Sociologists study many aspects of human behavior and culture. They conduct extensive historical and contemporary research on individuals, social groups, and nations to learn about the elements that make up a society. A person who wants to become a sociologist can pursue a college degree in the subject, decide on an area of specialty, and apply for internship and research assistant positions. With the appropriate education and training, an individual can become a sociologist at a university, a government agency, a private research institution, or a large corporation.
The path to become a sociologist typically begins with a bachelor's degree program in sociology from an accredited four-year institution. Undergraduate sociology courses provide students with a basic understanding of the fundamentals of research and the history of the subject. Many students also take classes in psychology, anthropology, and biology to gain a broader understanding of humans and their behaviors. In addition, advanced courses in communications and statistics can help individuals hone the skills that will be essential when they begin conducting research and writing scholarly papers.
While enrolled in a bachelor's degree program, a student who wants to become a sociologist can look into assistant jobs and internship positions at private institutions and government human services agencies. An internship grants a prospective sociologist the opportunity to learn about research techniques and practical applications of studies from established professionals in the field. Some people choose to pursue entry-level jobs after establishing themselves as interns and earning their bachelor's degrees, though individuals who want to eventually conduct independent research usually decide to pursue doctoral degrees.
A Ph.D. program in sociology typically lasts about four years, during which time a student takes a number of courses dedicated to study design and research techniques. In order to earn a degree, an individual may be required to conduct an actual sociological research project under the guidance of a mentoring professor. The student chooses a topic to investigate, reviews previous literature on the subject, and carries out the project. Upon completion, he or she composes a thorough dissertation and presents findings in front of a panel of professors and practicing sociologists.
After earning a Ph.D., an individual is qualified to become a sociologist in many different settings. Some new sociologists decide to obtain faculty positions at universities, where they can split their time between conducting research and teaching courses. Others pursue positions in government to help promote better living conditions for citizens. Many corporations employ sociologists to make suggestions on ways to market certain products and maintain a quality workforce. With enough experience, a productive sociologist may be able to dedicate all of his or her time to independent studies.