The following is courtesy of the Canadian Sociological Association.
What IS Sociology, and what sorts of employment skills will a degree in sociology give me?
Sociology is the study of individuals and society. What makes it unique among academic disciplines is its focus, from a myriad of angles, on the linkages between our individual experiences and the context of the wider society in which we live. Investigating the social ties between individual and society, between our private realm and the public sphere, and between freedom and constraint – these are at the heart of sociology. Adopting this way of seeing – C. Wright Mills called it “the sociological imagination” – helps us understand how powerfully the world in which we live shapes what we do and how we do it.
With this in mind, let’s identify a few truly critical skills.
- Communications: Written skills are critical but so, too, are your oral presentation skills. Being able to present ideas as clearly and cogently is important. All white-collar jobs demand reading and writing skills but, frequently, you will be part of a team, expected to contribute ideas orally in team meetings. Learning how to be persuasive is valuable and is a skill honed with preparation and practice. Digital fluency is expected. Framing and packaging matter. Assembling evidence is essential. And the job interview itself is an oral presentation!
- Numeracy: Being adept with numbers helps in almost any job. Max Weber’s paradigm of rationalization, where the metrics of quantification and predictability are front and centre, means more and more jobs will require you to be numerate. An ability to understand and, even better, to assemble numeric tools, such as graphs, charts, figures, and tables, is a valuable asset.
- Methods: Being skilled in a range of social science methods will enhance your ability to understand how problems are solved. Identifying the problem, in all of its multi-faceted nature, is a skill in itself, and is one of the key things you will learn when your professors help you explore your research question, or your argument, or your hypothesis. Sociological methods training ensures you can ask pertinent questions and understand the logic of finding nuanced, persuasive evidence.
- Intercultural understanding: Culture is all about how different peoples relate to and make sense of their world. As cultures deepen and diversity, being able to comprehend others and their meaning-making is critical to organizational success. This is especially so in a globalizing world. Being practiced in inclusion and open to diversity is a core competency in today’s workplace. Opportunities are made available outside the classroom, in internships and summer jobs for example, to help you develop – and earn the right to advertise – your intercultural skills.
- Critical thinking: The features of thought that signal critical thinking include a mind that is agile, creative, curious, nimble, nuanced, probing, smart, and subtle. These things come with practice and are developed by challenging yourself, by moving outside your comfort zone both intellectually and emotionally. Smart students, and by this we mean students who will be successful, are those who choose courses with any eye to augmenting their skill sets. Building a course schedule that enriches your skill set is more important than building a course schedule that fits your social life, although having a social life is important too, and employers value employees who are socially adept.
Contrary to what one might suppose, it is very difficult to measure and quantify critical thinking abilities. More to the point, employers have no way to ascertain how “good” your critical thinking skills really are. Instead, they will gather data about you from your resume, from the way you talk, from the way you behave during the interview, and from the way you answer questions designed to test your analytical skills. This means that there are numerous, often subtle, ways of communicating to an employer – who may or may not be consciously focused on this – that you are indeed smart. Put yourself in the reverse role: How do you know when you are dealing with a “smart” person?