Sociologists and political scientists study all aspects of human society and political systems—from social behavior and the origin of social groups to the origin, development, and operation of political systems. Their research provides insights into different ways individuals, groups, and governments make decisions, exercise power, and respond to change. Through their studies and analyses, sociologists and political scientists suggest solutions to social, business, personal, and governmental problems. In fact, many work as public policy analysts for government or private organizations.
Sociologists study society and social behavior by examining the groups, cultures, organizations, and social institutions people form. They also study the activities in which people participate, including activities conducted in social, religious, political, economic, and business organizations. They study the behavior of, and interaction among, groups, organizations, institutions, and nations, and how they react to phenomena such as the spread of technology, crime, social movements, and epidemics of illness. They also trace the origin and growth of these groups and interactions. Sociologists analyze how social influences affect different individuals and groups, and the ways organizations and institutions affect the daily lives of those same people. To analyze these social patterns, sociologists usually begin by designing research projects that incorporate a variety of methods, including historical analysis, comparative analysis, and quantitative and qualitative techniques. Through this process of applied research, they construct theories and produce information that attempts to explain certain social trends or that will enable people to make better decisions or manage their affairs more effectively. The results of sociological research aid educators, lawmakers, administrators, and others who are interested in resolving social problems and formulating public policy. Most sociologists work in one or more specialties, such as social organization, stratification, and mobility; racial and ethnic relations; education; the family; social psychology; urban, rural, political, and comparative sociology; gender relations; demography; gerontology; criminology; and sociological practice.
Political scientists conduct research on a wide range of subjects, such as relations between the United States and other countries, the institutions and political life of nations, the politics of small towns or major metropolises, and the decisions of the U.S. Supreme Court. Studying and evaluating topics such as public opinion, political decisionmaking, ideology, and public policy, they analyze the structure and operation of governments, as well as various other entities. Depending on the topic, a political scientist might analyze a public-opinion survey, study election results or public documents, or interview public officials. Occasionally, they may collaborate with government economists to assess the effects of specific changes in legislation or public policy, such as the effects of the deregulation of industries or of changes in Social Security. Through academic publications, written reports, or public presentations, political scientists present their research reports and often identify new issues for research and analysis. Many political scientists forecast political, social, and economic trends.
Political scientists frequently work as policy analysts for government or in labor, political, or professional organizations, some of which are nonprofit. These workers gather and analyze information to assist in the planning, development, review, and interpretation of government or industrial policies. They use the results of their research to raise public awareness of social issues, such as crime prevention, access to healthcare, and protection of the environment, hoping to influence government action. Most political scientists—about 63 percent—work for the Federal Government. Some find work in research and development firms performing work for the Federal Government on a contract basis. The relatively few who work in the Foreign Service may help formulate and implement foreign policy.
Political scientists held about 7,000 jobs in 2020. The largest employers of political scientists were as follows:
- Federal government, excluding postal service - 50%
- Professional, scientific, and technical services - 21%
- Religious, grantmaking, civic, professional, and similar organizations - 9%
- Self-employed workers - 7%
- Educational services; state, local, and private - 6%
Political scientists typically work full time in an office. They may work additional hours to finish reports and meet deadlines.
Education & Training Required
Whether working in government, industry, research organizations, or consulting firms, sociologists and political scientists with a sociology or related bachelor's degree usually qualify for entry-level positions as a market analyst, research assistant, writer, or policy analyst.Graduates with master's degrees in applied specialties usually qualify for most administrative and research positions, while a Ph.D. degree is typically required for college and university teaching positions.
Training in statistics and mathematics is essential for many political scientists, who increasingly are using mathematical and quantitative research methods. The ability to use computers for research purposes is mandatory in most disciplines.
Many sociology and political science students can benefit greatly from internships. Numerous government agencies, as well as nonprofit and other organizations, offer internships or volunteer research opportunities. Also, the vast majority of colleges and universities have student organizations devoted to specific public policy issues, and many provide opportunities for debates, often hosted by the political science department.
While in college, aspiring sociologists and political scientists should gain experience gathering and analyzing data, conducting interviews or surveys, and writing reports on their findings. This experience can prove invaluable later in obtaining a full-time position in the field, because much of the work, especially in the beginning, may center on these duties.
The advent of technology has made it easy for anyone in the world to acquire new skills and knowledge to improve their careers. For individuals who are planning to shift careers and become sociologists or political scientists, they can always consider online learning.
If you’re eyeing to take this direction, start looking for online platforms that offer programs on sociology and political science, then get as much information about these programs. The more you know, the easier it’ll be for you to prepare.
Other Skills Required
Sociologists and political scientists need excellent written and oral communication skills to report research findings and to collaborate on research. Since these careers will require you to collaborate with a lot of people, having communication skills is essential for you to effectively express your ideas to a group. Communication skills also mean having the ability to listen to the suggestions of your colleagues.
How can you practice two-way communication if you are the only person talking? How can the team progress if you are not even listening to what the others are saying?
Careers in sociology and political science are vast, and you will always need the help of other people in order to come up with positive outputs.
Successful workers also need intellectual curiosity and creativity because they constantly are seeking new information about people, things, and ideas. In order to come up with unique solutions to recurring problems, both of these careers will require you to think out-of-the-box.
There are a lot of people who are taking these career paths. Making sure that your ideas are innovative will help you stand out from the competition and impress your recruiters. When hired, this skill can also become the reason why you will become an asset to an organization.
The ability to think logically and methodically also is essential in analyzing complicated issues, such as the relative merits of various forms of government. With the number of things on your plate, when you work as a sociologist or political scientist, time management and project management skills are also necessary. With these careers, you should be able to determine which projects to prioritize first and which to do next. Going in circles and working on different projects at the same time can adversely affect the quality of your output.
To ensure that you can still experience work-life balance, regardless of how occupied you are with your career, time management should also be practiced.
How to Advance
Many sociologists and political scientists choose to teach in their field, often while pursuing their own research. These workers are usually classified as postsecondary teachers. The minimum requirement for most positions in colleges and universities is a Ph.D. degree. Graduates with a master's degree in sociology or political science may qualify for teaching positions in community colleges.
Employment of political scientists is projected to grow 9 percent from 2020 to 2030, about as fast as the average for all occupations.
About 700 openings for political scientists are projected each year, on average, over the decade. Many of those openings are expected to result from the need to replace workers who transfer to different occupations or exit the labor force, such as to retire.
Increased demand for public policy analysis will support employment growth for these workers.
About half of all political scientists are employed by the federal government. Political scientists will continue to be needed in government to assess the impact of government policies, such as the efficiencies of public services, effects of budget changes, and advantages of proposed improvements.
Political organizations, lobbying firms, and labor unions rely on political scientists’ knowledge to manage complicated legal and regulatory issues and policies. Political scientists will be needed at research and policy institutes to focus specifically on politics and political theory. Organizations that research or advocate for specific causes, such as healthcare or the environment, also need political scientists to analyze policies relating to their field.
The median annual wage for political scientists was $122,510 in May 2021. The median wage is the wage at which half the workers in an occupation earned more than that amount and half earned less. The lowest 10 percent earned less than $61,480, and the highest 10 percent earned more than $172,490.
In May 2021, the median annual wages for political scientists in the top industries in which they worked were as follows:
- Federal government, excluding postal service - $134,760
- Professional, scientific, and technical services - $99,640
- Religious, grantmaking, civic, professional, and similar organizations - $79,440
- Educational services; state, local, and private - $73,120
Political scientists typically work full-time in an office. They may work additional hours to finish reports and meet deadlines.