How to change the world by studying social sciences
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How to change the world by studying social sciences

Hands on buzzers: what do ‘social scientists’ do?

Scrabbling for Google, eh? Close your browser and read on.

Far from being physicists or chemists who prefer to spend their time enjoying a beer or four with friends (English language lesson: you’re thinking of ‘sociable scientists’- but top marks for effort), ‘social scientists’ study a major academic branch of science that focusses on understanding the workings of human society and the relationships which exist between people.

While core social science subjects include economics, political science and sociology, the discipline is extremely broad and a more than a little confusing, also encompassing a number of humanities fields such as law, history, archaeology and linguistics.

“But if I want to change the world by studying science,” you cry, “shouldn’t I choose a solid subject like medicine or chemistry? Social sciences sound kind of fluffy…”

Not so fast. The social sciences are about as well-suited to the term ‘fluffy’ as that dog from Harry Potter. Would you call law ‘fluffy’? How about finance? These diverse, often misinterpreted subjects underpin the society the majority of citizens take for granted; the key social issues at their core have the power to drastically change lives.

Not convinced? Think on the following incredibly important areas of society and what would happen if we didn’t give them thought…

1. Education

What are effective means of educating different age groups? What qualities are required in good teachers? How can the success of teaching and learning be measured? How can we overcome inequality in education created by socioeconomic status? Pressing issues indeed. While the ‘solid’ sciences might be able to contribute a certain amount to answering these questions by supporting hypotheses with statistics, they are really matters for the ‘people-centric’ social scientists.

2. Economy

What forces economies to expand or shrink? For most, the state of the economy correlates with quality of life, meaning that it is, well, pretty darn important. Economic problems are an inescapable part of society: from high levels of unemployment and highly competitive global job markets to the impact of new pollution control policies, the social science of economics aims to analyse and understand some of the most complex universal challenges on the planet.

3. Mass communication

Mass communication, (or ‘mass media’, if you will), whether political, cultural, recreational or otherwise, can have a significant impact upon how we perceive the world and how we behave as part of it. How is the information conveyed by mass media produced? Who produces it? How are media organisations run, and what are the incentives involved in their operation? How can the information produced by such organisations reinforce ingrained, harmful stereotypes- or, for that matter, gender inequality or racism? Who we call for this sort of question? The social scientists, that’s who.

4. Attitudes

Why do individuals and groups develop certain attitudes and have specific reactions to political and social developments? How do those attitudes spread and affect the behaviour of others? Whether a social group is particularly popular or unpopular has an impact on the quality of life of those involved- right? Think back to the school playground- or, far more seriously, to religious tensions apparent across the globe. Prejudice and discrimination are hugely important global concerns- and psychologists and sociologists are some of the guys who analyse and try to understand their origins and evolution.

5. Politics and government

Lastly, but perhaps the most importantly, there’s political science, which is integral to each of the aforementioned areas of sociology, economics and various other fields within social science. Government policy has the power to affect families- think, for example, about childcare subsidies or same-sex marriage regulations- just as it can, of course, have an impact on the economy by influencing financial crises or austerity. The way in which political institutions, voters, leaders and activists function can also change lives, whether by altering how easy it is to buy a decent house or by raising the amount of tax the public have to pay.

So, keen to study a ‘real’ subject that will help you to make a difference once you hit the job market? Contributing to the social sciences means shedding light on the issues that shape the quality of our lives- and you can’t get much more real than that.

Read on to learn more about institutions in the UK, Canada and Australia which offer world-class Social Sciences courses.

The University of Warwick is a globally connected and entrepreneurial institution designed to promote success through innovative teaching and exciting research opportunities. In less than fifty years Warwick has become one of the UK’s top universities, consistently ranked highly in all national league tables. Close links with business and industry ensure that students develop skills and knowledge relevant to the modern workplace, which in turn means that Warwick graduates are in high demand among the UK’s top graduate employers. Read the full profile.

Established in Quebec in 1843, Bishop’s University delivers undergraduate programs in the humanities, education, social sciences, natural sciences and business administration. It attracts outstanding young people seeking academic excellence and a rewarding experience in a community that promotes confidence, courage and a sense of responsibility. Undergraduates come from Canada and around the world, to further their education, to engage with individuals from different social, cultural and linguistic backgrounds and to prepare for a career in a global society.  Read the full profile.

Firmly established as one of the top ten universities in the UK, the University of Bath maintains a global reputation for excellence in teaching and research. Students are drawn to the institution not only owing to its outstanding academic standards but also as a result of its impressive graduate employment record and world-class sports facilities. The University’s Faculty of Humanities & Social Sciences comprises six departments, which offer courses in Economics, Education, Health, Politics, Language & International Studies, Psychology and Social & Policy Sciences.

An institution which prides itself on recognising students not as numbers or statistics but as individuals, Mount Royal University encourages all those enrolled to be themselves. With a thriving community of 12,000  undergraduate students studying across a broad spectrum of bachelor’s programmes, diplomas and certificates, the institution has a history of success in preparing young people for life after graduation. While Mount Royal’s courses have changed over time, the University’s dedication to providing high-quality teaching and small class sizes has remained the same.

Ranked among the top 2% of universities worldwide in the Times World University Rankings and recognised globally for the quality of its research and innovative approach to tuition, the University of Western Sydney (UWS) is home to international students from more than 70 countries. The University’s School of Social Sciences and Psychology offers an array of undergraduate and postgraduate programs, including research courses that combine advanced academic knowledge with real-life training to suit a range of professional requirements and interests across a broad spectrum of disciplines.