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neurosoc

What are the best full-time jobs to improve my sociology PhD chances?

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I graduated in 2015 with my Bachelor's neuroscience. I've been doing social science research for think tanks since then, and I'd like to make a transition into a sociology PhD program. I have a good GPA (3.9) and GREs (166V, 167Q) and lots of sociological research experience. However, I don't have any letters of recommendation from sociologists (I work mostly with psychologists and economists) and didn't take any sociology courses in undergrad.

I'm wondering if there are any full-time jobs I could work at (or maybe a Master's, but those are expensive) that would improve my chances of getting into a top-tier sociology PhD program for entry in Fall 2020 or Fall 2021. I know there are a lot of Research Assistant, Lab Manager, and even Predoctoral Fellow positions in psychology, economics, and other disciplines. But I haven't been able to find many for sociology per se.

Any ideas?

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9 hours ago, neurosoc said:

I graduated in 2015 with my Bachelor's neuroscience. I've been doing social science research for think tanks since then, and I'd like to make a transition into a sociology PhD program. I have a good GPA (3.9) and GREs (166V, 167Q) and lots of sociological research experience. However, I don't have any letters of recommendation from sociologists (I work mostly with psychologists and economists) and didn't take any sociology courses in undergrad.

I'm wondering if there are any full-time jobs I could work at (or maybe a Master's, but those are expensive) that would improve my chances of getting into a top-tier sociology PhD program for entry in Fall 2020 or Fall 2021. I know there are a lot of Research Assistant, Lab Manager, and even Predoctoral Fellow positions in psychology, economics, and other disciplines. But I haven't been able to find many for sociology per se.

Any ideas?

It sounds like you already have pretty much the best type of position you can? A huge number of other students in my cohort (top 10 program) worked at social science think tanks like Urban Institute, MDRC, etc. before applying. You have the scores, the grades, and the research experience. The letters might be the weakest part of your application, but overall that is still an incredibly strong profile. I will also say that sociology programs usually respect the methodological training and recommendations from other social science disciplines. Graduate level sociology is very different than undergrad, so often the most important thing is methods and research skills, rather than specific sociology subject-area knowledge.

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Posted (edited)
8 hours ago, xyz234 said:

It sounds like you already have pretty much the best type of position you can? A huge number of other students in my cohort (top 10 program) worked at social science think tanks like Urban Institute, MDRC, etc. before applying. You have the scores, the grades, and the research experience. The letters might be the weakest part of your application, but overall that is still an incredibly strong profile. I will also say that sociology programs usually respect the methodological training and recommendations from other social science disciplines. Graduate level sociology is very different than undergrad, so often the most important thing is methods and research skills, rather than specific sociology subject-area knowledge.

Thanks for the positivity! I'd still like to strengthen my profile if possible, especially given my research experience is unorthodox. The think tanks are niche and not well-known.

Do you have a list of think tanks like Urban Institute and MDRC? Or similar organizations that are common workplaces for pre-doctoral sociologists?

Edited by neurosoc

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You should look at this list, put out every year by a professor at Penn: https://repository.upenn.edu/think_tanks/

According to him and his methods, these are the top 10 think tanks in the US: 

1. Brookings Institution (United States)

2. Center for Strategic and International Studies (CSIS) (United States)

3. Carnegie Endowment for International Peace (United States)

4. Heritage Foundation (United States)

5. Wilson Center, FKA Woodrow Wilson International Center for Scholars (United States)

6. RAND Corporation (United States)

7. Peterson Institute for International Economics (PIIE) (United States)

8. Center for American Progress (CAP) (United States)

9. Urban Institute (United States)

10. Atlantic Council (United States)

Any of those would be awesome, although a few (PIIE, Carnegie, Wilson) are less social policy oriented. You'll see a ton of current sociology (and similar degree) students come from just Brookings, RAND, and Urban alone. 

Off the top of my head, other potentially relevant think tanks/research orgs (some aren't classified technically as think tanks) are: MDRC, Mathematica, American Institutes for Research, Pew Research Center, The Century Foundation, Human Rights Watch, Brennan Center, Center on Budget and Policy Priorities, Aspen Institute, Congressional Research Service, Child Trends, RTI

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6 minutes ago, annetod said:

You should look at this list, put out every year by a professor at Penn: https://repository.upenn.edu/think_tanks/

According to him and his methods, these are the top 10 think tanks in the US: 

1. Brookings Institution (United States)

2. Center for Strategic and International Studies (CSIS) (United States)

3. Carnegie Endowment for International Peace (United States)

4. Heritage Foundation (United States)

5. Wilson Center, FKA Woodrow Wilson International Center for Scholars (United States)

6. RAND Corporation (United States)

7. Peterson Institute for International Economics (PIIE) (United States)

8. Center for American Progress (CAP) (United States)

9. Urban Institute (United States)

10. Atlantic Council (United States)

Any of those would be awesome, although a few (PIIE, Carnegie, Wilson) are less social policy oriented. You'll see a ton of current sociology (and similar degree) students come from just Brookings, RAND, and Urban alone. 

Off the top of my head, other potentially relevant think tanks/research orgs (some aren't classified technically as think tanks) are: MDRC, Mathematica, American Institutes for Research, Pew Research Center, The Century Foundation, Human Rights Watch, Brennan Center, Center on Budget and Policy Priorities, Aspen Institute, Congressional Research Service, Child Trends, RTI

That's really useful. Thank you!

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5 minutes ago, neurosoc said:

That's really useful. Thank you!

I will say though--you've said you work for a think tank now, right? As long as you're developing useful skills there, a different one will provide a significant enough boost to your CV to make it worth the time and effort of interviewing, moving, etc. Places like Brookings, RAND, and Urban could be worth it, maybe Mathematica too, but the others probably aren't a significant enough "upgrade" although I don't know where you are now, obviously. 

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8 hours ago, annetod said:

I will say though--you've said you work for a think tank now, right? As long as you're developing useful skills there, a different one will provide a significant enough boost to your CV to make it worth the time and effort of interviewing, moving, etc. Places like Brookings, RAND, and Urban could be worth it, maybe Mathematica too, but the others probably aren't a significant enough "upgrade" although I don't know where you are now, obviously. 

Lol I just read this back to myself and realized I said the opposite of what I meant: I intended to say it probably will NOT provide a significant enough boost. I think other than those top couple places, name recognition probably won't carry enough weight. Sorry about that. 

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14 hours ago, annetod said:

Lol I just read this back to myself and realized I said the opposite of what I meant: I intended to say it probably will NOT provide a significant enough boost. I think other than those top couple places, name recognition probably won't carry enough weight. Sorry about that. 

Thanks. That makes sense and is very useful. I do think these jobs could also just give me normal sociological research experience, even if they aren't top names. So that could complement my unconventional/non-sociological research experience so far.

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I think it's probably important to note that admissions committees are evaluating you based on their impressions of your potential to become a sociologist rather than whether you're currently a sociologist. With a background of research in sociology and the ability to ask professional social scientists to vouch for your potential as a researcher, I don't think you need to be concerned with making your resume "more sociological" or anything. The part of your application which does need to be very sociological is the SOP, in which you should situate your research interests firmly within the boundaries of sociology and outline the particular faculty/resources a department offers that would assist you in your pursuit of that research. 

In other words, it seems pretty clear from your application materials that you're capable of being a social scientist. What's going to matter to adcomms is whether you can demonstrate commitment to being a sociologist, and that's something they're going to comb through your SOP (not your CV) to evaluate. 

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