More Sociology Please
Two recent posts in our Ask a Sociologist section asked about enhancing their post-undergraduate knowledge of sociology.
There are a number of ways to increase your general sociological knowledge, whether you are interested in re-learning some basic concepts, are interested in learning more about sociology outside of a classroom, or have a desire to use knowledge to explore social change and/or social justice work.
These include several introductory books, such as:
- Capitalism and Modern Social Theory: An analysis of the Writings of Marx, Durkheim, and Max Weber
- Everyday Sociology Reader (this includes some fun exercises after each unit)
- Understanding Classical Sociology: Marx, Weber, Durkheim
- You May Ask Yourself
Or you can pick up some popular sociological texts such as:
- Alexander, The New Jim Crow: Mass Incarceration in the Age of Colorblindness
- Ansari & Klinenberg, Modern Romance
- Davis, Magical Urbanism: Latinos Reinvent the U.S. Big City
- Ehrenreich, Nickled and Dimed: On (Not) Getting by in America (there’s even a play about this!)
- Steele, Whistling Vivaldi: How Stereotypes Affect Us and What We Can Do
- Venkatesh, Gang Leader for a Day
If you’re interested more in theory, you might want to read:
- Bourdieu, Outline of a Theory of Practice
- Goffman, The Presentation of Self in Everyday Life
- Mills, The Sociological Imagination
- Weber, The Protestant Ethic and the Spirit of Capitalism
In addition to reading, you might want to check out a few fun videos that help to explain key sociological concepts, such as Field Theory, Networks, Feminism, or Bureaucracy. Or you might check out any of the numerous videos on Norton’s Sociology YouTube page.
You might even take time to check out the New York Times, the Economic Policy Institute, The Atlantic, Citylab, or Mother Jones. Or even listen to talk radio such as NPR – the Diane Rehm Show, Fresh Air, This American Life, and Code Switch are some of my favorites.
Perhaps, however, you’re interested in pursuing an advanced degree in sociology. As Karen Sternheimer noted in a previous post, an undergraduate degree in sociology prepares one for a variety of professions – these range from social work, to journalism, to medicine, to law, to business, to education. Some of these fields, however, require additional education in the form of a master’s degree or a doctorate.
The decision to pursue either a master’s or a doctorate really hinges on your own career goals. If you’re interested in journalism, or market research, or urban planning, for example, a Master’s degree in any of these fields may be sufficient. Many programs allow their students to take courses outside of the major – this allows you to complement your advanced degree with a few graduate courses in sociological fields that are relevant.
If, however, you’re interested in becoming a bona fide full-time sociology professor – it really is a pretty amazing career choice – there are a number of things to consider.
As you begin to think about your doctoral studies, identify what specific area(s) of sociology you are interested in pursuing. For instance, you might be interested in issues of immigration, or social networks, or urban studies, or U.S. rural development, or human rights – it really does help to identify what you may be passionate about and then look into universities and faculty that specialize in these areas.
Many Ph.D. programs do not place a high priority on GRE scores (and some do not require it). In addition, several programs do not expect their graduate students to enter with Master’s degrees – it’s important for you to research the requirements for each institution where you apply. This is also a great way for you to put to use those critical thinking and analytical skills you developed as an undergraduate.
A number of factors will go into where you decide to apply and, if accepted into a program, where you decide to attend will center on a variety of personal and professional circumstances and decisions. You might want to create a rubric or a spreadsheet that includes your priorities and educational goals. You can then input data from graduate programs into this spreadsheet. This will give you a quick comparative snapshot of how programs measure up to what you want out of the experience.
Another thing to keep in mind, however, is the movement within higher education towards contingent (i.e. non-tenure track/adjunct) faculty. These faculty members often receive little support from their institutions, earn less money than tenure-track faculty, and often do not qualify for health and retirement benefits. According to a study by the American Association of University Professors, non-tenure track positions account for “76 percent of all instructional staff appointments in American higher-education.”
There is, however, some good news. Within sociology, according to the American Sociological Association’s 2012-2013 Job Bank Survey, academic positions for new Ph.D.s within sociology have been steadily rising since 2011. In addition, the average adjunct faculty within Research-focused and Doctoral granting institutions declined between Academic Years 2001-2002 and 2011-2012. Unfortunately, these numbers increased at Master’s granting and Baccalaureate institutions between the same years.
Obtaining a Ph.D. is an amazing and rewarding (although exceedingly difficult, and at times demoralizing) process, that can take anywhere between 6-10 years to complete. Although you’ll be learning really interesting theories and methods, engaging in fun, and nerdy conversations, and following your intellectual passions, you should also keep in mind that this is not an extension of your undergraduate experience. Rather, it is training to prepare you for a career where you’ll be able to implement the skills and tools that you’ve developed along the way.
What are some of your favorite sociology books or websites? Do you have any advice for people interested in pursuing sociology either on their own or through graduate studies?