Social science is an umbrella term covering a variety of academic disciplines that seek to explain human behavior, either from the internal perspective (psychology, economics), group dynamics (sociology, business, political science), or broad cultural forces (anthropology).
Social scientists work both qualitatively and quantitatively. Depending on the goals and methods of the research, they may seek data expressed through personal interviews or statistics. Some research may involve analyzing data from publically-available surveys. Other research may involve studying groups of people in the community. Social scientists often design a project with a control group to isolate the influence of a particular variable on individuals’ and/or groups’ behavior.
The following timeline is an example of how you might advance through research during your undergraduate career. To develop your personalized timeline, meet with a member of the OUR Staff or talk with your adviser.
Step 1 (generally freshman year)
- Take general introductory courses across fields to explore different areas of interest and approaches to knowledge.
- Freshman seminars give you an opportunity to explore a narrow topic in depth.
- Attend lectures in areas that interest you.
Step 2 (generally sophomore year)
- Take in-depth seminars.
- Build relationships with your professors by discussing their work and your interests.
- Watch for opportunities to serve as a research assistant.
- Learn more about research methods in your field through courses (such as AMCS 375) or workshops (such as those offered by IAS).
Step 3 (generally sophomore or junior year)
- After you have developed a topic that excites your intellectual curiosity, work with a faculty mentor to make a specific research plan.
- Apply for funding to conduct research either in St. Louis, across the country, or abroad during the summer.
- If you are planning to conduct research abroad during your junior year, work with your mentor to develop a plan before you depart.
- If you are planning to write an senior thesis, you should follow your department’s guidelines for submitting a proposal (typically late spring).
Step 4 (generally junior or senior)
- Share your research with the WashU community.
- Take an independent study or senior thesis course to complete a capstone project.
The following websites have opportunities for undergraduate research in the social sciences:
- Weidenbaum Center on the Economy, Government, and Public Policy
- International and Area Studies
Departments and programs in the social sciences have specific information about senior capstones, including honors thesis planning: