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New to Sociology - What do I do?


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I'm an undergraduate student majoring in neuroscience with a minor in economics and a lot of computational/statistical courses. But lately, I've become very interested in sociology, particularly in social movements. I can graduate this May with my neuroscience bachelor's.

I'd really like to get a PhD in sociology but fear I don't have the undergraduate background for it. Should I do a Master's first? If so, where? What are the top PhD programs in the study of social movements? I also notice that most PhD programs require a 15-30 page writing sample. Unfortunately, I've never written anything of that length. But I could. Any thoughts would be appreciated. Thanks :)

Edited by apollostarfall
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I'm looking into sociology programs myself after a long hiatus and in a completely different field--I have a BFA and MFA in photography and graduated in 2001. From what I can tell the nice thing about sociology programs is that they don't seem to mind if you don't have a sociology background, in fact they seem to welcome diversity as far as undergraduate areas of study. I'd say neuroscience would be a great asset and would make you a strong candidate.

 

I'm only applying in the New York area and NYU, Columbia, CUNY and Rutgers all seem fine with no sociology training for their PhD departments. None of them offer terminal Masters unless you apply to Columbia's accelerated 1 year program or NYU has a Masters in Applied Quantitative Research (not my area of expertise). Also, all of the applications only require 5-10 page writing samples (thank goodness!) except for Columbia, but I wonder if they wouldn't let you submit a few different papers that added up to that length, I'm going to be looking into that.

 

I myself am taking Non-Degree courses at Columbia in their School of Continuing Ed since I need someone to write me a recommendation, having been out of school for so long I only really have two professors I'm still in touch with who can vouch for me, so I'm hoping my current professor will be willing to write a recommendation. So that might be something to look into if you're worried about having some sociology experience to include with your applications.

 

Good luck! 

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What fascinates you about social movements?  What research questions do you have about them?  Different programs use different approaches, so until we know what you are wanting to study not a lot can be said about which one is best.  Also, what criteria are most important to you?  Do you want the program to be #1? Do you want funding (most of us do)? Do you want a program with a large number of faculty or do you want a program with a few faculty who are very hands on?

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What fascinates you about social movements?  What research questions do you have about them?  Different programs use different approaches, so until we know what you are wanting to study not a lot can be said about which one is best.  Also, what criteria are most important to you?  Do you want the program to be #1? Do you want funding (most of us do)? Do you want a program with a large number of faculty or do you want a program with a few faculty who are very hands on?

Good questions. I'm fascinated by questions like what factors make social movements succeed or fail, the role of individuals in social movements (e.g. what would have happened to US civil rights without MLK?), what makes people join and leave various social movements, how different movements interact and synergize/detract from each other, etc. I'd say my interests are pretty broad within that area.

Methodologically, I think quantitative and analytical methods are most powerful, but of course I'm open to other methods.

Quality of the program and strength in social movement research are the two most important criteria. I'd like somewhere with good job placements :P Funding is also good! No obvious preference for size of the program.

 

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I'm an undergraduate student majoring in neuroscience with a minor in economics and a lot of computational/statistical courses. But lately, I've become very interested in sociology, particularly in social movements. I can graduate this May with my neuroscience bachelor's.

I'd really like to get a PhD in sociology but fear I don't have the undergraduate background for it. Should I do a Master's first? If so, where? What are the top PhD programs in the study of social movements? I also notice that most PhD programs require a 15-30 page writing sample. Unfortunately, I've never written anything of that length. But I could. Any thoughts would be appreciated. Thanks :)

 

Don't worry about undergrad background. Just nail the GREs and write a convincing statement of purpose. If you really can't get some of your best writing up to ~15 pages for the writing sample, then it would be appropriate to contact the DGS or chair of admissions and explain your situation (you were a neuro major; didn't have to write long papers; can you submit 2 shorter papers). 

 

Do not do a masters before at least trying to get into PhD programs. Identify the 5-10 PhD programs you would definitely attend if you were accepted (and no more), plus one or two top terminal MAs if you're worried (check out MAPSS at U Chicago, which is apparently pretty decent and offers some financial aid). If you get rejected from all the PhD programs, see no way to improve your application significantly in the next 6 months (and it's easy to improve seeing as how learnable the GRE and SoP are), and are committed to starting grad school in the immediate future, then consider an MA. Otherwise it is a huge expense for little added value. 

 

As for social movements research, sounds like you have some interests very relevant to sociology. The "outcomes" question is particularly relevant these days. I wouldn't narrow yourself too much to strong social movements departments though. If you have a really strong application, then it makes sense to reach for at least a couple of the top programs (Berkeley, Harvard, etc). Regardless of whether those are "known" for social movements in the same way as, say, UNC or UCI, they have large enough and excellent enough faculty to make any project succeed. In other words, there are definitely places that are obviously strong in social movement research (I'll list some below), but there's nowhere in the top 20 programs where you can't study social movements, at least in conjunction with other areas like political economy, culture, race, environment, etc. 

 

In any case, places (and sample people) you should check out for strong social movement research and quant methods would be UNC Chapel Hill (Neal Caren), UC Irvine (David Meyer, Ed Amenta), and Stanford (Sarah Soule). But as I said, practically every top department is equipped to advise on social movement research, if not offer a specific class. 

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