What to Expect
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.