May-June 2008 Issue ē Volume 36 ē Issue 5

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What Skills Do Sociology Majors Learn and What Is the Pathway to Using Them on the Job?

Findings from Wave 2 of ASAís baccalaureate survey

by Roberta Spalter-Roth and Nicole Van Vooren, ASA Research and Development Department

ASA has an ongoing research effort, called "What Can I Do with a Bachelorís Degree in Sociology," to help assess how satisfied students who major in sociology are with their degree, if they are using skills they learned in college sociology, and if they are in graduate school and/or in the labor force. In 2006, the ASA Research and Development Department initially examined the specific skills learned by a sample of 1,777 U.S. sociology majors who had earned baccalaureate degrees in 2005 (see January 2006 Footnotes, p. 1).

After collecting a second wave of data in 2007 for 778 respondents, we examined the relationship between the skills students reported learning as part of the major and those used on the job. A key finding in this research is that sociology graduates who communicated to employers the skills they learned as undergraduates enhance the likelihood that they will actually use these skills on the job and will have greater job satisfaction than those who do not communicate that they have these skills.

Among the respondents to the 2007 survey, 60 percent of the graduates were employed in December 2006 and not attending graduate school (either full or part time), and 22 percent were working and attending graduate school. Those attending graduate school full-time and not working comprised 13 percent of the respondents (see What Are They Doing with a Bachelorís Degree in Sociology? at www.asanet.org/galleries/Research/ASAResearchBrief_corrections.pdf). Given the cohortís dominant experience of post-graduate employment (82 percent), this article describes the relationship between the skills learned as sociology majors and the skills these graduates have used on the job.

Evaluating Methods

We find that respondents listing skills learned in their sociology majoir on their resumes and discussing these skills in job interviews is key in the pathway between skills they have learned and applying these skills on the job. Using these skills on the job is also related to higher job satisfaction. For example, 69 percent of majors strongly agreed that they knew how to evaluate different research methods before applying them in a study, yet 72 percent failed to list this skill on their resume (see Figure 1). Of the 28 percent who reported listing "evaluating research methods" on their resumes, 34 percent reported discussing it during the job interview. Of those who did discuss their evaluation skills during the job interview, 82 percent used this skill on their jobs. In contrast, the substantially larger group (72 percent) who did not list evaluation skills on their resumes, 80 percent did not discuss it during the job interview, and only 26 percent used this skill on the job. Even for the 31 percent who did not agree strongly that they learned to evaluate research methods, listing and discussing this skill increased the likelihood of using it on the job (not shown in Figure 1).

Using Statistical Software

Similar outcomes are found when we follow the pathway from undergraduate reports that they had learned social science statistical packages to their use of these packages on the job. Of the 44 percent of 2005 graduates who strongly agreed that they learned this skill as a part of their sociology major, just over half listed this ability on their resume (see Figure 2). Of those who listed statistical packages as a skill on their resume, only 32 percent discussed this ability during a job interview. Just over half (52 percent) of those who listed it on their resume and discussed it during an interview used it on the job. Contrast this outcome with those who did not list the skill on their resume and did not discuss their ability to use statistical packages during a job interview; of this group 7 percent reported that they used statistical packages on the job.

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These findings suggest the need for faculty members to link skills learned to studentsí future plans and to clarify the relationship among skills learned, communicating skills to employers, and using the skills in real-world jobs. Students should learn to list the skills they have learned and to discuss them even if the particular job for which they are applying does not appear to require them. small_green.gif

Watch ASAís home page for additional research briefs from the 2007 wave of the study.

 

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