May 08, 2017

A Day in the Life of One Sociologist

Headshot 3.13 cropcompressBy Karen Sternheimer

One of the best questions to ask if you are thinking about a future career is how someone in that career spends their day. One of our readers recently posted an “Ask a Sociologist” question about what a typical day is like for sociologists.

There is no one-size-fits all answer to this question, since there are a number of different ways that sociologists spend their time, which varies based on the specific kind of position one holds. Many sociologists work in academic settings or for organizations where they primarily conduct research (such as a government agency, a "think tank" or in private industries).

A research-oriented position will typically—but not always—have more traditional business hours. Depending on one’s role within the research process (are you collecting data, analyzing it, presenting it or mainly focusing on getting grants to fund projects?), there may be a lot of time spent in meetings and in the field working on the research process. Depending on the type of research organization, the source of funding, and the type of research, there might be a significant amount of meetings and travel involved.

Even within academia, the way we spend our time varies. Here, the type of institution matters, as do our family situations. If you work in a teaching-oriented college or university, chances are you will teach more classes and devote more time in the classroom, spend more time preparing for classes, holding office hours, and grading. Many academic sociologists will be expected to conduct research and publish and present their findings as well as teach classes.

Academics are also typically expected to also provide service to our departments, universities, and the discipline as a whole, such as working on committees (participating in a promotion committee, a student’s thesis committee, a curriculum review committee or a hiring committee, for instance), holding leadership positions (like department chair, being elected to positions within regional and national sociology organizations) and serving as reviewers for journals and book publishers.

What makes being a sociologist interesting is that we often have the ability (or burden, depending on how you look at it) of figuring out which of these kinds of jobs is most appealing, as well as the way of managing these tasks that works best for us.

So the way I spend my days might be very different from a colleague down the hall who teaches the same number of classes and has the same service and research requirements. Some departments, like the one I work in, allow some flexibility in when our classes are scheduled. I prefer to teach in the morning and early afternoon, while some colleagues might not be willing to teach an early morning class (which I actually enjoy). Those who have young children are often able to schedule their workdays around their children’s school or day care schedules. Those who work as part-time or adjunct faculty members have far less autonomy and control regarding their schedules.

On my teaching days, I get to the office about an hour before my first class starts and do some last-minute preparation for my morning classes (review my notes, any visuals I plan to use, and make sure I have any materials I may need for the day). After I teach two classes, I return to my office and hold office hours for about two hours, often talking with students who have questions or need advising (I am also our department’s director of undergraduate studies). In between visitors I eat lunch, and I may do some grading and prepare for my afternoon class. I leave about thirty minutes after my third class ends, hoping to beat rush hour traffic. Unless I have a late afternoon meeting, I put in 9-10 hours a day on teaching days.

Non-teaching days are also busy. I am fortunate enough to be able to work from home 2-3 days a week, although it is not uncommon for me to have meetings to attend on non-teaching days (such as faculty meetings, administrative meetings, or to attend a campus lecture).

On my work-at-home days, I spend a great deal of time in front of a computer, on and off from about 9am-6pm, doing the following tasks:

  • Reading and responding to students’ emails
  • Reading and responding to departmental emails and other administrative tasks
  • Making decisions related to my position as the department’s director of undergraduate studies
  • Preparing for upcoming classes (reading new materials, finding updated data for lectures, reviewing video clips, finding current events in the news related to my classes)
  • Writing exams and assignments
  • Grading papers
  • Reviewing materials for department and university committees
  • Writing and editing blog posts for Everyday Sociology
  • Keeping up with new research and publications in sociology and other related fields

None of this includes research and publishing, which I do regularly as well. In recent years, most of my summers have been devoted to research, writing, and other special projects. When the academic year is over, I spend most of the workweek on my work-at-home schedule. I try to only work Monday through Friday, but I know many people who might also do some work on weekends.

The best parts of my day? It is very satisfying when a class goes well, when students are engaged in the material and we have great discussions. If it’s a good day, there might be hours that I get to spend like this.

The most difficult? It’s always hard when students get papers back with a low score. I truly feel for them, and try and make the process as painless as possible, knowing that in the long run it is part of their learning experience. Part of doing my job ethically is assigning an appropriate grade regardless of how unhappy the recipient might be. This can become a positive experience if the student is open to learning how to improve their work and willing to do the hard work of preparing differently and getting help with their writing.

Bottom line: whether in academia or in another research setting, being a sociologist means being able to juggle lots of different tasks, work with others in sometimes difficult situations, and organize accordingly. It also means being a lifelong learning, perhaps my favorite part of the job.


I am currently in the process of earning my Masters Degree in Sociology. I am new to this area as I earned my Bachelors Degree in a different field. I have been researching and looking for websites for more information about Sociology and what the field is all about. I have taken an Intro to Sociology course and found it very interesting, but I'm not as familiar with this field as others. I came upon this blog when researching and I enjoy reading it. Your most recent post is very interesting and has been helpful for me in understanding more about Sociology. I think I would be most interested in data analysis and research. Your post mentions that you do research as well. Would you be able to provide me with more information about research within this field and what it entails? What do you do on a daily basis with research? Or if you prefer, could you provide me with a website or other resources with more information about this area of Sociology? I have found a few companies who have posted job openings for research positions, but a lot of the requirements and daily job duties are specific to their company. I want to get a general idea of what research may include and what I would be involved with. Also, do you happen to know if could obtain research positions with a Masters Degree or is a PhD required? Thank you for all of your help. I appreciate it!

How we manage our time, who we spend it with and why we spend it should never be taken lightly

good read

I'm very fond of your blogging and posting. I really like it your posts.

I was always curious to know how does a sociologist spends his entire day and how does he interact with different people in different situations. you can visit website to have writing tips. This article has answered all of mine questions.

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