information about people, groups, and ideas. The ability to think logically and methodically is also essential to analyze complicated issues, such as the impacts of various forms of government on cultures. Objectivity, an open mind, and systematic work habits are important in all kinds of sociological research.
Nature of the Work
Watch this Real Scientists video of sociologist Corlis Outley, courtesy of DragonflyTV at pbskidsgo.org. Spending time at parks and at hang-outs around the city might be considered child's play, but it is this sociologist's job! See how Corlis gathers data to figure out what city kids like to do best, and what kinds of fun outlets the city should provide.
Sociologists study society and social behavior by examining the groups, cultures, organizations, and social institutions that people form. They also study the activities in which people participate, including social, religious, political, economic, and business organizations. They study the behavior of, and interaction among, groups, organizations, institutions, and nations and how they react to phenomena such as the spread of technology, health epidemics, crime, and social movements. They also trace the origin and growth of these groups and interactions. Sociologists analyze how social influences affect different individuals. They are also concerned with the ways organizations and institutions affect the daily lives of individuals and groups.
To analyze social patterns, sociologists design research projects that use a variety of methods, including historical analysis, comparative analysis, and quantitative and qualitative techniques. The results of sociological research aid educators, lawmakers, administrators, and others who are interested in resolving social problems and formulating public policy. Most sociologists work in one or more specialties, such as social organization, stratification, and mobility; racial and ethnic relations; education; the family; social psychology; urban, rural, political, and comparative sociology; gender relations; demography; gerontology; criminology; and sociological practice.
Most sociologists have regular hours. Generally working behind a desk, either alone or in collaboration with other social scientists, they analyze data and read and write research articles or reports. Many experience the pressures of writing and publishing, as well as those associated with deadlines and tight schedules. Sometimes they must work overtime, for which they usually are not compensated.
Occasionally travel may be necessary to collect information or attend meetings. When working in the field, sociologists may need to adjust to unfamiliar cultures, foods, climates, and languages.
Sociologists employed by colleges and universities usually have flexible work schedules, often dividing their time among teaching, research, writing, consulting, and administrative responsibilities.
On the Job
Prepare publications and reports containing research findings.
Analyze and interpret data in order to increase the understanding of human social behavior.
Plan and conduct research to develop and test theories about societal issues such as crime, group relations, poverty, and aging.
Collect data about the attitudes, values, and behaviors of people in groups, using observation, interviews, and review of documents.
Develop, implement, and evaluate methods of data collection, such as questionnaires or interviews.
Direct work of statistical clerks, statisticians, and others who compile and evaluate research data.
Consult with and advise individuals, such as administrators, social workers, and legislators, regarding social issues and policies, as well as the implications of research findings.
Collaborate with research workers in other disciplines.
Develop approaches to the solution of groups' problems, based on research findings in sociology and related disciplines.
Observe group interactions and role affiliations to collect data, identify problems, evaluate progress, and determine the need for additional change.
Develop problem-intervention procedures, utilizing techniques such as interviews, consultations, role playing, and participant observation of group interactions.
Although some of us may not like to admit it, everyone's afraid of something. Big dogs, thunderstorms, public speaking, heights: what are you most afraid of? Do you think grown-ups have the same fears as kids? How about first-graders and sixth-graders? Find out for yourself by doing this project.
Do people treat someone differently based on his or her appearance? Specifically, how are their behaviors affected by the clothes a person wears? For instance, if somebody wears a formal suit, do you think others behave differently when interacting with that person compared to if he or she were wearing casual clothes, like blue jeans? In this science project, you will get to try and find out!
Social media is all the buzz on the internet. What can we do with all the information generated by millions of people posting, tweeting, taking pictures, and chatting? How do companies convert it into profit? While you do not have the tools to analyze data from millions of social media posts by yourself, you will be able to analyze a scaled-down version. Follow the instructions in this project to try your hand at extracting data from a couple of social media sites and use it to create…
What causes the most stress for teenagers? Is it school? family relationships? peer pressure? worries about the future? Design a survey to find out what contributes to teens' stress levels. Possible variations include: How do teenagers deal with stress? Are today's teens more or less stressed than their parents were as teenagers? Were the sources of stress the same for your parent's generation or different? (Idea from De Biasi, 2003)
If you made a pile of all the electronic devices (cell phones, computers, stereos, televisions, MP3 players, video game systems, remote-control toys, etc.) that your family has gotten rid of since you were a baby, how big would that pile be? Would it be taller than you? Would it fit better in a wheelbarrow or in a pickup truck? And did they just throw it in the trash? In this science project, you'll explore what people in your community do with electronic waste, commonly called e-waste, and…
If you compare products made primarily for boys with products made primarily girls, you will probably notice differences in colors for the two groups. Why do you think this is? Is it the marketplace responding to gender-based color preferences? Do you think it's the other way around, and the products create gender-based color preferences? Design a survey study to find out if gender actually make a difference in color preferences. Here are some questions you might want to consider when…
Have you ever felt really frustrated? Maybe you were playing a video game and could not easily figure out a particularly challenging puzzle. Or maybe there was something you really wanted but you could not have it for some reason. However it has happened, what do you do when you get frustrated? What about other people — what kind of behaviors have you seen others display when they get frustrated? Do they cry, jump up and down screaming, just give up, or become aggressive? In this human…
Mysteries and detective stories have been popular since the time of Sherlock Holmes. The solutions to these fictional cases often involve untangling seemingly contradictory evidence from eyewitnesses. This project studies one procedure used in the real-world process of eyewitness identification of criminal suspects: the lineup. How accurate are eyewitness identifications using various lineup methods?
How can you motivate students and teachers to make positive changes in their school? Why not try using what is in everyone's pocket—a smartphone! With this project you'll try your hand at harnessing the power of crowdsourcing and mobile technology by creating an app that motivates users to change their school for the better. Do not worry about the app creation, the MIT App Inventor tool makes that part easy; the instructions provided here will lead you through it step-by-step. Will…
Male or female? Fat or skinny? Outgoing or quiet? What is your stereotype of a "gamer"? Do your friends have the same mental picture of gamers? How about your parents? This science fair project will help you examine whether the stereotypes of "gamers" actually matches the reality of who plays video games.
Have you ever seen a great movie and then rushed out and bought its soundtrack? Did the soundtrack bring back the thrill of an action chase? Or the sadness one of the movie's characters felt? Music is a big part of the movie experience. It intensifies the emotions in scenes so that you do not just jump when that hairy spider comes around the corner, you scream! In this music science fair project, you will find out if happy, sad, scary, and action scenes in movies use music with the same…
How trusting are you? Do you think people are basically honest, or do you think people are usually honest only when they think someone is watching? This project explores how well the honor system works for a bake sale-type charity donation. Find out if your hunch is correct.
This project challenges you to think like a politician (and a scientist!), and try to ascertain what factors are most important as individuals make their decision on how to vote. For example, is it what is being said, or who is saying it?
Have you ever seen a baby in the park and wondered if it was a boy or a girl? Maybe once you found out the gender, you thought how sweet, mischievous, or cute the baby was. But wait…do you think that the words you used to describe the baby might be based on your own gender stereotypes? A gender stereotype is when you expect someone to act a certain way simply because he or she is a boy or a girl. In this human behavior science project, you will investigate whether young children use gender…
Big data is one of the most promising and hyped trends in technology and business today. Big data refers to data-analysis jobs that are too large and complex to be analyzed by applications that are traditionally used. Big data sets hold valuable information. Many publicly available data sets have the potential to improve our everyday lives by giving us insight into the things we care about. How well-equipped are we to extract information from the data? Visualizations and aggregations (or…
This project asks the question "How do friendship groups change over time?" The results may support inferences about how "people skills" develop. What types of changes would you expect to see? Do you expect friendship groups to grow larger over time? Do you expect that individuals will belong to more, less or about the same number of friendship groups as they get older? Do you think there will be more or less exclusivity among groups (and how would you measure such a concept)? Do you…
The author of this project hypothesized that movies often disappoint readers because book-based movies tend to "dumb down" the works on which they are based (Fuhrman, 2002). Naturally, selective compression is necessary when telling a story as a movie, or no one would sit through it. (Hey, maybe there's an idea for a different experiment!) Selective compression is not necessarily the same, however, as simplification. There are ways to objectively measure the complexity of written language…
Is there a correlation between birth order and grade point average? Design a survey study to find out. How many completed surveys do you need for a representative sample of your school? If you limit your survey to one school, would you expect it to be representative of a larger population (such as your county or state?) How do you control for potential effects of parental age at birth? (In other words, younger siblings will have a higher probability of being born to older parents. If there…
Tests, homework, taxes, speed limits, sports: there's always the possibility of cheating. Design a survey to investigate attitudes about cheating. Are some kinds of cheating worse than others? Are there times when it is OK to cheat, or is cheating always wrong? Do people who admit to cheating have the same attitudes as those who don't?