Over his five decades at Columbia University he held numerous prestigious titles.
He was associate director of the university's Bureau of Applied Social Research from 1942 to 1971, and named Giddings Professor of Sociology in 1963.
By the end of his student career in 1938, he had already begun to embark on works that made him renowned in the sociological field, publishing his first major study, Science, Technology, and Society in Seventeenth-Century England, which helped create the sociology of science.
The Merton thesis, similar to Max Weber's famous claim on the link between Protestant ethic and the capitalist economy, proposes a positive correlation between the rise of Protestant Pietism, Puritanism and early experimental science.
Social roles were central to Merton's theory of social groups.
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Merton emphasized that, rather than a person assuming one role and one status, they have a status set in the social structure that has, attached to it, a whole set of expected behaviors.
Merton developed notable concepts such as "unintended consequences", the "reference group", and "role strain", but is perhaps best known for the terms "role model" and "self-fulfilling prophecy".
A central element in modern sociological, political, and economic theory, a self-fulfilling prophecy is one type of process through which a belief or expectation affects the outcome of a situation or the way a person or group will behave.
Many had doubted that Merton would be accepted into Harvard after graduating from Temple, but he quickly defied the odds and by his second year he had begun publishing with Sorokin.
By 1934 he had even begun publishing articles of his own: "Recent French Sociology", "The Course of Arabian Intellectual Development, 700-1300 A.