What Does a Sociologist Do?

By Indeed Editorial Team

Updated July 21, 2022

Published June 21, 2021

The Indeed Editorial Team comprises a diverse and talented team of writers, researchers and subject matter experts equipped with Indeed's data and insights to deliver useful tips to help guide your career journey.

A sociologist is someone who studies human behaviour and interaction throughout history. They examine and analyze social organizations, institutions and the process of social development that has brought us to the current day. In this article, we discuss what sociologists do, what their responsibilities are and how you can become one.

What does a sociologist do?

A sociologist has many responsibilities. Those who take part in this profession can do any of the following:

  • Performing tests: Sociologists confirm or deny theories about social issues and social change.

  • Using surveys: You'll gather data from surveys and statistics.

  • Publishing findings: Your research will be published when necessary.

  • Participating in interdisciplinary teams: Sociologists work in interdisciplinary teams that can include anthropologists, social workers, lawmakers and more.

Because sociologists analyze human behaviour, they are essential components of any organization or field. Sociologists will collect data on various social activities like religion, institutions and politics. Their purpose is to identify how these social activities impact human beings and how mankind developed from its place of origin through these social activities.

When researching, sociologists will gather information using qualitative and quantitative methods. Moreover, sociologists will perform statistics while doing research.

Related: Research Methods in Sociology (With Definition and Examples)

The purpose of sociologists is to help those in organizations and governments to make decisions based on trends in human behaviour and the impacts of various policies. With this information, those in charge can make appropriate changes.

Sociologists can also become criminologists if they decide to turn their research on human behaviour toward crime. Sociologists who specialize in crime will perform research on both criminal human behaviour and the legal system to better understand the causes and impacts of crime on people and populations.

What is the work environment like?

Nearly half of sociologists work in the research of human behaviour. As such, most jobs available for sociologists are in the government or in research facilities. Otherwise, sociologists can also work in educational institutions like universities, and they can become self-employed workers.

What does it take to become a sociologist?

Sociologists require a balance between education, training, and skill. Depending on where you want to work, you'll likely need either a master's degree or a PhD to become a sociologist. There are a few paths you can take to become one; for example, you can follow a traditional two-year university program. Alternatively, you can enter applied, clinical and professional programs.

Related: Master's vs Bachelor's Degree: What's the Difference?

If you're unsure which one is for you, here's a breakdown of the different paths to becoming a sociologist.

Traditional programs

A traditional program in sociology will prepare university students for the next step of their education. This can either be a master's program or a PhD.

Other programs

The aforementioned applied, clinical and professional programs take another route, wherein they ensure that students are ready to start their careers after school. Rather than focusing on theory to move forward in school like a traditional program, these programs will focus primarily on practical skills and research.

For those looking to become sociologists, it will be important to take courses in research methods and statistics. Not only are these often required courses for sociology degrees, but the majority of the work performed in sociology involves research and statistics.

Volunteering

While you don't need to have volunteer experience to become a sociologist, it certainly helps. You can gain volunteer experience through professional internships or by contributing to a local community. Volunteering will help you build connections in your field and you'll have the opportunity to develop the skills necessary to excel in your field.

Related: Cover Letter for Volunteer Opportunity (Definition and Tips)

Skills required

Those looking to become sociologists should have an interest in thinking critically about the world around them. Moreover, they should be interested in research and investigation. It is often this interest in investigation that turns sociologists toward criminology.

Sociologists also have an interest in helping people. Those who focus on this field will be attracted to serving their community and counselling those around them, either in their personal lives or in their professional lives.

Here is a list of the skills needed to become a sociologist.

Analysis

If you're looking forward to a career in sociology, you should be comfortable analyzing facts and information. You should also be comfortable with statistics because a large part of this job is going over statistics or creating your own.

Read more: Analytical Skills: Essential for Every Job

Communication skills

To work as a sociologist, you should have excellent communication skills. This is because sociologists frequently work with other disciplines and will need to collaborate with them amicably. Moreover, sociologists need to communicate their findings to these disciplines.

Thinking critically

This has been discussed briefly, but you'll need to have excellent critical-thinking skills if you want to succeed in this career. That's because sociologists look at the world around them and gather information to develop critical theories and conclusions about their observations.

Related: How to Become a Critical Thinker (With Tips and Importance)

What is the salary of a sociologist?

The wage and job prospects for sociologists have increased over time. Now, a sociologist who has completed their PhD can earn over $140,000 per year. The median salary for a sociologist is around $83,000; meanwhile, the lowest earners of this field earn just over $45,000.

Job prospects for sociologists

This career requires sociologists to inform other disciplines according to their research. Sociologists may, for example, work with social workers to determine the best course of action for dealing with a client. Likewise, sociologists can work in health, education, politics and more.

Those who have worked or shown interest in research and statistics are those with the best prospects because they can function in most settings.

Read more: 40 Jobs for People With a Sociology Degree

How to become a sociologist

If you want to become a sociologist, there are a few steps you'll need to take first. To start, you'll need to have a master's degree in sociology. While there are many related fields, only those with these degrees can call themselves sociologists.

While there isn't just one path to becoming a sociologist, here is the most common one people take.

1. Get an education

Your education will be the first step in becoming a sociologist. As previously mentioned, a sociology degree is required to delve into this profession and will generally be part of the arts department of your university. These degrees include various courses that focus on theory and sociology like sociological statistics, research methods, political ideologies, and more. An undergraduate degree in sociology will take a minimum of three years to complete and can also include a minor in another discipline. From here, you'll need to start your master's degree to become a sociologist.

2. Choose a specialty

During your studies, you'll need to choose which career path you take. Some will want to focus more on research and, as such, will require more clinical experience. Those with a passion for crime and its impact on society can turn toward criminology. Because of the versatility involved in this field, you can apply the skills learned in this degree to any career you pursue in the future.

3. Decide whether you get a master's degree

A master's degree is required to become a sociologist. For those who choose to follow this path, you can apply for either a traditional or applied degree. Much like the paths for bachelor's degrees, you can obtain a traditional degree if you're planning to pursue a PhD later in your studies. An applied degree, on the other hand, will help you find a job quickly upon graduating and will focus on practical skills.

There are several kinds of master's degrees you can choose from, which is why you'll want to do your research before starting. Some focus more on research and statistics; meanwhile, other degrees will be heavy on theory or practical skills. These degrees will take around two to three years.

4. Decide whether you want a PhD

A PhD is best for those who are looking to pursue academia. If you want to be an expert in your field and become either a lecturer or a researcher, a PhD is the way to go. These programs will require you to perform research and test hypotheses. You'll likely work under a clinical supervisor and may have to present your dissertation to your department. Your Ph.D. will generally take up to four years to finish if you're full-time.

5. Consider getting certified

If you want to be the best sociologist possible, you may want to consider getting certified. There are several certifications available online, including Certified Sociological Practitioner and Certified Clinical Sociologist.

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