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Sociologist Job Description, Career as a Sociologist, Salary, Employment

Definition and Nature of the Work, Education and Training Requirements, Getting the Job

Education and Training: Doctoral degree

Salary: Median—$57,870 per year

Employment Outlook: Fair

Definition and Nature of the Work

Sociologists are social scientists who study groups of people. These groups range from families and tribes to entire communities and even whole nations. Sociologists analyze ethnic and religious groups and political and business organizations. They also focus on the behavior of group members and on the ways that groups interact with one another. They often trace the origin and development of groups. Sociologists study specific groups with the ultimate goal of establishing general laws and theories that can explain human social behavior.

Sociology is a very broad field. Sociologists generally specialize in one or more areas within the field. For example, some sociologists study how people choose their leaders and organize themselves into social groups based on such factors as income, education, and prestige. Other sociologists concentrate on how groups train their young people and deal with the problems of adolescence. Some sociologists specialize in the sociology of cities or rural areas. Others are experts in medical sociology who study the social factors affecting mental and public health.

More than half of all sociologists are employed by colleges and universities. They usually teach and do research, although some have administrative duties as well. When they do research, sociologists use a variety of sources. They collect information by using books and periodicals, interviews, tests, laboratory experiments, case studies, and statistical surveys. They also often make use of computerized data in their work. For example, sociologists who want to study one aspect of crime begin their research by reading books about how other societies deal with the problem or what other experts have to say about it. Then they may interview police officers or criminals or test the attitudes of a group of criminals and a group of law-abiding citizens to see how the two groups differ in their attitudes toward authority. Next they might study the life histories of a group of criminals to see how their experiences differ from those of a law-abiding group. They may also study statistics that show when and where certain crimes occurred in the past. After collecting and analyzing information carefully, the sociologists may write up a report offering some conclusions on the specific crime problem. They may also draw conclusions about crime and perhaps even about social behavior in general. The conclusions of sociologists are sometimes used by lawmakers, educators, government officials, psychologists, physicians, social workers, and other experts who deal with social problems in their work.

Some sociologists work for government agencies or private social service agencies. They often perform services in family counseling, public relations, community planning, public opinion analysis, or other areas related to their particular fields. They may also deal with such problems as poverty, welfare, and the rehabilitation of drug addicts. Small numbers of sociologists work for private industry, research organizations, or management consulting firms where they may do full- or part-time consulting work. The work of sociologists is related to that done by other professionals in such fields as social work, recreational therapy, and public health. These professions also require some training in sociology.

Education and Training Requirements

You need doctoral degree in sociology to become a sociologist. Those who complete a four-year college program and obtain a bachelor's degree in sociology are sometimes able to get related jobs as interviewers, research assistants, or counselors. If you study for one or two additional years to obtain a master's degree in sociology, you may qualify for a position in social work, or as a researcher or instructor at a college or university. In many cases you will be expected to continue studying toward your doctoral degree, which is required for most teaching jobs in colleges and universities. Directing major research projects and doing administrative or consulting work also require a doctoral degree. It usually takes two or three years of study beyond the master's level to obtain a doctoral degree in sociology. Sociologists must continue reading and studying throughout their careers to keep up with new developments in their field.

Getting the Job

Your professors and the placement office at your college or university can give you information about finding a job in the field of sociology. Openings are sometimes listed in professional journals, newspaper classifieds, and job banks on the Internet. You can apply directly to colleges and universities, research organizations, private firms, and government agencies that are likely to hire sociologists. To get a government job, you may have to apply through a civil service office.

Advancement Possibilities and Employment Outlook

Advancement depends on skill, education, and experience. Sociologists with master's degrees and several years of experience sometimes advance to such positions as supervisor in a government or private agency. Sociologists with a doctoral degree can become full professors in colleges or universities or advance to director of research or administrator. Many sociologists advance by becoming experts in their areas of specialization. They often write up the results of their research in the form of books or articles that may win them the recognition of other sociologists. A few sociologists write books that become best sellers and bring them public acclaim.

The employment outlook for sociologists is fair, with slower than average growth predicted through 2014. Most openings will be to replace workers who leave the field. A few new openings may occur in colleges and universities because of the trend of including sociology courses in the professional training required for degrees in law, medicine, education, and business administration. There are expected to be many qualified graduates with doctoral degrees in sociology, however, and the competition for teaching jobs should be keen. There will be some openings for sociologists in criminology, mental health, social welfare programs, and related areas. Many qualified sociologists will probably have to seek employment in other fields, however. The best opportunities will be found in the areas of research methods and statistics.

Working Conditions

Sociologists usually spend a large part of their day in pleasant offices, libraries, and classrooms. They spend a good deal of time reading to keep up with the rapid growth of their field. At times, however, sociologists are likely to do some fieldwork that may involve traveling to remote areas or interviewing people from many different backgrounds. Therefore, sociologists should be able to work independently and also know how to interact with the wide variety of people that they are likely to meet in their work. Sometimes sociologists need to cooperate with other social scientists on large-scale research projects. Although hours are often flexible, they normally work more than forty hours a week. The ability to express ideas well, both orally and in writing, is essential for sociologists.

Where to Go for More Information

American Sociological Association
307 New York Avenue NW, Ste. 700
Washington, DC 20005-4701
(202) 383-9005

Earnings and Benefits

The earnings of sociologists depend on the education and experience of the individual, as well as on the location and kind of job. In 2004 the median annual salary for sociologists was $57,870. Many sociologists, especially those employed by colleges and universities, add to their income by doing consulting work, teaching in the summer, or writing books. Benefits usually include paid holidays and vacations, health insurance, and retirement plans.

Additional topics

Job Descriptions and Careers, Career and Job Opportunities, Career Search, and Career Choices and ProfilesEngineering, Science, Technology, and Social Sciences