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Hi everyone. I'm in my first semester in my program of Sociology, with an applied research specialty.  I recently met with my advisor to plan the courses I will take in the future, and he strongly encouraged me to take a few electives outside of the sociology program.  I was surprised by this.  He said to take courses that I feel would expand and enrich my sociological interests. I have a BS in Psychology and a BA in Sociology, and all the Sociology classes offered are very interesting to me.  I'm not sure if this is a ploy to make more money for the University?  If it is a good idea, I don't know what classes would be right for my career path.  

 

Any thoughts/suggestions? Thanks for your feedback.

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I'm all for broadening your interests, but since you say "I'm not sure if this is a ploy to make more money for the University?" I assume that either your program is not funded, or that these outside classes will not be covered by your funding.  In that case, it seems like sitting in on the classes (with the instructor's permission, which most are happy to give), would be the best option.

 

As to what classes would be helpful, I suppose that depends on your specific interests.  I imagine classes in social/political philosophy, economics, anthropology (If it's a different department), history, and cultural studies departments would be interesting to many sociologists. 

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I'm not sure why you are surprised by this? Most programs encourage breadth and it makes sense to take courses outside of your main department if they are related to your research interest. In both grad programs I've been in, the minimum requirement is only half of the total courses come from your home department. But I do work in a fairly multidisciplinary field, where most research interests generally span several departments so it's pretty tough for someone to both 1) take courses they are interested in and 2) stay within one department.

 

As for the money "ploy", if you are in a funded program, this is definitely not a money ploy. In most places, how it works is that your tuition waiver goes to the school (paid by department) but then departments generally get tuition money based on class enrollment. So, encouraging you to take classes outside of your department generally means taking money out of your department and paying it into a different department**. If you are not in a funded program, this also doesn't make a lot of sense because it would be in the professor's best interest for you to take classes in his department so that his department gets your tuition money**. Finally, in general, professors are not salespeople for their school and they usually do not have motive to try to encourage students to spend as much money in the school as possible.

 

However, if you are paying for courses, then I would say to audit/sit-in (i.e. don't pay for) as many courses as you are allowed to.

 

(** I'm over simplifying here and every school works differently, but I think this is the general direction of how tuition money flows within a university)

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I was surprised by this because for a number of reasons. 1. I had never heard this plan mentioned before the meeting 2. The courses in the Sociology program seem all encompassing and interesting and I hadn't considered an interest in any other program 3. My undergrad work was very diverse.

 

Of course broadening your interests is a great thing to do.  Auditing classes is a smart choice, thanks for the idea.

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When re-reading my earlier post, I realise that my first sentence was not appropriate because it doesn't serve to help you in any way and actually turned out to sound a lot more like an attack (i.e. you should have known this!!!). So please accept my apology, I did not mean to put you on the defensive for asking a valid question.

 

I also forgot to mention another suggestion: perhaps it might be a good idea to ask the advisor to clarify what he meant / which courses in particular he would suggest. It might be the case that he forgot about your undergrad work or he didn't mean the suggestion as a literal requirement. 

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In my PhD program, we were required to take courses outside of our department that complemented our interest areas. I'm not sure what your interests are but, I'll give a few examples in case they might be helpful. If your research focuses on sociology of health, you may want to take courses on public health offered in that department, on health care policy in the political science department, or on health care economics in the economics department. You might also want to take courses where you learn more about the history and politics of a particular region, depending on your focus. So, if your research takes place outside the US (or even within it) like in Southeast Asia, you may want to take a course on the history, geography, politics, economics, etc. of the region, which could be in an area studies department or in the discipline-specific departments. While those courses wouldn't be focused on sociology, they would broaden your perspective on your research topic and possibly help by introducing you to potential committee members.

 

If your advisor thinks it's a good idea and you're in a funded program, you should definitely look into it. Browse through the course offerings in other departments and see if anything catches your eye.

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I've taken a few courses outside of my department/program departments because they covered concepts and skills that are relevant to my research. For example, I've taken a couple of online courses from the Geography department because mapping and analyzing geographic data using GIS is a valuable skill in my field (and many others). 

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In my program, we are also required to take courses from another department as our "outside field," and since we are historians (many focusing on regions of the world other than North America), most of us take courses in ethnic studies departments, such as Slavic Studies, German Studies, Hispanic Studies, etc. These courses are helpful both for fulfilling language requirements and picking up more information and another perspective on the countries that we research historically.

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To add to what danieleWrites said, my university makes a distinction between auditing and sitting in. That's not to say that it's the same where you are, but here people auditing the course pay a fee, but you can ask to unofficially sit in for free (not sure if this is a unversity sanctioned practice). Now of course, it is up to the instructor whether they are cool with you sitting in on his or her class, so you'd have to ask.

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