Sociology for Aspiring Researchers in Pakistan

Maham Abid

Maham Abid

August 2021 | Pakistan

Sociology for Aspiring Researchers in Pakistan


With the growing interest in the development and rehabilitation of human society, sociology is an emerging degree and a profession. Therefore, Pakistani universities are investing in the promotion of sociology as a major and its scope. Most universities offer an undergraduate degree in sociology, while a few offer graduate or postgraduate degrees. It is clearly in an attempt to maintain the quality of education in universities. The lesser the programmes and induction, the more focused the attention and educational interventions—a step to maintain a strong foundation of a programme.


Overview of Bachelor’s Degree in Sociology


In my four-year bachelor’s degree from the University of Punjab, Institute of Social and Cultural Studies, the major sociological theories, perspectives and critiques in sociology were encapsulated. The degree also included interdisciplinary aspects of sociology like sociology of development, social psychology, sociology of education, and many more. It concluded with practice or applied sociology courses alongside a research thesis. Primarily, these research-related courses included quantitative research methods involving social statistics and statistical analysis tools like Statistical Package for the Social Sciences SPSS. While qualitative methods were also introduced, there was more emphasis on employing a quantitative approach during our thesis period.


Undergraduate and Research Approaches


Upon inquiring, some undergrad professors suggested that quantitative approaches are preferred at this level because the students find it easier to identify variables and study their relationships later. The data collection method is more straightforward than in a qualitative approach as it is done in a more streamlined manner. Data interpretation takes less time as most of the work is done by the statistical software than the researcher’s brain. Whereas, in qualitative research, piles of pages and recordings are filled with information to unpack and interpret, which is taxing in its own way and not something that an amateur in research can handle. Chances are that qualitative research at the amateur level usually lacks the rigour that is ideally required. The philosophical basis of the qualitative research methods is hard to grasp for a naive mind and takes time and maturity to learn, as a matter of fact. However, it is not a stringent rule. Students who are eager to learn qualitative research approaches are encouraged to do so during this time as well.


Sociology and its Preference for Qualitative Research Methods


Despite the stress on quantitative methods for the newcomers, qualitative research methods play a specific role in the discipline of sociology. Identifying and understanding schemas, behaviours, norms, practices, and their relationships are intrinsic to sociology. The newly emerging themes in a research study are somewhat impossible to capture through quantitative methods. The researcher’s participation in the field through in-depth interviews, focus group discussions (FGDs), and case studies make our research studies more nuanced. Not just people, but their products, as in their method of communication, their speech, written text, etc., can all be studied, interpreted, and analysed through the content analysis method. Similarly, ethnography—often seen as a mix of all the above-said methods—is another method that is specific to social science disciplines such as sociology and anthropology.


In conclusion, sociology has the potential to train researchers for qualitative research. As humans and their societies are deemed unpredictable and continuously changing, sociology studies this unpredictability and change. This is an inherent characteristic of sociology and cannot be conducted without the help of qualitative methods. With the continuous change, there are frequently emerging ideas, and without the opportunity to capture these external or confounding variables, we can never study the dynamism of human society properly. The unstructured and semi-structured data collection instruments gather more in-depth data than the pre-planned structured ones in a quantitative approach.


Research Opportunities in Pakistan for Undergraduates


It is possible to partake in a qualitative research study with the knowledge of conducting an interview, observing, analysing, and documenting data. For instance, at the start of their career, researchers get paid for the number of interviews they can conduct. Similarly, anyone with a grip on the basics of statistical analysis software can pursue a career in research by working with the instructors of their institution or assisting in research projects. Working in research projects with different organisations can give one the experience of the field and that of a practitioner. These organisations are working for various causes like educational development, women empowerment, sexual and reproductive health rights, economic development, policy and sustainable development, etc. like the Centre of Economic Research in Pakistan CERP, Institute of Development and Economic Alternatives IDEAS, The Citizens Foundation TCF, Collective for Social Science Research, Institute of Policy and Development IPS, United Nations Development Programme UNDP - Pakistan and many more.


Students as Co-Researchers (ScR)


There are universities in Pakistan that provide funding for research projects and an opportunity to work with well-trained and esteemed researchers. While our skills are quite raw at the undergrad level, there is still potential to secure a research grant. The first and foremost condition is to come up with a good research proposal. Some universities also have Students as Co-Researchers ScR programmes for the undergraduates for the same purpose. ScR enables these budding researchers to get a taste of research in practice from the very start. Undeniably, there is hope for aspiring sociologists as soon as their tertiary education begins.


Minimum Qualification and Skills for A Research Career


The minimum level of qualification required to start your career as a researcher can be BS Hons. in Sociology. Students commonly explore various opportunities through Google and LinkedIn by connecting with different professionals in the same field and utilising the summer and semester breaks. Some learn to create their profiles and develop their online presence as sociology students too. Meanwhile, those nearing their thesis would start reading literature on different topics. Teachers, researchers, and other professionals are helpful in this regard to brief you about their research interests. It helps in coming up with an issue. The more one engages in the field and the existing studies, the more one gains clarity of their research goals and objectives. Overall, it is an excellent method to upskill oneself during the bachelor’s degree, which will benefit later.


Networking


While networking is an excellent way to learn about the trending research areas in Pakistan, networking is again a skill that is a central requirement of becoming a sociologist too. It pays you a long way. To quote my experience,  the first year—the foundational one—I would read many op-eds by subject specialists and educationists. Reading research papers was a new idea to me initially. Despite lacking the ability to scan through a text and concept-heavy research article, the op-eds and the discussions with my teachers encouraged me to keep on unpacking every minute detail. The surface-knowledge personal, although well-informed, opinions started seeming insufficient for me, lacking in rigour. This rigour is the same element discussed above in this article required in one’s research work. To introduce that in my own writings, I had to learn to identify it myself first. The op-eds helped me explore new ideas and research problems, which led me to study papers later. The more I read the literature, the more I connected one concept with the other, one title with the other.


Development of Research Ideas


Youth development was one theme that piqued my interest, and from there onwards, I started exploring its different dimensions through the literature and the practitioners. Spending hours with mental health workers, psychologists, clinical sociologists, caseworkers, and listening to the cases themselves, I would visit my instructors to hear their feedback on my developing ideas. Reading up literature is not the only way to develop your research idea. One has to engage in the field as well as connect with the relevant practitioners. Your research problem has to be inspired by real-world and context-specific situations. Both the researcher and the audience can better relate to the subject and understand its nuances that way.


In short, for aspiring researchers, sociology is a rapidly growing discipline that encompasses many social issues and can be studied in relation to other disciplines. Sociology as a degree is structured for equipping the students with research skills. Although some universities insist on using quantitative methods at the undergraduate level during the thesis, sociology itself is just as oriented towards qualitative studies. At the same time, research may seem like a tiresome and time-staking job, but it allows one to learn and extend their area of expertise from one problem area to another. Many organisations are working in different sectors for different causes that readily hire researchers for their projects. For this, one has to polish their networking skills to remain updated about the opportunities. This network goes a long way in helping one in job search, recruitment, and conducting a research study.

 

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