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Advice for Undergrad

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I'm an undergraduate about to finish his second year of college, and I've been thinking a lot about graduate schools. I'm interested in pursuing a PhD in sociology. My question is: what do you wish you could have gone back and told your undergraduate self? This can concern courses, faculty connections, graduate application process, research, etc. Any and all advice is hugely appreciated.

Some background on myself: Political Science major who recently decided to double major in Sociology after realizing that polisci felt too narrow. Also pursuing a minor in cognitive science, as I've been somewhat fascinated by cognitive sociology. I go to UC San Diego, and balance a research assistantship in the political science program with a job. I've also dabbled in journalism on campus. I've been looking to get more involved, perhaps further in social research. I am especially interested in advice on acquiring research experience in the social sciences/good skills to develop.

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If you are interested in quantitative research, I suggest taking courses on statistics, data science, and possibly programming. While we often think of these as being topics for computer scientists; there is an increasing demand for these skills in sociology and computational social science. It can make you look like a very attractive candidate for certain graduate schools. 

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Second what high_hopes says. In general, methods courses are more valuable than content-based courses. PhD programs are largely designed to turn you into research producers, rather than consumers. Most of the coursework you will have in grad school is methods based for these reasons. Any opportunity you can get to give yourself a head start there will make you a great candidate. In addition, if there's any type of course you can take that gives you an option for an independent project, thesis, or even just original research paper you should do it. You will need a writing sample for your PhD application and in general this will show ad comms that you haven't just read sociology, but can actually practice it as well. Finally, take all opportunities to meet with faculty, go to office hours, etc. I was lucky enough to have a fantastic undergrad mentor this way and I got a job working as her research assistant after graduating. My relationship with her strengthened my application enormously, as it boosted my recommendations, my resume, and gave me more primary research opportunities. Sociology is also a small world. I got into my mentor's alma mater and other schools where she has a relationship, and I don't think that's a coincidence. It's not nepotism, but a recommendation means more if the ad comms know the person it's coming from.

Feel free to pm me if you want to talk in more detail. 

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I can only second what the other two said (methods, methods, methods). If you’re looking to go into serious quant, you might even want to start thinking about taking a couple math classes and then doing stats sequences that involve calculus and linear algebra (at the Econ or stats department). And the hidden benefit from taking all these methods and theses classes, that might be even more important, is that you’ll actually get to take a first look whether this whole research thing is as appealing to you as you thought. Some people start with a very romanticized idea of a PhD in their head, leading them to drop out. Getting as much experience as you possibly could before will help you decide whether this is something that you truly want to do (which is something that’s not always easy to say coming straight out of undergrad). So make sure to take stock ever so often whether you are enjoying the classes you’re taking and whether these fit with what you were hoping to do in a research program. 

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I have to agree with all three. In addition, I think you should take courses or electives that interests you and helps you shape your research interests. At the end of the day, it comes down to research fit with the department. Some students make the mistake of applying to brand name schools instead of thinking if they'll be able to do their research if the person they want to work with leaves the program. Also, try opting to get a year or more worth of research experience related to the research you want to do. That sets you apart in a sense that you have started "doing research." Also, try to TA or RA as much as you can. It's something that I wish I did differently, but I came from a school where the program was small and opportunities were limited.

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Get experience with writing and applying for big grants and scholarships. It is a lower-risk task in undergrad and will afford you some experience for grad, when you actually more or less need to apply to grants and fellowships.

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Many sociologists don't do much or any quant research — if you're not into the math courses that others are recommending, don't despair. I'd say take courses broadly to find out what you're really interested in; you'll have to take many methods courses in grad school anyway. Also, any experience you can get assisting a professor with research is excellent, and definitely make sure you have some research you've done alone (for a class, in all likelihood) that you can use as a stellar writing sample when the time comes to apply to grad school. 

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