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Thoughts on getting a PhD in a program that isn't strictly sociology?


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So, I was admitted to two different programs with nice funding offers.

Program A is strictly a sociology program that doesn't quite fit my research interests. The program director said they are looking to develop courses more in my interest areas over the next few semesters in order to expand the program, but who knows how soon that would actually happen. There's only two people in the department who I would really want to work with - though one isn't teaching currently because he recently received a research grant.

School B fits my interests much better, and there are more people in the department that I would like to work with. They also gave me a slightly better funding package. The program isn't strictly sociology. It's an interdisciplinary program where you have a "sociology track" but then also have to take a few courses in the other tracks in the program. Most of my courses would be sociology. My advisor is warning me against entering this program. He thinks I'll have a harder time getting a job after graduating since it isn't a well known school or solely a sociology program. He said if I would be happy in non-tenure track positions, or community colleges, it might be fine. I don't actually want to go into teaching, so I'm not concerned with not getting a tenure-track job.

I feel like I would have a better academic experience at School B rather than sort of......settling for Program A. Will it hurt my long-term job prospects to go to the one that isn't solely sociology?

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Question - if you don't want to go into teaching/tenure-track job.. do you want to do research then? (And of course I'm hinting at the question, why do you want to do into a doctoral program?) Is School B an American Studies program?

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A long time ago, I was torn between a Women's Studies program and a Sociology one. My advisor gave me the same advice, telling me that it was easy to get a job in a Women's Studies program with a Sociology degree, but nearly impossible to get into a job - let alone a Sociology one - with a Women's Studies degree. There are many more interdisciplinary programs today, so I doubt it's as true as it was back then, but I would still side with your advisor on this one.

That said, don't go into an ill-fitting program because it's the best option. I agree wiith sciencegirl here. Think about why you'd want to go into either of these and if you really want to enter a program at all this year. There is a C option, and that's deciding to do something else for a year.

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Yes, I would like to go into research. I'm not opposed to teaching when I first finished, but long-term, research interests me more. School B also has a better track records of getting their students into research positions. It's not an American Studies program. Quite the opposite actually, focusing on global studies.

Option C isn't an option in my mind. I know that this is what I want to do. I have six admits to PhD programs, and all but School B are in sociology. Funding is my main issue . The two schools I mentioned are the only ones offering me funding - I'm still waiting to hear from one who hasn't released funding yet (boy, would that solve my dilemma...it's my #1), and I'm waitlisted for funding at 3 others.

I know my advisor is right in some instances. It looks better to the outside to have my degree explicitly say sociology rather than trying to explain the interdisciplinary that still is essentially sociology. But I realized School A wasn't a great fit after I went to the visit day for admitted students - besides just not fitting my interests so well. I'm already doing my Masters at a school I wasn't crazy about, so the thought of doing it for another 5 years is disheartening. Even the Masters wasn't so bad because it was only two years, and you really can't complain about a fully funded Masters program, especially if it was the only one to fully fund you. But I am still afraid of shooting myself in the foot before my career has really begun...

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I'm a little bit of a similar situation. I was accepted into a sociology program and into a social work PhD program. Everything about the social work PhD program is better (funding, potential research advisors, rank) but I struggled in making a decision because for years I had only considered sociology. The social work program is very interdisciplinary so I am able to take many sociolgy courses but I still wondered about my future career track. Like you I would like to teach but am mostly interested in research. If the teaching thing does not work out I can see myself doing many other things. I have officially chosen the social work program and feel pretty good about it although I still have some moments of doubt. Still, when I made a pro & con list the only pro for the sociology program was that it was sociology. The social work program far outweighted the soc program in every other category.

I'm not sure how that helps you but I thought I would share my own experience.

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I'm in a similar boat as well. I'm choosing between two programs at this point.

A is a very well regarded traditional sociology department, and B is a very new interdisciplinary program.

I'd hazard a guess that most people on this board would say to go with program A, but I'm genuinely having a difficult time with the decision.

B is such a new program that it only has a few PhD graduates - so basically zero track record to form a basis for comparison. Before you poo-poo it on this basis, read on...

B has absolutely amazing professors - the school has been created alongside an existing research institute. It has poached some of the truly top people worldwide in this field. The research is exactly what I want to be doing, and in fact is more aligned with the professional work I'm doing now. Everyone I've consulted for advice on this matter has conveyed the conventional wisdom regarding disciplinary vs. interdisciplinary departments, but they've also said that the resources of faculty and research at B are so top-notch that my chances of landing a tenure track job might be enhanced if I am able to write a really bang-up dissertation (which seems likely at B ). A PhD at B would take 3-4 years, at A it would take a minimum of 5.

on the other hand...

In general, I was far more impressed with the intellectualism of students at program A (the traditional sociology department). My sense is that the program at B is having trouble in general attracting students whose interests and academic abilities do justice to the caliber of research being conducted by their faculty. One of my primary reasons for going to graduate school is to be a part of a peer intellectual community. At program A, I'm going to be relatively lonely in terms of the topic of my research, but I'll be in a community of very smart people. This is something I really crave. Program A is a top sociology department, and while I am less interested in being a sociologist than I am in being an intellectual, the track record and resources of that department - as well as the broader university - cannot be denied. While there are certainly no guarantees at either department, I'm likely to have a much better time finding an academic job coming from program A than from B. Ironically, the financial support I've been offered at program A is much better than that offered through program B (even when taking into account cost of living).

I'm just agonizing over this decision. Substantively, program B is a much better fit. But academically, program A cannot be beat, plus it's got the track record to prove it. I've tried to make the decision on the basis of advisor- but my potential advisors at both schools are really great. Hella different, but really great.

Apples v. Oranges

So, arandall and others, here's to impossible decisions!

Edited by Chuck
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Definitely an impossible decision.....it feels more like apples vs. pickles.... I'm definitely leaning more towards School B because School A has very few redeeming qualities other than it being a soc program. School B offers both qual and quant - School A is largely qual. Even though School A is a soc program, it's also very very very new. I also think I would be very lonely in the department. My research interests don't seem to quite fit in with the other incoming students - plus, most of them are coming in from the department's master's program and already know each other and have established social networks. Maybe that's a small point for some people, but I'm fairly shy and already had a similar situation coming into my current master's program. I still have that nagging voice in the back of my mind (that sounds strangely like my advisor....) that I'll be making a big mistake. I think my brain just likes second guessing itself.

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