Insider Interview: Sociology

In a new series of posts I’ll be conducting interviews with people in different fields. These interviews are intended to help students and career changers with career-planning decisions by providing insight into different occupations.

Derrick Shapley is a graduate student who is working on his Ph.D. in sociology while teaching and doing research. I asked Derrick some questions about the field of sociology.

What drew you to the field of sociology?

I originally went back to school about 3 years ago after working on campaigns to get a PH.D in political science. I waited too late for the filing deadline for most universities I wanted to go to. So I decided to get another undergraduate degree in sociology. While I was in sociology I felt that I could have a greater impact on society than within political science. I also felt that sociology was a broader field and I could study more things than the restrictions of studying within one field.

What can one do with a bachelor’s degree in sociology?

With a bachelors degree in sociology a lot of people actually go to work with the government, usually within a research capacity.  A few people work with non-profits and NGO’s.  If you have criminology or criminal justice certification you can also get jobs with FBI, CIA or state and local criminal justice agencies.   Also there a fair number of people who get a job in marketing and consumer research.

What kind of jobs are available for those with a doctorate in sociology?

Most people go to work at universities as professors with doctorates. However, there are a few people who go to work as private consultants. also people with PH.D’s can lead research departments at nonprofits or government agencies. Many businesses also hire sociology PH.D’s to lead marketing departments. Economic development also hires sociologists to do research.

Are university research positions extremely competitive?

It really depends on the year and the economic positions. the last few years there have been a large amount of sociology openings. However, recently with the downturn in the economy a lot of schools are cutting off searches and states are imposing hiring freezes. There are supposed to be a lot of openings in the future with the baby boomers who went into sociology in the 1960’s and 1970’s retiring. However, it remains to be seen how many retire.

Would you recommend work experience before entering a graduate program?

Yes, I think one can gain valuable experience from work and it can enrich their graduate school experience. Also since sociology is the study of society actually going out and actually experiencing society will probably add some experience to go along with the knowledge you will gain by entering a sociology program

How long does it typically take to get a Ph.D. in sociology?  What are the typical responsibilities of a graduate student?

If you work hard and have some good luck to go along with it you can possibly finish your PH.D 4 years after getting your bachelors.  However the process normally takes 5 to 6 years, with a few people lasting as long as 8 or nine years. There are many different responsibilities you have as a graduate student. If you are on an assistantship remember your primary responsibility is to perform in the classroom. You will be required to read roughly between 500 to 1000 pages per week for class.  Also you may be required to teach a class or work for a professor as a research assistant, which usually consumes 20 hours a week.

What are some of the different concentrations within the  field of  sociology?

There are many different fields in sociology. Probably the most popular are

1. Crime/deviance

2. social inequality/stratification

3. race/ethnicity

4. gender

5. Demography

6. Urban sociology

7. political sociology

8. medical sociology

9. Theories

10. Research Methods

11. sociology of Religion

12. Marriage and Family

13. Community development

14. Culture

15. Socialization/children

16. aging/gerontology/Death and Dying

There are many other fields such as sociology of sports, rural sociology, and also many of these fields listed above have subfields.

What is the best part about working in the field of  sociology? What is the worst aspect of your occupation?

The best part of entering the field is you are going to gain a lot of knowledge about society and even about your own life in general. You will also learn that many of the common assumptions we make about life are not true. What you learn in sociology can not only be used on the job but also in your personal life. You will find that through studying sociology that life is not simple and their are many different facets of our environment and others in our life and institutions within our life have a profound impact on who we are and where we are going in life.

The worst part of the occupation is that you will have to explain to people what the heck is sociology. I suggest having a prepared speech ready for these encounters.

What other advice would you give to those considering  entering the sociology field?

Sociology is an interesting field that provides views from a wide variety of point of views. The one thing for those considering graduate school is that you have to come in with a willingness to learn. Also you cannot be afraid of criticism. Finally, one needs to keep in mind that getting your PH.D is priority one.


For more information about careers in sociology, see the Jobs for Liberal Arts Majors page.

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3 thoughts on “Insider Interview: Sociology”

  1. A lot of my friends took up Sociology as their majors. When I asked them why, most of them answered, “because it’s easy.” Nobody could answer anything straight like “because I wanted a job as this or that.” The only person I knew who took it seriously was my cousin who used it as his pre-Med course.

  2. Yes, I’ve heard Sociology majors mocked for the reason you mentioned. I hope that this interview shows that Sociology can lead to a career if someone is really interested in the field and motivated.

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