Demography and Population Studies  Interviews


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Is the world's population the way it is because of economic differences? Cultural differences? Health differences? Population studies students are trying to figure that out.

Undergraduate programs are rare, but Michelle Rogers was lucky. She was able to major in rural sociology, concentrating on population, environment and development as an undergraduate student at Cornell University. Her major only had six students in it.

There was a lot of independent work and a ton of reading. The way Rogers kept up was by reading every chance she got, even if it only amounted to 10 minutes.

Before starting the PhD program in population studies at the University of Michigan, Phil Brown worked in Africa and Latin America and studied different family structures.

Brown was curious about these two populations. "I noticed how their family structures and educational systems led to different kinds of behavior. For example, in some Latin American countries, almost everyone under age 18 goes to school, even the very poor," he explains.

"By contrast, many African countries have very low enrollment rates, particularly among the poor. I got involved in population studies because I wanted to figure out puzzles like this."

Brent Matthew Berry took the population studies graduate program at the University of Michigan. He says students take courses such as statistics, econometrics, demography of aging and event-history analysis. This involves a lot of reading, perhaps about 20 hours per week, says Berry.

In addition, graduate students do a lot of research, either independently or in collaboration with a professor.

You will also develop a relationship with your computer, he says, where you will spend hours compiling and studying numbers. Because population issues are worldly, some graduate students will travel abroad to gather information, usually in developing countries.

How to Prepare

Brown warns that there are a lot of statistics in the discipline. "Computer skills and good mathematics ability are pretty essential," he says.

Knowledge of political science, economics, psychology and history would be very useful, he adds.

"Population studies students notice things about the world and try to figure them out. Curiosity is a good start on this career," says Brown.