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Best qualitative programs


JosephKOR
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Hi everyone:

I'm going to be applying in 2012-2013 for Sociology PhD programs. Can someone list some strong qualitative programs in the US? I'm thinking about applying to approximately 10 programs.

Thanks for your help!

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Almost all the ones in the top 10 are gonna be good for qualitative methods, and most for quant. The ones outside the top 10 that really pop up at me are Yale, NYU, UCSB, UCSD, Rutgers, CUNY.

I'm sure there are a bunch of others; but those are the ones (outside the top 10) that come to mind. But it also depends on what type of qualitative methods (ethnography, mostly theory, or comparative historical).

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Someone else might have more in depth knowledge on the subject, but based on what I know, I don't think Yale should be on that list. I spoke with a professor there last summer when I was considering applying, and I was told that they had only recently started offering a one semester course in qualitative methods. Before that, they more or less left it up to people to figure it out. Doesn't sound promising.

And if you are considering top ten schools, it's not quite as simple as saying they'd all be good. You essentially won't be able to do ethnography at Stanford, whereas Berkeley is extremely strong in all qualitative methods, especially ethnography. UCLA is another good qualitative program, and I would include Harvard on that list too. Some place like Princeton is trickier, because Mitch Duneier is a pretty big name in the field, but there wouldn't be many other people to work with and you would be required to take some serious stats coursework and write a "publishable" quantitative paper pretty early on in the program.

In general, when you're considering programs, I would look first at professors who you'd want to work with, then look at the coursework requirements for the program. Will there be more than one person there who could mentor you in the specific methods you want to use? Are there courses regularly available in those methods? How many courses would you have to take in quantitative methods?

Also, this goes for all 2013 applicants who are asking these sorts of questions on this site: I hope you're also having these conversations with your professors/future letter writers. Besides the fact that they are likely to be infinitely more knowledgable on the subject, it's also a great way to start a conversation with a professor that maybe you haven't had a chance to talk to in a while, and to show them that you are serious about doing this.

Anyway, good luck!

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Thanks for the input! I have another somewhat unrelated question. My interests in qualitative sociology include deviance and the new age movement. However, much of my academic background doesn't speak to these issues. Do you think these programs will have a problem with this? The way I see it is that these are my interests, and even though my transcripts may not show it, I need to be honest with these programs.

Thanks again.

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Hmm...here's my take on the situation:

One of the most helpful ways of thinking about the SOP that someone suggested to me was that it's more or less your intellectual biography. You discuss how you came to your interests, you support what you say with evidence from your undergrad record (classes you took, research you did, etc), and you explain where want to go with those interests in the future. It is OK to have a more or less focused understanding of what the future research might look like (In my case, I kind of just narrowed it down to some thematic interests and explained that I was a little methodologically uncertain-- the whole section was relatively short. One of the only other SOPs I read was from a friend who had an extremely clear idea of not only the academic literature he wanted to address, but also had a specific project planned out. We were both very successful in the admissions process-- there is no one right way that departments prefer.)

All of this should fit together into a cohesive narrative that always concludes with the assurance that whatever program you're applying to is the one and true place where you should pursue the work you want to do. It does not make any sense to say "I really loved my stats classes, and I was really inspired by working with Prof X on her demography research, and my thesis used an innovative quantitative analysis of migration to contribute to Y theory, so now as a graduate student I really want to do an ethnographic field study of street violence in cities with gang injunctions." There are reasons why you came to the interests you have, even if you have experience studying something else in the past.

Let me offer an example from my own intellectual biography: The very first independent project I did as an undergrad looked at social stratification and education. I was actually extremely bored with the project before I finished it, and I knew that I didn't want to study education at all after that. But I got some good experience out of it, some accolades to add to my CV, and a good sense of what I didn't want to study (a more valuable lesson than a lot of people realize at first). In my SOP, I briefly described the project and what I got out of it (experience with research, an award and a presentation at some conferences), then explained something like: "But this line of inquiry ultimately left me with more questions than answers. Rather than looking at how stratification was created and recreated in the education system, I became increasingly interested in how people understood and justified the ideas that support stratification throughout society at large. This new area of research led me to blah blah blah..." You get the idea.

I would suggest thinking about what you've done before-- the classes you've taken, and research you've assisted with or done yourself-- think about what you're interested in doing in the future, and then think about how you went from one set of interests to the next. Bridging that gap and explaining the evolution of your interests can be an integral part of your statement. You don't have to lie-- just reflect on the path that brought you to where you are, and try to figure out how to put it all together in a cohesive narrative that will help an admissions committee understand where you're coming from and what they can expect from you in the future.

Anyway, this could go on and on and on. If any of this is helpful to you, please feel free to PM me for more specific advice/feedback/whatever. I hope this doesn't make me sound like too much of a jackass, but I feel pretty comfortable saying that I kick ass at application essays, and I'd be happy to help if you want it.

Again, good luck!

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Also, for more general advice on SOP, try here: http://grad.berkeley.edu/admissions/state_purpose.shtml

But you definitely won't be the first person to want to go a slightly different angle in grad school than you took as an undergrad. (A lot of people go into grad school sure they won't change their minds, then inevitably do once they're there and getting exposed to new ideas.) How you communicate that in your SOP will probably depend a lot on how much of a turnaround you had, but you can definitely make it work.

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I'll add some thoughts to @splitends here - I've been doing a few visits, and will have some more in the next few weeks before making a firm decision.. my background and interests have all been in qualitative methods and plan on continuing working in this manner, perhaps also in mixed methods depending on the situation -- but most of my line of questioning for the schools I'm considering has been based on the ability for me to do qualitative methods.

One program that wasn't mentioned before was Northwestern - incredibly strong. In fact, I've had some professors in the field and current graduate students remark that it might be strongest right now for qualitative methods above other ones mentioned. Solid faculty, great training, top notch reputation for qualitative methods that has been only getting stronger as of late.

I would disagree with @splitends comment that you "essentially won't be able to do ethnography at Stanford" -- @splitends and I actually PM-ed about this a few weeks ago and I was ready to write off Stanford from my list after our conversation. But I've been speaking to some current graduate students and professors from Stanford and I'm realizing that the department isn't against qualitative methods at all. That being said, Stanford definitely has a reputation for quantitative methods, and I think that a decade ago, it was probably much harder in the program if you were a qualitative scholar. But I'm also beginning to think that this reputation seems to be augmented more so by Berkeley people I speak with (the joke at Stanford seems to be that all Berkeley sociology students want to do is theorize about Marx, while the joke at Berkeley is that Stanford students just sit in front of a computer crunching numbers without going into the real world). I'm impartial to either school, so my observation is that while Berkeley is definitely a very strong qualitative program (and great in theory), Stanford would also provide very strong training in qualitative methods (the class is now taught by Dr. Jimenez), while also providing top notch quantitative training. I really do think that you would have great qualitative training in any top 10 program and be fine working in those methods.

Incidentally, from the most recent graduating cohort from Stanford, their best placement (into a top 5/UNC) was a strongly ethnographic qualitative scholar:

http://sociology.unc...-laura/curvitae

Edited by sciencegirl
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Also, sometimes people just really care about a topic, or are willing to support any interesting ideas. An ethnographer in our department has two students now: one ethnographer and one who does very quantitative neighborhood effects stuff (I think, I know it's quantitative). One of the top quantitative people in the department has mainly had quantitative students, but also has had a few qualitative historical students, and now has another qualitative student, just because the two of them really get along together. My committee will be two people who do the same general topic (one purely qualitative, one more quantitative but also very theoretical) and two people (again, probably one qualitative and one quantitative) who are just people I like and want to read my work. Most departments have a "PhD's on the Market" category on their website (especially in the Spring). Look who is on their committees: at some schools, it might be very homogenous qualitative and quantitative (I'd imagine this is more common at larger departments like Wisconsin and UCLA), but at others, there will be a huge mix of people on committees (I'd imagine this is more common at small departments like Princeton and Iowa).

Like look at CV science girl just posted of a qualitative sociologist. Her committee was: Monica McDermott (Chair) [ethnography], Tomás Jiménez [ethnography and interviews], David Grusky [mainly quant, often quite sophisticated stuff], Matthew Snipp [mainly demography]. Things like that are why the overall quality of the department matters--graduate students in sociology who use qualitative methods aren't put in a segregated little corner where numbers are strictly verboten, they're part of a department.

Personally, I think I'd have an easier time working with someone who was quantitative but loved sociology as a whole ( someone like Andy Abbott) than someone who regularly employed the terms "hegemony" and "knowledge-power" (not naming any names). Not that there's something wrong with that, I would just not find it particularly useful for my work. There's more to take into account than just methodology. I'd suggest finding people you want to work with and then figure out who's in their departments. Honestly, at all top-25 departments, I think I could only find like 6 or so clear potential advisers.

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I would argue that UT-Austin has a strong qualitative presence - in fact, Qualitative Sociology (the journal) use to be housed here. Our chair Christine Williams is a renown qualitative researcher (and the former editor of Gender & Society), and we have Maya Charrad (an extremely famous historical-comparative academic), Javier Auyero (a renown ethnographer), Gloria Gonzalez-Lopez, Ben Carrington, Simone Brown, Sharmilla Rudrappa, and the list could go on and on. I think our demography program steals the spotlight at times, but UT-Austin also has very strong qualitative faculty and should not be over-looked!

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I would agree with UT-Austin, and I would also argue UCSB is very strong. It appears that everyone (even the quant. people) utilize some form of qualitative methods.

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And if you are considering top ten schools, it's not quite as simple as saying they'd all be good. You essentially won't be able to do ethnography at Stanford, whereas Berkeley is extremely strong in all qualitative methods, especially ethnography. UCLA is another good qualitative program, and I would include Harvard on that list too. Some place like Princeton is trickier, because Mitch Duneier is a pretty big name in the field, but there wouldn't be many other people to work with and you would be required to take some serious stats coursework and write a "publishable" quantitative paper pretty early on in the program.

Anyway, good luck!

I think Paul Willis (Learning to Labor, major cultural studies guy), is still at Princeton. I think that Princeton has a strong ethnographic section because they do single it out.

Columbia also has its own section about ethnography, so look there.

UC Santa Cruz, while lower ranked has several people that do qualitative methods so look there to.

The one warning I will give you, I have found the lower end programs don't have a lot of qualitative people, mostly likely due to funding or just not attracting qualitative people. Although I could be because I looked for several different things and was having trouble finding all three.

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I was accepted into Berkeley and Madison and ultimately decided to attend Florida International University. It is an interdisciplinary program that exposes you to a variety of theories and methods from sociology, anthropology, and geology.

Being an interdisciplinary program, I find that the program is very qualitative centered even though there are some opportunities for the quantitatively focused folk.

I would strongly consider looking into the program and the faculty. It is very strong. It is a new program which maybe makes it a risky choice, but it is doing so many things correctly. The department is supportive opposed to competitive and is just overall quite lovely.

Anyway, I just thought I'd throw that out there.

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Note that Tomas Jimenez will not be at Stanford in the 2012-2013 school year, so the department plans to offer student-led training in qualitative methods.

If you're sure that you want to conduct primarily qualitative research, it's probably a good idea to enroll in a program with at least a few faculty who specialize in qualitative methods. It's great when quantitative sociologists find your work interesting and you have peers in your cohort who share your interests, but ultimately, you'll want qual faculty advocating for you on the job market. There are some things about subfields and methodologies that other grad students (and certainly faculty who don't have expertise in those subfields and methodologies) just can't teach you.

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I was accepted into Berkeley and Madison and ultimately decided to attend Florida International University. It is an interdisciplinary program that exposes you to a variety of theories and methods from sociology, anthropology, and geology.

Being an interdisciplinary program, I find that the program is very qualitative centered even though there are some opportunities for the quantitatively focused folk.

I would strongly consider looking into the program and the faculty. It is very strong. It is a new program which maybe makes it a risky choice, but it is doing so many things correctly. The department is supportive opposed to competitive and is just overall quite lovely.

Anyway, I just thought I'd throw that out there.

Hey, interestingmix,

I was curious and looked it up. Yes, the program seems pretty strong for sociology students who are interested in interdisciplinary research. The combination of faculty is amazing. I had been shopping around for interdisciplinary program and did not bump into this one.

I think it's too late for me to apply now; although the offical deadline is April 1. And I do not think the body of faculty does really match my research interests. But I am so delighted to see such an energetic, renovative, and refreshing program! I almost feel like it can be the sociological counterpart of the Standford Modern Thought and Literature program (an interdisciplinary program with a base in literature). I envy you! Plus, it's Miami!

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@Nazimova23 - to better explain the situation next year, Dr. Jimenez will be at Stanford, just not teaching. He plans to stay on campus working on his second book as he goes up for tenure sometime in the next 2-4 years. He also plans on staying in the program if they want him to stay (ie, he gets tenure). I wanted to clarify this though since sometimes when someone is gone for a year on a fellowship at another school (and they are an assistant professor) this might indicate a higher likelihood of them leaving the program. But in my meeting with Dr. Jimenez at the open house, he seemed really committed to Stanford. He is certainly considered a rising star in the field (if not already risen somewhat) and he doesn't have many students right now. So I don't think the book is closed on the idea that no one tenured at Stanford is qualitative as I think the likelihood of him getting tenure at Stanford soon is quite high.

But as we were at the same open house last week - certainly other programs have more senior qualitative people, though I still think you'd be able to do qualitative work at any top 10 program.

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@sciencegirl- The Stanford tenure process is almost as difficult to achieve as the Harvard tenure process. The last time someone from the sociology department received tenure was in the mid 1990s. What Stanford and Harvard do is just hire established professors in the field and give them a full professorship title. I do think Dr. Jimenez is amazing and his work is incredible but trends are trends. At Stanford, I can't think of anyone full professor who does stuff using primarily qualtitative methods. Maybe I'm wrong?

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@ANLstyle - the tenure process is definitely hard, and it has mostly to do with the outside review committee.. that is, after a recommendation for tenure is approved by the sociology department, the person goes up for review to a committee outside of the department (which includes professors from all walks of life from sciences to humanities, as well as either the provost and/or the President of the university). Most of the time, this is where very competitive candidates get tripped up.

I will say that a general trend for many schools now (including Harvard) is to hire assistant professors who have a good chance at getting tenure and are actively helping them to get tenure (Jason Beckfield at Harvard just got tenure and Harvard is also notorious for never tenuring their own assistant professors). This trend has been noticed in other fields and top Ivys (and as you said, trends are trends) - so I'm just going off of trends and thinking that it is more prevalent now than before, and that if anyone has a great shot at it, it would be Dr. Jimenez. He won't go up for it until his second book is out - and given his incredibly impressive CV already, AND the hole of qualitative people, I would be really surprised if he didn't get it.

I don't think at all Stanford is hostile to tenuring qualitative people - just that the process itself favors those that aren't qualitative. (My guess is that time is the biggest issue - that people working in qualitative methods need more time for research, and in the game of CV padding for tenure reviews, this is where qualitative people get stuck).

Basically, I don't think they are causal - where being qualitative is the issue - just that it takes longer to create the research needed, and to have the impact that tenure committees are looking for.

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@ANLstyle - one more thing I realized, the last assistant professor at Stanford sociology who got tenure was actually two years ago: Michael Rosenfeld - so in many ways the trend seems to be moving in that direction more than it used to.

Someone PM:ed me and asked how I know what the tenure process is like at the top schools.. awhile back, when I was considering phD programs, a friend sent me a link to this in-depth article from Harvard's newspaper that spelled out the process. It actually made me reconsider my desire to enter into an R1 track (and I am still a but terrified of ever being able to go through the tenure process as it seems quite challenging). Anyway, read at your own risk. (Also, know that Harvard's system is the toughest out of all of them, but other schools such as Berkeley and Stanford are similarly challenging in their own right):

http://www.thecrimso...witz-graduated/

Edited by sciencegirl
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