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Advice for Phd/General Sociology Intro


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tldr; Polisci trained data analyst wants to leave career as data analyst for a sociology phd.

Hello Everyone!

I'm considering applying for a Sociology PhD this fall. I'm an older applicant (30) with 5-6 years working experience in the tech industry as a data analyst. As far as education, I have a background in Political Science (BA from University of California, and Msc at the LSE). I plan on taking the GRE next month. 

I guess to start I'm just wondering if I could get a sense of what brought people to sociology at the graduate level? What was the moment where you were decided that it was the right discipline for a Phd? For myself, I realized that I'm more interested in broader social science questions than what political science offers. Of course there are broad questions in that discipline, but I get the feeling that a lot of the study at top departments centers around formal theory about the dynamics of legislatures and/or voting rules, which I'm not particularly interested in. I also buy into social science theory that places individuals within a network, rather than something based in purely rational choice like I was trained in Polisci. 

Other questions I have are more directed towards PhD applications specifically. Does anyone have experience starting a sociology PhD later in life? What work experience did you have and how did you communicate about it? Do you feel like your work experience was a valuable asset in your application? 

In my case I have been working as a quantitative researcher and data analyst since my Masters. I also know a few programming languages (R, Sql, Python). I’m hoping this experience will be relevant to most social science PhDs, and just want to know if there is a particular way to spin it.

As far as motivations, I have realized over the last few years that I really want to be a researcher, and I specifically want to be able to dive into social science topics. I love the idea of being able read, study and analyze issues from sociology, history and philosophy. Work as a data analyst often focuses on questions I'm not particularly interested in, and focuses on a superficial understanding of these questions. 

Also if anyone has a good reading list to work through to get a good overview I would greatly appreciate any guidance. I’m thinking of just reading through a bunch of scholarship to help seed ideas for my personal statement. 

Anyways just wanted to start the conversation and hear people’s thoughts. 


Edited by nate232
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With regard to your first question: I, like you, became interested in sociology when I realized that the sorts of questions I'm interested in don't seem to be central to political science. (That said, since sociology is so broad, almost nothing is "central" to the field in any meaningful sense; there is much more consensus, at least among subfields, about what is "core" to political science as a discipline). In my case, I realized that political scientists (other than a handful of theorists) pay an inadequate amount of attention to the role culture plays in politics. Measuring the influence of meaning and systems of meaning simply isn't something political scientists are really concerned with (although in recent years there has been some political science research roughly in this realm). 

Anyway, based on what you identified as the thing drawing you to sociology (attention to social network influence), you should look into Harrison White's students. Breiger at Arizona, Granovetter at Stanford, Mische at Notre Dame, Laumann at Chicago, and Bearman at Columbia all play particularly close attention to networks in their social research. Bearman in particular has written about "analytical sociology" which is the approach that it sounds like you're most drawn toward.

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Just a short comment:

The intro to sociology textbook I use says that one of the differences between political science and sociology is that polisci is almost a subset of sociolgy specifically focused on power. You can definitely come over here with your previous training! 

Also, there is definitely a big push in many departments for data science or computational social sciences. My mind goes automatically to the university of Chicago, to James Moody, and to Carter Buttes. Check out the work their doing and see if you'd like to follow in their footsteps.

Also, there's a Lot of comprehensive exam reading lists online for specific areas (culture, gender, medical soc, political Soc, etc). Think about what you're most interested in and Google for the reading list or a graduate course to give yourself some ideas.

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2 hours ago, limonchello said:

Also, there is definitely a big push in many departments for data science or computational social sciences. My mind goes automatically to the university of Chicago, to James Moody, and to Carter Buttes. Check out the work their doing and see if you'd like to follow in their footsteps.

This is extremely true. With a background like yours, you'll likely be a desirable prospect at a number of departments that have at least a couple folks working in computational social science. Places like UCLA, Cornell, Duke, Columbia, Michigan, Penn State, Chicago, UNC, Princeton, and even Harvard would look upon your work history and coding experience very favorably. That said, the computational folks at those institutions tend to very different things, so I recommend finding interesting work that was published in sociology recently and try to identify the departments with faculty who do the work that interests you most.

Out of curiosity, what sorts of questions are you interested in answering within sociology?

Edited by sociopolitic
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