124 posts categorized "Statistics and Methods"

October 09, 2019

The 2020 Census: Help Wanted

author photoBy Colby King

If you study sociology you’ve very likely worked with data from one of the several surveys administered by the US Census Bureau. And while it is not 2020 yet, you might have already seen Census Bureau workers in your neighborhoods, as they have begun to check addresses ahead of next year’s count.

The US Census Bureau and its surveys are important to the discipline of sociology, and this fall I have been encouraging my students to consider applying for a job with the US Census Bureau. While field jobs and career positions with the US Census Bureau are always something sociology students might consider as long-term possibilities, the Bureau is currently recruiting thousands of people for several different temporary jobs in preparation for the 2020 Decennial Census. These temporary jobs include not just census takers, but also clerical positions, as well as a few supervisory and outreach positions. You can apply for all of the 2020 Census jobs through one online application form, which is available here.

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September 20, 2019

Climate Change and Statistical Inference

author photoBy Dan Lainer-Vos

Adjunct Assistant Professor of Sociology, University of Southern California

Have you had the experience of discussing climate change only to be interrupted by a wise chuckle from a person who suggests that our planet has known natural fluctuations in the past and that, therefore, it is possible that the spate of record-breaking temperatures of past decades reflects naturally occurring fluctuation?

The climate-change denier, in such instance, presents him or herself as a hard-nosed skeptic while suggesting that the climate researcher community is hysterical. To an extent, this interaction is the story of climate change debate over the last twenty years—a long drawn out argument that is fed by the very fact that science, including climate science, is built on probabilistic models where absolute certainty is simply not part of the game. Is there a way out this pickle? Thinking about statistical inference, and especially the types of errors that statisticians are concerned with, can shed new light on this debate.

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July 01, 2019

Why Social Science Research Matters

author photoBy Karen Sternheimer

If you are a student in one of the social sciences, you most likely have taken a course in research methods. You probably learned a lot about the different ways that social scientists conduct their studies, how they analyze their data, and hopefully some of the ethical considerations that researchers should take.

Many of you might be thinking that once you finish the course, you are done with needing to know about research methods if you are not planning on being a social scientist. But many of the core principles you learn about in your research class are vital to know about as a critical thinker and an active citizen.

Here are the main lessons you should take with you—no matter your desired profession or future educational goals:

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June 03, 2019

What is Sociological Research?

author photoBy Karen Sternheimer

We do research all the time, or at least we use the word research regularly. Trying to figure out where to stay on a vacation? “Research” it online! Choosing a restaurant? Do some “research” by asking your friends about their favorite places in the area. Hoping to learn more about a movie before shelling out money for tickets? “Research” reviews and see what other people think.

You can probably tell from my use of quotations that looking something up online is not the same thing as doing sociological research. This should go without saying, but on several occasions I have seen students genuinely confuse a Google search with doing social science research.

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May 28, 2019

Comparative Historical Research: The Intersection between Sociology and History

author photoBy Karen Sternheimer

We’ve written a lot on this blog about the intersection between biography and history, C. Wright Mills’ now classic explanation of the sociological imagination. But beyond individuals’ connections with history, sociologists sometimes venture into the historical study of social phenomena and events in order to identify shifts over time and what social forces may be the cause of change. This is called comparative historical research.

Sociologists who conduct comparative historical research often use methods that overlap with historians’ research, such as using census data and other archived records, historical news clippings, oral histories, written correspondence and other sources of data. When sociologists use historical data, we are often trying to explain macro-level changes in society and have the benefit of time to analyze the causes and consequences.

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April 29, 2019

Connecting the Dots: Linking Theory with Research

author photoBy Karen Sternheimer

As I wrote about previously, one of the main things to consider when making sure that your research topic is sociological is its connection with sociological theory. How does your study—or idea for a study—reflect or inform a theoretical perspective within the discipline?

First, let’s remind ourselves about what the difference is between a hypothesis and a theory. A hypothesis is a specific, testable “educated guess” about the relationship between two or more variables, while a theory is a system of ideas, often based on previous studies.

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March 25, 2019

Researcher Reflexivity: Why who we are Matters

Headshot 3.13 cropcompressBy Karen Sternheimer

If you are interested in researching something, there is often a personal reason. Maybe you have a parent who is incarcerated and are interested in understanding the relationships between family members of the incarcerated. Or perhaps your religious background gives you unique insight into a specific cultural practice that many people might not know about.

You might have your own point of view about these issues, even if they are not experiences you have had. Does having a perspective prohibit an individual from conducting research on a subject?

Of course, the answer is no. People conduct research on issues close to their experiences and interests all the time. Does this make their research “biased?”

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March 11, 2019

Applied Sociology: Evaluation Research 101

author photo Karen Sternheimer

If you have taken a sociology class, you know that sociology has many practical applications. Some sociologists use the tools of the discipline to help organizations make decisions—this can include anything from a small nonprofit to your university and even the government.

Evaluation research can take on many forms, but put simply its purpose is to determine whether a particular program, technique, or approach to addressing an issue is effective. This can be very helpful when deciding how an organization might spend its time or money. Why invest in a program that isn’t effective, or assume that something won’t work without first testing it and finding out?

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February 11, 2019

How (and Why) to Write a Literature Review

Headshot 3.13 cropcompressBy Karen Sternheimer

The core of any academic paper involves a literature review (heretofore known as a “lit review”), where you write about previous studies that are related to your own research. (We call previous research and writing on a topic “the literature,” and a synopsis of the literature is a “literature review.”) This is often a challenging process for students writing lit reviews for the first time. In this post, I’ll break down the steps you should take to write an informative—and dare I say interesting—lit review.

First, let’s go over why lit reviews are important. Yes, they are important if you are being graded on writing one, but they are important components of research. Here’s why:

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January 28, 2019

What Makes a Research Question Sociological?

Headshot 3.13 cropcompressBy Karen Sternheimer

In your sociology research methods class, you will likely be asked to design and maybe even complete a sociological research project. As sociology major, this should be an exciting prospect: you get the opportunity to learn more about something specific to your interests.

At the core of any research project is coming up with a research question. A research question is basically the question that you hope your research project answers, or what you are hoping to learn from conducting your study. It is typically more general than a research hypothesis, which should be very specific and concrete. A research question should also be the “so what” of why you are conducting research. Ideally, your research will help you answer a particular question.

One of the biggest challenges new sociology students face is creating research questions that are sociological. What makes a research question sociological?

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