Research Seminar in Empirical Investigation



Writing research articles for journals is a lot of intellectual fun … but it is also a rather demanding craft. This seminar prepares you for the challenge. It will help you to find an interesting question, a way to answer it, and a mode of communicating all this to fellow social scientists in a way that they might take notice. Even more pragmatically, the goal of this year-long seminar is to help you prepare your empirical qualifying paper – a quantitative or qualitative research paper that will ultimately be suitable for presentation at a conference and submission to a peer-reviewed journal. The Empirical Seminar is an important part of the sociology graduate program, building valuable research and professional skills and, in many cases, providing you with a jump-start for your dissertation research.

In this vein, the course will present you with a deeper engagement into the question of how we make causal claims within the context of analyzing observational data.  Given this intent, the focus will be on the operationalization of research questions, the management of data and the interplay between methods and hypotheses.   If you never calculate a standard deviation again in your life, this course should still be of use to you since we will be thinking about questions of research design and causal inference in a way that inform even comparative historical or ethnographic research.  If the student walks away with just one concept deeply embedded in their thinking, I will be happy.  That concept is the following: that selection is rife in social systems. 

As crucial milestones in the process, you will:

Learn approaches to inferring causal relationships from observational data

Develop and refine a research question; articulate plausible competing hypotheses

Identify a dataset that can be used to test those hypotheses

Format and analyze the data to draw conclusions about your hypotheses

Interpret your results

Present your argument and findings in a precise and compelling narrative form

Become comfortable with the review process both as a referee and as the author responding to editorial comments

Learn to present those findings orally in a formal, academic presentation


In short, the course is partly about theory, and how it can be used to specify hypotheses and measures; partly about methods, and how data can be analyzed appropriately to test hypotheses; and partly about the craft of sociological writing, and how good writing can be used to make a clear and compelling case for your research.


Students entering their second year of graduate school are expected to be familiar with the main theoretical traditions in sociology, have developed areas of substantive interest, be acquainted with the basic methods of the social sciences, have an applied knowledge of statistical techniques, and have encountered, over the summer, a data source with which they want to work. The Empirical Seminar is not intended to offer training in any of these areas (other than a lightning tour of econometric techniques to get closer to causal claims than traditional regression based approaches do).