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Thread: How to -- easily switch from natural to social sciences

  1. #1
    Member Ludvik's Avatar
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    How to -- easily switch from natural to social sciences

    Hi everyone,

    I would like some help with a career question...


    If someone should hold an undergraduate degree in any kind of natural science -- say, ecological sciences -- what would it take to make a transition (as a postgraduate / potential master's student) to the social sciences, like psychology or sociology, or even to specific subjects like gender or ethnic studies?

    I'm particularly interested in the possibilities within the more rigid education systems in mainland Europe and perhaps South America, in comparison to the flexible (credits) system in North America and the UK.

  2. #2
    Amen P-O's Avatar
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    You should find the school you want to go to, and ask the psychology/sociology professors that work there what you should do (via email or whatever).
    Violence is never the right answer, unless used against heathens and monsters.

  3. #3
    Member ObtainGnosis's Avatar
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    It should be easy, much easier than doing the converse. I have a degree in psychology, but would like to study natural sciences and that's much harder to navigate, because you can get a BA in psychology without studying basic hard sciences which are requisite in the natural sciences.
    Last edited by ObtainGnosis; 02-08-2014 at 07:56 PM.
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  4. #4
    Minister of Love Roger Mexico's Avatar
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    Well, I don't know specifically, but I think it's usually a question of going back to an undergrad institution somewhere and getting whatever prerequisites you don't have taken care of.

    If you went to a US liberal arts school I would think there can't be that many prereqs you wouldn't have. I mean, they probably don't want to be teaching an Intro to Sociology class to people seeking a Master's in it, but you're likely to have covered the basic research/writing stuff you'd need in gen ed classes, (you've presumably taken statistics classes if you have a natural-science degree, no?) assuming you went to a school that made you take gen ed classes.

    I went to an undergrad school whose operational philosophy involves making people do what is elsewhere Master's-level work to get a Bachelor's degree, and majored in history, which is kind of a weird borderland area between the social sciences and the arts/humanities but may be an informative example. (Or not) Everything ultimately revolved around producing research papers. If you've never done the kind of assignments where you end up with a 30-page report and a 5-page annotated bibliography (I'm exaggerating a bit, although in some cases this description is an understatement of what I was assigned to do), that might be something they'd hold against you in letting you into a social-science grad program, but I wouldn't know. (An apparent difference of significance between the natural and social sciences is how much more you'll need to do to justify and defend your research methodology in the latter, given that the data you work with will tend to be somewhat more subjective or ambiguous than what you would be discussing in, say, a biochemistry paper. At least as far as I can tell looking at it from the social-studies side of things.)

    Some aptitude using non-mathematical forms of logic to vet or defend statistical conclusions (being prepared to argue about what a set of numbers represents, not just whether or not the math is right) is definitely an important cognitive skill to have, although I don't know how that would translate into formal coursework requirements.
    Quote Originally Posted by Ptah View Post
    No history, no exposition, no anecdote or argument changes the invariant: we are all human beings, and some humans are idiots.

  5. #5
    Member Ludvik's Avatar
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    Thanks for the suggestions, everyone.

  6. #6
    Member HilbertSpace's Avatar
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    What I would be looking to see is if you can take what you learned in (say) evolutionary ecology and find what insights it gives you into creating sociological models. In what ways do selection pressures act on social systems, and in what ways do those social systems configure selection pressures, and how do those components lead to some of the outcomes we see today? What are the multilevel interactions between social components, and do they lead to causal explanations for overall social trends?

    So, truthfully, it's exactly what I and a lot of people have done. I would recommend taking a look at "Everything is Obvious" by Duncan Watts for a better understanding of what the field contains, and where some researchers would like it to go. The thing is that, if the proponents of complexity theory are not entirely wrong (and maybe even if we are), there is a lot of insight that can and should transfer between scientific disciplines. Instead of thinking about what your lack of background would mean in a particular field, think about what new insights you might be bringing to the table as a result of coming from a different background. It might mean having to look harder for a group that resonates with interdisciplinary ideas, but ultimately that is what you'll have to do, and, in my opinion, that is where the good stuff is going to happen.

    I might be able to give more specific advice if you tell me what you're interested in. Right now, I'm looking at the application of complexity theory to understanding public health and healthcare questions, but I also know a bit about broader questions in behavioral and social psychology.

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