A Day in the Life of a Sociologist
Studying human behavior, collecting data, and presenting research findings: a sociologist’s “typical” day is never typical.
Sociology is a broad field, with many interesting areas of specialization. For example, some sociologists study specific ethnic or religious groups. Others focus on cross-cultural issues such as ethics, gender relations, mental health, or leadership trends. Still others provide consulting expertise to the management or financial spheres. Regardless of specialty, good sociologists possess strong analytical skills and are experienced in qualitative methods of research, survey methods, and interviewing techniques.
Like many sociologists, Philip Ashford is employed by a university. He divides his time between teaching, conducting research, and writing. During the Summer, he travels with his family, doing fieldwork and collecting data for his forthcoming publications.
“I enjoy figuring out why people act the way they do,” Ashford says. “I also like helping my students broaden their outlook and improve their analytical and lateral thinking skills.”
Ashford specializes in criminology. He usually teaches classes in the legal department, although he has also lectured to literature and psychology students.
A sociologist’s typical day varies dramatically depending on the project of the moment. Ashford shares a day from his most recent semester:
9:00 a.m. Ashford starts by going through a long list of e-mails, replying to urgent ones and flagging the rest for later. He draws up a to-do list for the day, glances over preparation notes, and picks up photocopied hand-outs on the way to class.
10:00 a.m. Ashford’s first class of the day is Introduction to Sociology. Since this is an interdisciplinary course, his students come from widely different academic backgrounds, and class discussion is lively.
10:50 a.m. On this particular day, Ashford holds office hours for the remainder of the morning until lunchtime. He meets with students to go over papers, explain assignments, discuss grades, and evaluate thesis proposals. Between meetings, he replies to his remaining e-mails and fills out some paperwork requested by the university administration.
12:30 p.m. Lunch today will be at the campus cafeteria. After eating, Ashford has time to telephone a colleague in Italy to discuss collaborating on series of podcasts over the Summer. He then turns to editing a paper for an upcoming anthology on adolescent criminal behavior across cultures. Finally, on the way to his next class, he stops by the computer lab to run some statistical comparisons and upload the results to the university intranet so students can access them from campus or home.
2:00 p.m. Ashford is barely on time for his second class of the day: Sociology of Crime and Delinquency for Criminal Justice majors. He reviews material from previous weeks, presents the upcoming exam’s syllabus, and goes over questions regarding last week’s assignment.
3:30 p.m. Ashford’s research assistant is waiting to meet about their current project. They agree on a method of cataloguing interview transcripts, discuss seeking further project funding, and plan their next steps for research.
4:30 p.m. As the day winds down, it’s time to wrap up loose ends before heading home. Ashford schedules a video interview with a sociologist in Taiwan, drafts an outline for a letter of recommendation, and makes a few last-minute edits to his PowerPoint presentation for upcoming conference.
5:00 p.m. Ashford goes home, but his work for the day isn’t over just yet. After dinner, he spends an hour or so peer-reviewing an article for sociology journal. Then it’s on to correcting assignments, updating grades on the class website, and posting agendas for tomorrow’s classes. Only after all this is done can Ashford actually call it a day.