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Switching to Sociophysics from Social Sciences

  1. Mar 9, 2008 #1
    I'm currently in a psychology PhD program studying ways the structure of human social networks facilitates information transmission. I find the dominant psychology methodology extremely informal and would like to switch to a department where such things are studied using statistical mechanics (which is essentially the approach I'm taking now but without any faculty support).

    This puts me in a weird place because while I've learned the necessary math, none of it is on my transcript. (In fact, many professors in our psychology department literally forbid students to take graduate math courses).

    Is anyone sufficiently familiar with sociophysics to know whether there are ways for people like me to prove I have sufficient math background to switch programs? If I want to work with a professor in a physics department solely on applications of statistical mechanics to questions in social sciences, do I need to prove that I understand topics in physics that are not directly relevant to such questions just to get into a department?

    Thanks for any help.
  2. jcsd
  3. Mar 9, 2008 #2
    I've never heard of sociophysics and can't see a very good connection.

    I think you're basically using the math, but not in a physics setting, which is still really common. Basically, I don't see someone taking you seriously if you try to apply statistical mechanics to sociology. I'd talk more with the math department about that.

    I know I'm not much help, sorry. :(

    But I was just curious, why don't psychology professors let you take math? I mean, I've always heard that psychology was a joke, but I thought that was just in jest, not that there were serious issues regarding it like you seem to be implying.
  4. Mar 9, 2008 #3
    Thanks for the reply.

    There are people who are basically just applying the math but who hold faculty positions in physics departments. Mark Newman at Michigan, for example, does a lot of work that could be considered as such. Michelle Girvan does similar work and is in physics at Maryland. In some cases (for example Duncan Watts) the professors take appointments in social science departments, but in other cases they remain as physicists. So I am also looking at various other departments, my question here was more to the effect of whether it is possible to work with such people since the very same people doing the same work could just as easily be in sociology, ecology, biology or any number of other departments. Arxiv.org has a physics and society branch that deals with a lot of topics such as opinion-spreading using slightly modified Ising models and such.

    As to why my department does not let you take math, I'm not entirely sure. My own take is that the professors themselves don't understand more than rudimentary statistical testing and are somewhat suspicious of things that get too complicated. I've been told more than once that any experiment that cannot be analyzed with a single t-test is too complicated.
  5. Dec 10, 2009 #4
    Psychology to Physics: Thats an interesting switch.
    There are some people who apply physics to social science.
    "Statistical physics of social dynamics"
    -Rev. Mod. Phys. 81, 591 (2009)
    This paper has numerous reference to people doing a mix of physics and social science. I hope this helps.
    By the way the I am trying to switch the other way. Physics to social science. Trying to reach a middle point
  6. Dec 10, 2009 #5
    I'm sort of familar with econophysics and thermonomics. Usually these fields are studied by professors who are working in complex systems and condensed matter physics. I think you can prove that you have enough math background by reading some of the articles (i.e. small world networks) in Physica A and Physics Review E and being able to talk intelligently about it.

    It really depends on the professor. A lot of the work gets done in interdisciplinary centers like the Laboratory for Financial Engineering at MIT.

    Also, it might be a good idea if you don't understand too much of the physics, because one thing that I've found is with papers on econophysics and thermonomics is that there is *too* much physics and not enough social science. So as long as you are literate enough to follow the literature, it might be a good idea if you focus on the social science rather than the physics.
  7. Dec 10, 2009 #6
    Also depends on the department and the status you come in as. My department has exams based on specific courses before moving on to the dissertation phase, but some transfer students are allowed to skip the exams/coursework. (On the flip side, students who are missing concepts are made to take undergrad coursework to fill in the gaps.) You've gotta figure out how the school works and what they'll let you do. Since you have a good concept of who's doing the work you want and where, you can try asking the admissions people at the departments you want to get into what's required and what's recommended. You may even want to talk to the physics people at your own school and see what they think.

    That's insanely school specific. My school has a strong neuropsych bent, so the grad program loves people with cs/math/physics/engineering backgrounds and encourages students to supplement with courses outside the discipline if they need to. Even our undergrad psych stats and experimental classes cover stuff that's more complex then single t-tests.
  8. Dec 13, 2009 #7
    I just had to chuckle at this reply. Just cuz Im in a similar boat. I went in to college as freshman Astrophysics major. After a few substance abuse laced quarters I got kicked out, eventually came back but as sociology/psych major. Graduated, went off to the work force, was completely unsatisfied and am now back in school to do what I was gonna do originally...well almost: get my B.S. in Math and Physics.

    I dunno, to me science is science...its just a matter of the perspective you choose to study the world in. Even the "soft" sciences like sociology and poli sci ultimate lead back to the most fundamental subjects.

    Im my opinion, society started off with philosophy -> logic -> math -> physics -> chem -> bio/physio -> psych and from here branching off to sociology, poli sci and economics.

    In my opinion you cant do sociology, if you don't have some understanding about the motivations and behaviors of people...before they are even in groups. And you cant really understand the mechanism of human thoughts and actions, without know something about the human physiology/biology, and can you really understand biology and physiology without a decent amount of organic chem? And you cant really understand chemical mechanisms of reactions without understand some physics. And how could you study physics, if you you dont use math as means to solve your problems? And what good is math if there is no logical structure to it? And why should we even care about being logical to begin with? :)
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