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Career Spotlight: Behavioral Scientist at the CDC

How A Sociology Degree Can Prepare You For A Career at the CDC


The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) is one of the major operating components of the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services. Its mission is to "collaborate to create the expertise, information, and tools that people and communities need to protect their health – through promotion, prevention of disease, injury and disability, and preparedness for new health threats." To accomplish this mission, the CDC works with partners throughout the country and the world to monitor health, detect and investigate health problems, conduct research to enhance disease prevention, develop and advocate sound public health policies, implement prevention strategies, promote healthy behaviors, foster safe and healthy environments, and provide leadership and training.

The CDC is headquartered in Atlanta, GA, but has smaller offices in other parts of the country. It currently employs more than 15,000 employees in more than 50 countries and in 168 occupational categories.

With 168 occupational categories, there are several careers within the CDC that are appropriate for sociology majors. One of the most common options for sociology majors is a behavioral scientist. Behavioral scientists typically have degrees in the fields of sociology, demography, psychology, or anthropology. Their main job is to conduct research on the transmission, treatment, and prevention of disease. They develop, implement, and evaluate programs, and consult with public health officials in the United States and abroad. Program areas that need behavioral scientists include HIV/AIDS, other sexually transmitted diseases, chronic diseases, and intentional injuries, such as homicide, suicide, and family violence.


There are at least five grades, or levels, of behavioral scientists at the CDC, each with its own set of qualifications. For the lowest level position (GS-101-5), applicants must have completed at least 4-years of courses leading to a bachelor’s or higher degree in behavioral or social science. Or, applicants instead may have four years of appropriate experience or a combination of education and experience that provide the applicant with knowledge of one or more of the behavioral or social sciences equivalent to a major in the field.

The highest levels (GS-101-12 though GS-101-15) must have, in addition to those qualifications listed above, one year of specialized experience at least equivalent to the next lower grade in the Federal service. Specialized experience is experience that is directly related to the work of the position and that has equipped the applicant with the specific knowledge, skills, and abilities to successfully perform the duties of the position.


For employment positions in the United States government, each grade, or level, has a salary range with ten steps in that grade. For the lowest grade of the behavioral scientist position at the CDC (GS-101-5), the starting salary is around $27,500 and the end of the range is $35,600. The highest grade of the behavioral scientist position (GS-101-15) has a starting salary of $99,600 and goes up to $129,500. All of the other grades fall between these two extremes.

Search for sociology careers in your area.


Centers for Disease Control and Prevention Employment website. (2011). http://www.cdc.gov/employment/menu_topjobs.html

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