Education: While completing a BA in sociology, Mary Anne found that she especially enjoyed courses in research methods, statistics, and urban sociology. After college, Mary Anne joined a large, private research institute that conducts sociological studies for government agencies, businesses, and political groups. Many studies focus on urban and metropolitan problems. Mary Anne began the job with a BA in sociology. Since joining the institute, she has taken three graduate courses toward an MA degree in Applied Sociology. Her employer pays for the courses and gives her a flexible schedule two days a week so she can fit classes in during the early evening.
Current position: During her first several years, Mary Anne was a "research assistant," but she is now an "associate project director" with more responsibility for developing new research projects as well as supervising the research process. She has developed a keen sense of how clients' problems can be addressed. She writes research proposals and follows them through from discussion and revision to funding. She feels confident that her research contributes to the resolution of complex issues such as metropolitan government and urban revitalization.
Benefits: Mary Anne's salary now ranks above average for those in her graduating class. With success in obtaining contracts and advising clients, her income will probably increase considerably. Mary Anne may stay here, move to another research firm, or consider starting her own agency.
As many research specializations exist as there are content areas and methods of sociological inquiry. Methods range from field work and intrusive interviews to questionnaires and surveys; from working with census materials to analysis of historical documents; and from real life social experiments to laboratory simulations.
"Evaluation research" is especially important in shaping social policy and programs. Here the investigator uses a variety of sociological methods to assess the impacts of a particular policy or program. Ideally, such evaluation involves careful research designed before a policy trial goes into effect. It may also involve surveys of individuals directly or indirectly affected by a program, or organizational analyses of a policy's implications for changes in the agency responsible. Frequently, evaluation research may be focused on the conduct and organization of the program itself in an attempt to explore unintended and unanticipated consequences of a social policy. Evaluation research is a response to the recognition that it is not enough to launch new policies or programs and hope for the best; they must be continually assessed to see if they are functioning as intended.
Enjoyment of research and writing is essential if one seeks a career in the more advanced academic settings. In these institutions, research as well as teaching is expected. As the profiles throughout this booklet indicate, other kinds of jobs also feature sociological research and some of them are exclusively research positions. In fact, the number of full-time researchers whose jobs require no teaching at all is increasing fairly rapidly.