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Research Director

 

Education: As an undergraduate, Jim took a few courses in business and computer science to supplement his major in sociology. He especially liked working with the computers that sociologists use extensively in their research. Jim also became fascinated with the social impacts of computerization. In graduate school, he focused on courses in the sociology of science and technology, demography, and organizational analysis. He completed his MA thesis on future organizations and the computer revolution. 

Current Position: Jim moved from a California university town to Chicago where he took his first job as a research assistant in a market research firm and, after six months, became an analyst of the market for PC software. He broadened his knowledge of telecommunication products and applied his sociological research skills to studying markets for office telephone systems, cellular (car) phones, and cable TV. While he learned a great deal about the products, his real expertise concerns demographic characteristics (age, sex, class and ethnic background) as they affect the attitudes of people to whom these products are marketed. He is a pioneer in studying the social impact of the new "information highway."

The sociological advantage: Jim's knowledge of demography and organizational change helped him stand out from other market researchers who have less depth in these areas. After only eight years in the field, Jim is sure this background and perspective helped give him the competitive edge to be selected as Director of Research for a newly-created telecommunications firm. 

Sociological Practice: Given the usefulness of their methods and perspectives, sociologists have developed many career paths that take research into the realm of intervention or "sociological practice." This broad category refers to positions that involve "applied" or "clinical" sociology--using sociology to affect positive change among individuals, families, organizations, communities, and societies. 

Sociological practice is the application of sociological knowledge-- concepts, methods, theories, predictions, evidence, and insights –to understanding immediate problems and their solutions. This work is "client-driven" meaning that the work is designed to solve a specific situation posed by the employer, rather than "discipline-driven" to add to the knowledge base of the field of sociology, although applied work can and does make those contributions. 

Some sociological practitioners ("clinical sociologists") have expertise in counseling individuals and families. Others ("applied sociologists") use sociological knowledge and research methods to effect larger-scale change, for example by conducting social and environmental impact assessments, evaluating programs, facilitating organizational development, mediating and resolving conflicts, or revamping social policies. All these approaches have one thing in common: They help individuals, groups, organizations, or governments to identify problems and their deeper causes, and to suggest strategies for solution.

The application of sociological knowledge is key to careers in the fields of policy making and administration, government, business, social services, and industry.

Policy-Making and Administration. Opportunities exist for sociologists who can use their basic sociological training to help others make more informed policy decisions and administer programs more effectively and imaginatively. This career option has broadened in recent years. Sociologists in this area may not teach in an academic setting, but often find themselves explaining the critical elements of research design, methods, and data analysis to non-social scientists. A solid research and theory background leads to this kind of position.

Although a skilled policy administrator might not conduct his or her own research, he or she would be expected to read the research literature, design useful research projects that others will conduct, cooperate with full-time staff researchers or outside consultants, and apply the developing knowledge of sociology and the social sciences to problems that involve housing, transportation, education, control of the AIDS epidemic, corporate downsizing, health, welfare, law enforcement, or other major issues.

Sociologists have the opportunity to incorporate sociological knowledge into planning and policy-making in areas dominated by other professions. For example, in the mental and physical health fields, sociologists serve with planning boards and health services agencies; they play similar roles in education, law enforcement, and government. Sociologists have contributed their knowledge effectively in many other areas as well.


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