Sociologists and political scientists study human behavior. The goal of their research is to provide insight into the ways in which individuals – be it on their own or in a group setting – make decisions, exercise power and respond to changes.
While they spend a significant amount of time studying and analyzing human behavior, they then suggest solutions to problems faced by individuals, businesses and governments; policy analysts are another name for this group of professionals when they specifically serve the government or private organizations.
In addition to studying human behavior and the reactions of groups and individuals to things such as the spread of technology, crime, social movements and epidemics, they also analyze social patterns. To do this, they must use a variety of techniques including historical analysis, comparative analysis, and quantitative and qualitative analysis. The theories and information produced from such research ultimately enable more effective public policy decisions by educators, lawmakers and administrators.
For the most part, sociologists are not pigeonholed into working in one specialty area; they work across a broad spectrum including social organization, stratification, and mobility; racial and ethnic relations; education; family; social psychology; and urban, rural, political, and comparative sociology. They also work with gender relations, demography, gerontology, criminology and sociological practice.
Political scientists deal with issues related to politics, whether with relations between the United States and other countries, the institutions and political life of other nations, small-town politics or big-city government. Oftentimes they will evaluate public opinion for a given topic, the impact of political decisions, and the structure and operation of governments. They sometimes collaborate with government economists to assess the effects of these decisions or government set-ups. Through written reports and oral presentations, political scientists identify new issues to be researched as well as forecast future social and economical trends.
As with most career opportunities in the social sciences, individuals with a higher-level degree will have the most opportunities. A bachelor’s degree may qualify one for an entry-level position as a market analyst, research assistant, writer or policy analyst; master’s degree holders typically qualify for most administrative and research positions; and a Ph.D. is required for anyone looking to teach at the college or university level.
Many political scientists find additional training in statistics and mathematics to be particularly useful in their careers, as quantitative and qualitative skills are essential on the job. Additionally, it is recommended that students participate in an internship or volunteer opportunity; these are often found within government agencies or non-profits.
Written and oral communication skills are crucial to sociologists and political scientists, as they spend a significant amount of time researching and reporting their findings. An innate curiosity about human behavior is also helpful.
Employment in the fields of sociology and political science is expected to grow much faster than other specialties because of an increased incorporation of sociology into research and other fields as well as an increased demand from growing social, political, and business associations and organizations. Employment in sectors such as public services will also increase, as a growing population will put a strain on existing services, and sociologists and political scientists will be needed to analyze the benefits or concerns around expanding such services.
Competition for these positions will be fierce, but with their broad training and education in analytical, methodological, conceptual, and quantitative and qualitative analysis and research, sociologists and political scientists are able to work across many different fields. Yearly earnings can range anywhere from a low average of $40,000 per year to approximately $145,000 per year. Across the fields of both sociology and political science, average earnings are nearly identical.