Social scientists study all aspects of society and the term “social scientist” covers a broad range of employment options. Anthropologists, archaeologists, geographers and historians all fall under this career umbrella. Each social scientist serves a specific function in the workplace, but they all analyze the same general topic – society. The research they conduct looks at past achievements and events to current human behavior and group relations through the breaking down of data sets into small, specific items. They may reanalyze existing data or they may offer their insight into the behaviors of humans.
Anthropologists are one type of social scientist studying humans from the beginning of time. By examining the ways of life, languages, archaeological remains and physical characteristics of people in various parts of the world, they are able to decipher the origin, development and behavior of humans from the earliest centuries. Anthropologists also work to understand human behaviors, such as customs, values and social patterns, across cultures; this research allows people from around the globe to have a better understanding of their universal neighbors. In addition, anthropologists often look at human concerns such as overpopulation and poverty. The anthropologist’s work is often in one of four subfields: sociocultural, linguistic, biological or physical. Their work is invaluable to society.
Another type of social scientist is the archaeologist. These scientists discover and preserve precious historical artifacts, long buried and thought lost to society. This buried history includes tools, cave paintings, building ruins and other remnants from past human cultures. Their work is often the only link current society has to those who lived hundreds – and even thousands – of years ago. For the most part, archaeologists are employed by cultural resource management firms that contract out their employees to developers, construction companies and the federal government. Social scientists specializing in archaeology can also be found in museums and at historic sites, educating the general public about artifact collections.
Geographers study the land that makes up the earth as well as the people who live on it and the phenomena surrounding it. Two branches of geography are of particular interest to these scientists: physical and cultural. While physical geographers look at the actual forms and climates of worldwide regions, cultural geographers are concerned with economic activities, political organizations and the like.
Historians interpret the past through government and institutional records, newspapers and periodicals, photographs, films, interviews, and even some unpublished manuscripts such as memoirs and diaries. Because history is such a vast topic, these scientists usually choose to focus their attention on a specific time period or area of the country. Historians work for the government, museums, visitor centers and even schools.
Social scientists can be found working in almost any settings, from the field to the office; essentially, they work wherever their research takes them. Social scientists almost exclusively need a master’s or Ph.D. degree to work in the field, although those with only a bachelor’s degree may find a position as a high-school history teacher. For many of the positions that social scientists hold, additional training in mathematics and statistics is essential. Computer and technological literacy are also keys to success, as much of the research and analysis is done by computer and geographers use geographic information system technology on a daily basis.
Employment prospects are great for social scientists; however, competition will be fierce. Anthropologists and archaeologists will see the greatest number of career opportunities, particularly in the management, scientific and technical consulting services industry. Job availability will be nearly as great for geographers, particularly as the population increases and the government relies more heavily on them to plan new roads, buildings, power plants and cable lines. Historians will experience moderate employment growth, but because of their broad knowledge base, they will have skills applicable to a wide range of opportunities.
Even with rigid educational requirements, the earnings scale for social scientists is relatively moderate across most specialties; the median annual wages across all specialties is generally between $50,000 and $65,000 per year.