What Are The Social Sciences?

With TROY’s master’s degree in social sciences, you’ll develop advanced research and communication skills and a deep understanding of your discipline.

With TROY’s master’s degree in social sciences, you’ll develop advanced research and communication skills and a deep understanding of your discipline.

Whether it’s social unrest, a crucial policy decision or a global pandemic, social scientists are the ones who help us navigate — and learn from — these events. The social sciences are fundamental to understanding human behavior, historical events and, ultimately, ourselves. 

Dr. Stephen Carmody, Chair of the Department of Anthropology, Sociology and Criminology at Troy University, says the social sciences are sometimes misunderstood. “What are the social sciences?” is one of the most common questions he fields. 

“Often, people don’t know what social scientists do,” Dr. Carmody says. “Amidst all of these events that could tear us apart, like the death of George Floyd or COVID-19, social scientists have the ability to bring us together.”

While the natural sciences, such as physics, biology and chemistry, help us understand the natural world, the social sciences give us insight into human society. Dr. Carmody shares that the social sciences provide “different perspectives through different lenses.” Under the umbrella of TROY’s M.S. in social sciences program is anthropology, sociology, criminology, political science, psychology, history and geography. Each one provides a unique viewpoint into various aspects of humanity, he notes. 

“What really ties the social sciences together is the study of people,” Dr. Carmody adds. “At TROY, you get a wide variety of perspectives from a large set of academic disciplines. You can tap into a rich knowledge base to learn more about culture, human behavior, institutions and our larger society. That provides our students with a pretty unique opportunity,” Dr. Carmody says.

When he’s asked “What are the social sciences?,” Dr. Carmody shares that they’re an opportunity to understand people and improve society using research methods, data and statistics. TROY’s master’s degree in social sciences allows students to do just that from the perspective that most interests them. 

What is Considered a Social Science

Social science can refer to numerous disciplines that study human behavior, history, society and institutions, Dr. Carmody explains. They include current and historical perspectives and use research methods, theory and statistics to solve problems. 

There are several branches of social science. Each one is considered a social science because it applies scientific research methods to questions about humans, their behavior and their relationships. 

TROY’s graduate program offers a broad introduction to the branches of social science, research methods and theory, followed by advanced study in one of these disciplines:

  • Anthropology: The study of the origins and social relationships of human beings
  • Criminology: The study of crime and criminal behavior
  • Geography: The study of land, people and economics
  • History: The study and interpretation of the past and comparison to the present
  • Political Science: The systematic study of political institutions and behavior
  • Psychology: The study of the human mind and its functions
  • Sociology: The study of human lives, societal changes, social causes and the consequences of human behavior

For Dr. Carmody, it’s the interdisciplinary nature of the master’s degree in social sciences at TROY that gives graduates an advantage in the job market. While social sciences graduate programs often focus on a single discipline, such as political science or sociology, TROY’s program helps students learn about different branches of social sciences.

“That’s really valuable,” he says. “You get perspectives you normally wouldn’t get from a graduate program unless you pursued that specific discipline. We could have criminology students taking classes from a political scientist or an anthropology student taking classes from a sociologist. That diversity is ultimately part of what will help you be successful outside of TROY.”

TROY alumna Kourtney Frye can speak to the value of this interdisciplinarity. She shares, “The master’s in social sciences program focuses on preparing students for a variety of fields, including education. I took a college teaching class during my graduate study. While college teaching is a bit different from teaching in the K-12 school system, I was able to get a glimpse of the best practices in teacher education. The program also provided me with the content knowledge I needed to teach history and tie other social science disciplines into my classes.”

Why is Social Science Important

The social sciences help us understand the past and human behavior over time. Dr. Carmody notes that studying social science also gives us insight into the events and issues we currently experience — and it helps us address pressing social problems. 

“Each of the branches of social science studies people, whether that’s on an individual, group or institutional level. As social scientists, we can use this knowledge, data, and these trends to understand what we’re living through right now, whether that’s the COVID-19 pandemic or something else — and how people might respond to it.”

Too often, social scientists are left out of that conversation, Dr. Carmody believes. “The hard sciences, like medicine and epidemiology, certainly solve problems, but the human perspective of the social sciences is also important,” he says. “It’s another lens that can help us identify whether a solution to a problem will work.” 

Social scientists can also help evolve our institutions to respond to society’s needs, he adds. Long-standing institutions like government, higher education and law enforcement are usually slower to evolve than the societies around them, Dr. Carmody notes. Branches of social science, such as political science and criminology, are crucial in helping shape policy and changes in these institutions.

“For example, to reduce crimes, you have to understand why people commit them,” Dr. Carmody shares. “Criminology allows you to use data to identify trends and the causes of crime, which helps us more effectively prevent them. These insights can help inform how law enforcement responds to crime and those who commit them.”

Branches of social science such as psychology and sociology also improve our society — and the quality of life for those who live within it. By studying how and why humans behave individually and in groups, these disciplines help us move society forward. In addition to their benefits in clinical settings, they can help us improve workplace culture, public policy, our health and numerous other aspects of our lives, shares Dr. Carmody. 

Why Get a Master’s Degree in Social Science

Whether you want to work with individuals, groups or institutions, earning your master’s degree in social science opens the door to countless careers. Program alumna Kourtney Frye currently works at STEM Preparatory High School in Nashville, Tennessee as a U.S. History and Geography teacher. She shares her career trajectory since graduating from TROY:

“After graduating from TROY, I immediately had the opportunity to work in the field of education at Vanderbilt University. I was given the chance to work in experiential learning, with my primary role focusing on mentoring and advising undergraduate research students. Recently, I changed roles and have entered my second year as a high school social studies teacher.” 

Other social science careers include archaeologist, policy analyst, historian, sociologist, criminologist and forensic psychologist. Our graduates are also prepared to go on to doctoral programs or teach at the college level. To prepare you for these roles, TROY’s program emphasizes research, genuine peer connections and rigorous study. 

Frye shares, “Professors in TROY’s Social Science History department pushed me to become a good researcher. In the master’s program, I received a rigorous education, where professors challenged our understanding and knowledge of course concepts. I am still grateful for the dedication my professors had to providing us with the optimal level of a graduate education, despite us being online. Classes required that we do more than read and respond to assignments. Instead, it created spaces where we could have a dialogue with peers and our professors. My academics paired exceptionally with my graduate assistantship at Troy University’s Office of Civic Engagement, which deepened my love for community-focused initiatives and practices.”

In addition to research skills, social science master’s programs like the one at TROY provide you with skills you can apply to virtually any context, says Dr. Carmody. 

“Regardless of the discipline you choose, we focus on skill sets you can apply across the social sciences — or in other jobs,” he says. “If you understand theory and statistics, know how to write, and can collect and analyze data, you have really marketable skills. The ability to think critically, understand research and communicate effectively will be applicable anywhere you go.” In TROY’s master’s degree in social sciences program, you’ll develop advanced research, data analysis and communication skills. You’ll also gain a deep understanding of your chosen discipline to help prepare you for a wide variety of careers.

“When you leave TROY, you won’t be pigeonholed into a certain role,” Dr. Carmody says. “You’ll have skills and knowledge applicable to your discipline but also contexts you might not expect. I have a friend who’s a social scientist that now works at Google. With the social sciences, you really can go anywhere.”

Learn More About TROY’s Social Sciences Master’s ProgramWant to learn more about the branches of social science and social science careers? Explore TROY’s master’s degree in social sciences program.