Sonner fountain

Staff Administrator in a Public Assistance Agency

Education: Through his undergraduate studies, William became interested in using his knowledge to serve people. William saw his BA in sociology as a tool for providing services to people in need in a large metropolitan area. With the help of his professors, he found an internship in an inner-city shelter for the homeless; after two semesters helping conduct a count of the area's homeless population, William decided to apply for a job with the city's Department of Human Services.

Current Position: William works as a program coordinator, drawing on his internship experiences and his undergraduate sociology courses in the family, social stratification, communities, and group dynamics. 

Responsibilities: William's work includes routine processing of reports and legal forms, as well as extensive contact with clients and direct
engagement with the problems of the poor, disabled, homeless, elderly, and minorities. He combines his efforts with other employees; using his knowledge of how human services and welfare systems work, he often acts as a trouble shooter by providing help to clients who might otherwise "fall between the cracks."

Benefits: William's job requires him to maintain contacts with other public and private agencies that affect the lives of the poor. For example, one of his friends from college now works on the staff of a large community mental health center, and another is involved in supervising rehabilitation for state penitentiary inmates. Like William, they are using their sociology BAs as a foundation for social service positions. All three receive satisfaction from being able to experience day-to-day accomplishments in helping others.

William's salary is commensurate with the wage scales of public sector employees generally. He could progress through Civil Service channels to a career of relative security. However, he is considering going back to school to earn a graduate degree, which would help him compete for administrative positions. 

In order to develop an internship, ask yourself these questions: 

"What are my talents, skills, interests, and areas of knowledge?" 
"In what areas would I like to grow?" 
"What are my strongest assets?" 
"How can I make a meaningful contribution in a relatively short time?" 

When you address these questions and are ready to search for an internship that will benefit both you and your "employer," the following strategies may help: 

Volunteer your time and skills to an employer on a temporary or part-time basis in order to establish initial contact and lay the foundation for future work.

Contact your cooperative education, internship and/or service learning coordinator on campus for a listing of organizations that accept interns and for general advice on how to find an internship and derive the most benefit from it. 

Contact your college or university sociology department for advice on internships. Organizations might send internship announcements to them and your professors may have contacts in the community. Sometimes college course credit can be arranged with the department.

Contact by letter and follow-up telephone call several nonprofit organizations, corporations, businesses, and government or educational agencies in the geographic location that interests you--the broader the net, the more likely someone will offer you an internship.

Write to the National Society for Experiential Education for the National Directory of Internships (latest edition). This publication lists opportunities in 75 fields of interest, by state, type of organization, and specific organizations. NSIEE, 3509 Haworth Drive, Suite 207, Raleigh, NC 27609-7229.

Human Resources Manager in a Small Manufacturing Firm

Education: Carlos received a BA in sociology at a state university in the Arizona. He took a wide range of courses in sociology, social psychology, and business, and studied the sociology of minority groups and race relations. 

Current position: Carlos was drawn to the business world where he wanted to apply his sociological insights. He started as an entry-level assistant in the Human Resources Department of a small company, but after five years Carlos moved up to H.R. Manager, a position with considerable influence over the company's personnel policies. He is involved with strategies and programs for hiring, training, promoting, and managing an increasingly diverse workforce. 

Benefits: At first, Carlos earned an average entry-level salary but also had access to in-service training, which helped him advance to a managerial position. He enjoys on-site athletic facilities and good medical benefits. Ultimately, Carlos may be promoted to an even higher position within the firm or seek advancement by joining another company. He enjoys contributing his insights into the complicated issues of gender and cultural diversity in the workplace.

Some advantages accrue to entering the work force with a BA. Employers are often willing to train BA graduates in the specific skills and knowledge required for their workplace, so you could begin a good career by rising through the ranks. Many organizations might also invest in additional education or training for promising employees. 

Obtaining work experience before applying to graduate school might improve your chances of acceptance and make further education more meaningful. An entry level job might also help you sharpen your interests and decide future directions--continuing to climb the career ladder, changing fields, or furthering your education.

Research Director in a Telecommunications Firm

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.

Planning Officer in a State Department of Planning and Development

Education: Paula earned a PhD in sociology with specialization in population and demography, urban sociology, and economic sociology.

Current position: Paula has worked for five years in the State Department of Planning and Development and has now risen to Assistant Director in the Office of Long-Range Forecasting. Her position involves considerable sociological knowledge and skill, especially in projecting population shifts into and out of the state's major urban areas, especially the inner cities.

Responsibilities: Paula not only commissions research on her own, but she keeps up with the growing research literature. While she does relatively little research herself, Paula's work is particularly important since she keeps informed about relevant studies on the socio-economic problems of inner city neighborhoods and prepares frequent reports and analyses based on new findings. She serves as a bridge to outside research experts working on contracts with the department. In addition, Paula has taken on administrative responsibility for a growing staff that works under her supervision. Her work directly affects how much funding the state provides to urban governments.

Benefits: In addition to making a good living, Paula finds satisfaction in contributing insights to critical decisions concerning the state's future urban growth and its strategies for cooperating with local governments.

This type of career involves working closely with producers as well as consumers of research, ultimately as a supervisor, administrator, or staff specialist. As with any occupation, it is unlikely that younger persons will be hired directly into such high level positions. Typically, they work their way up from lower-level staff positions. It is not uncommon for recent sociology graduates to be hired as staff members in a government agency and then follow a career which involves increased policy influence and administrative responsibility. Competent administration often involves good sociological principles, although few administrative positions formally require sociological training.

Other Opportunities in Government. In government settings, many sociologists conduct research and evaluation projects, others manage programs, and some are engaged in policy analysis or problem solving for their agency. Although specific areas of expertise vary, sociologists command an arsenal of skills, knowledge, and experience that can be put to good use at all levels of a complex government. They are employed in such Federal agencies as the Department of Health and Human Services, National Institute of Aging, National Institute of Mental Health, National Institute of Drug Abuse, Bureau of the Census, the Department of Agriculture, the General Accounting Office, the National Science Foundation, Housing and Urban Development, the Peace Corps, or the Centers for Disease Control--among many others. Some work at non- governmental organizations such as The World Bank, the National Academy of Sciences, the Social Science Research Council, Children's Defense Fund, Common Cause, and a wide range of professional and public interest associations. At the state level, many are engaged in urban planning, health planning, criminal justice, education, and social service administration.

Staff Member of a Research Institute

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.

Staff Member of a Federal Agency

Education: After graduating from a small predominantly Black college in the South, Linda received a fellowship for graduate work at a private university in the North. She progressed quickly, choosing to specialize in the sociology of education, a subject which fascinated her. While completing her PhD thesis, she spent summers working for a Senator who supports national education reform.

Current position: Linda has only recently joined the staff of the U.S. Department of Education where she serves as a Social Science Analyst. Her division focuses on key issues in minority education--recruitment, financial support, mentoring, and career development. 

Responsibilities: In her new job, Linda conducts research on the access of minority students to higher education. Her findings will be presented to Congress as education reform proceeds. She supervises two assistants. 

Benefits: Linda's salary is determined by the U.S. Civil Service scale, which provides her with a reasonable and stable income, and excellent benefits including pension, medical coverage, and vacations.

Because government sociologists face complex problems that require complex solutions, they must be able to produce good data and place it into a broader context. Skills in survey and evaluation research and special knowledge in such areas as health sociology, aging, criminal justice, demography, and the family enable the sociologist to understand (and sometimes shape) current or proposed government programs that affect vast numbers of people. Some special programs afford students an opportunity to gain government experience: 

The Federal Cooperative Education Program allows students of many disciplines, including sociology, to alternate full-time college study with full- time employment in a Federal agency. Many agencies that attract sociologists participate in this program. Contact the Office of Personnel Management in Washington, D.C., the agency personnel office, or your college placement office.

The Presidential Management Internship Program (PMI) offers Federal employment to students upon completion of their graduate program. Sociology majors are eligible under this program. It offers rewarding entry-level positions that provide exposure to a wide range of public management issues. This program also provides substantial opportunities for career development, on-the-job training, and job rotation to expand skills and knowledge. For more information, contact the Office of Personnel Management or your career placement office. 

Opportunities in Business. Many sociologists with BA degrees enter the private sector, working primarily in sales, human resources, and management. Corporations employ full-time (or hire as consultants) those with advanced degrees, especially in the fields of marketing, advertising, telecommunications, and insurance. Businesses especially benefit from sociologists who specialize in demography--the study of population--and market research--the study of the needs, preferences, and life-styles of potential clients or customers. Many sociologists work in public opinion or market research, producing findings of interest to leaders in politics, communications, and advertising. Industrial or corporate sociologists--experts on productivity, work relations, minorities and women in the work force, linking technology to the organization, corporate cultures and organizational development--constitute another specialized group.

Sociologists in the corporate world command an arsenal of skills and knowledge that help solve a wide range of business problems, increase job satisfaction, serve consumers better, and make companies more profitable. These include: 

  • using demography and forecasting to plan for the future;
  • using training techniques to deal with organizational change;
  • finding out what consumers want through market analysis and focus groups;
  • increasing productivity and efficiency through team-building and work reorganization.

Back to Top