Fall 2014 Cohort

Graduate Program

Like other major sociology departments, we offer an accomplished faculty with important research and publication agendas, a wide variety of stimulating courses, an active graduate student body in a large public university, financial support, and future career opportunities. However, there are a number of features that make the UMass Sociology Department unique:

A highly engaged academic culture, which operates both within research clusters and in the department at large. Graduate students and faculty participate in our weekly colloquium series, sharing their work at stages ranging from works in progress to finished products. We also invite scholars from across the country to present their research, followed by lively discussion. Faculty within our department organize small reading groups based on interest in a topic area, such as race and research methods, and graduate students create their own dissertation-writing and other kinds of support/discussion groups. Faculty and grad students affiliated with different clusters also meet annually and our mailing list is a site of active intellectual exchange.

A strong emphasis on public sociology—sociology that speaks to public issues and informs both policy and activism. Faculty consult for agencies, such as the Equal Economic Opportunity Commission (EEOC), write editorials for national newspapers, appear on TV and radio, and do outreach to groups, such as medical professionals, union activists, or government representatives, to discuss the implications of their research. Our graduate students have used research to advocate for changes in immigration policy, support Afro-Colombian communities at risk of dispossession, and work with an organization of local victims of foreclosure. We offer a course in Public Sociology, and confer an annual graduate student award for the practice of Public Sociology. Faculty and graduate students participate in a university-wide Public Engagement Project.

Resources for research. We encourage our students to begin doing original research early in their graduate careers, and most begin publishing their work during graduate school. They are supported by faculty mentors whom they choose and also by university institutions, including:

  • The Institute for Social Science Research (ISSR) provides a number of research opportunities for graduate students including Research Assistantships and consulting work. ISSR offers workshops on a variety of methodologies, offers computer facilities, and maintains extensive archives of survey data.
  • The University Computing Center’s mainframe equipment and software provide Internet access, electronic mail, and the capacity to handle large data sets. The campus is a member of the Inter-University Consortium for Political and Social Research (ICPSR) and the National Center for Health Statistics (NCHS).
  • The recently renovated University Libraries maintain major research collections, including data sets, government documents and an extensive law collection. It is also home to the nationally known W.E.B. Du Bois Papers and other specialized collections. The UMass library is supplemented by full access to the libraries of Amherst, Smith, Mount Holyoke and Hampshire colleges.

Teaching support. Students usually begin teaching their own courses (TO) in the fourth year of the program. The Sociology Department offers a variety of ways to help them develop their teaching skills, including presentations from experienced teachers in the first year Proseminar, our required Teaching Sociology course, relationships with teaching mentors, and a workshop for first-time TOs. The Office of Professional Development in the Graduate School offers resources and workshops as well.

The Five College consortium. Within ten miles of UMass Amherst are four highly ranked liberal arts colleges—Smith, Hampshire, Mount Holyoke and Amherst—doubling the effective size of our faculty. Many of their faculty members welcome a chance to work with our students. UMass students can use the libraries and facilities of all other colleges, which are connected by a free bus system.

A value on diversity. We welcome diversity among our students. On one level, their substantive, theoretical, and methodological interests are heterogeneous. On another, our graduate student body includes significant proportions of international students, students of color, working-class students, and LGBT students. Student organizations on campus, such as the Black Student Union, the Women of Color Leadership Network, and the Stonewall Center offer support for a variety of identities. In our classes, colloquia, workshops, and ad-hoc discussions we seek to create an atmosphere where productive dialogue can occur across our differences.

Student voice. Graduate students are encouraged to participate in the Sociology Graduate Student Association (SGSA), an organization representing graduate students’ interests in the department and the broader UMass Amherst community. The SGSA has a voice in department policy decisions for graduate and undergraduate study, assists in the development of colloquia, and organizes social events. SGSA also has representatives in the graduate student union and the Graduate Student Senate. Graduate students at UMass Amherst are unionized and are members of the Graduate Employees Organization (GEO), affiliated with the United Auto Workers. GEO and the campus administration collectively bargain agreements, negotiating issues such as salaries, health benefits, and working conditions.

Vibrant intellectual and cultural community. The campus is located in Amherst, a charming college town with a quiet New England ambiance. The area provides a lush natural setting and outdoor activities abound—biking, swimming, canoeing, hiking and skiing. Nearby Northampton is a mini-city with an impressive music and art scene and a wide variety of restaurants and shops. (The New York Times listed the Amherst-Northampton area as one of the nation’s ten best college towns). Most graduate students live off-campus in apartments and shared houses; there is on-campus graduate student housing as well. Free public transportation throughout the school year makes it easy and cheap to get around Amherst and to any of the college campuses from all of the surrounding towns. Boston is less than two hours away and New York is three hours.