Alumni Spotlights

Hien La

Hien La

You graduated in 2019 with a BA in Sociology. Can you describe what you've been doing since then?

Since then, I have been working for a market research firm in San Francisco. I started out as a Research Assistant and recently got promoted to a Senior Research Assistant. 

What interested you in joining the corporate world? Can you describe your day-to-day work life?

Although I loved being a student, I chose to enter the workforce instead of going straight to graduate school. Since I have a wide variety of interests, I wanted to give the corporate world a chance and explore different career paths before pursuing any other degree. I also received a job offer before my last semester at Miami so it seemed like the right thing to do at the time. 

Working for a market research firm means every day is different. I manage quantitative research studies and my clients work in various industries, specifically technology and telecommunications. I am responsible for all stages of the research process, from designing the questionnaire, launching the survey, to analysis planning and producing reports to synthesize the findings. I have had many opportunities to develop my technical and analytical skills. At the same time, my communication skills have also improved greatly.

How does the discipline of Sociology resonate with you today?

I believe Sociology is highly relevant to research. To be an excellent researcher, you must have a deep understanding of human behaviorand how much of the is driven by their background. In my day-to-day work, that means thinking about whether the data and findings make sense given the target audience of the study. I usually have to look at tremendous amount of data to discover insights that will help businesses improve their products, and that requires the "big picture" thinking that I developed as a sociology major.


You completed a departmental honors project in sociology at Miami. How did that experience shape your career trajectory?

Even though I have been doing research since my first year at Miami, it was departmental honors project that solidified my desire to pursue a research career. I learned so much about research while working on this project since I had to come up with my own research questions, find the data set that could provide answers to those questions, and summarize the findings in a research paper (which later turned into a book chapter).

I had such a great time doing the project with my research mentors, Dr. J. Scott Brown and Dr. Cassandra Hua, so it did not even feel like schoolwork. Rather, it was my personal project, my chance to explore a topic I was interested in. I remember turning in the research paper at the end of the semester and telling my parents that I just want to work in research for the rest of my life. It as an incredible feeling. 

What do you miss most about Miami?

I definitely miss everyone that I have met and had a chance to learn from. I had such a great experience at Miami and got to know many amazing individuals, including my professors, the staff I have interacted with, and my peers. On top of that, they are extremely warm and incredible human beings. It is something that you do not experience every day. 

What advice would you share with our current sociology students as they prepare to enter the workforce?

I think it is very important, as a new graduate, to be open to opportunities and try out anything you are even remotely interested in. While a liberal arts or social science degree may not provide you with a well-defined career path, it will teach you many skills that are highly relevant to any job. You just have to find a way to show that to prospective employers during interviews.

If possible, I would also recommend that you pursue a minor or even a major in another field along with Sociology, and get some work experience before you graduate. Couple that with research experience, I think you will be well-prepared no matter what you decide to pursue. 


Taylor Hicks

 Taylor Hicks

You graduated from Miami University with a BA in Social Justice Studies Can you describe what you've been doing since then?

In August of this year I began working for IMPACT Community Action in Columbus, Ohio, as an Emergency Assistance Representative. I process applications for customers who are behind on their rent and mortgage payments. 

You were recently promoted to oversee teams providing rental and mortgage assistance to those affected by the COVID-19 pandemic. Can you describe your day-to-day work life?

As one of two team leads, I now help the rental assistance Program Manager oversee a team of twenty representatives as we work to finish processing our applications for the year. I do everything from application processing, to training new hires, to resolving client concerns, to being a point of contact for customers facing homelessness. 

How does the discipline of social justice continue to resonate with you today?

The discipline of Social Justice is at the heart of everything I do, both at work and at home. My passion for social justice comes from my relationship with Jesus Christ, who taught His followers that the fulfillment of the moral law comes from loving God and loving others as yourself. In my work at IMPACT, i get to share that love by reminding people of their worth and dignity as human beings, and by fighting for a world where we can all be the best versions of ourselves. 

What do you miss most about your Miami experience?

What I miss most about my Miami experience is the incredible group of friends I made there. My friends made Miami a home away from home for me, and I was so blessed to spend four years of my life living right across the quad (and right across the hall!) from them.

What advice would you share with our current Social Justice Studies students as they prepare to enter the workforce?

For anyone entering the workforce as a Social Justice Studies graduate, my advice is this: Prioritize self-care. Working for justice is already a demanding and difficult task, but it is even more so in a global pandemic. If you are truly passionate about improving the lives of others, you have to take care of yourself too, because when your own glass is full, you have more to pour into the lives of those around you. Good luck!

Rory Monaghan

Rory Monaghan

You graduated in 2017 with a minor in Criminology. Can you describe what you've been doing since then?

I have been pursuing my PhD in criminology at Penn State and working as a research assistant.

How has your Miami training in criminology helped you as you pursue a PhD at Penn State?

Miami's criminology professors provided me with an excellent foundation for the work I am doing now.

How does the discipline of Sociology, and more specifically criminology, resonate with you today?

What resonates the strongest with me is the interdisciplinary nature of criminology. There are people from so many different fields working to explain a common set of outcomes.


What do you miss most about your Miami?

The sociology and criminology faculty. There are some fantastic teachers who really care about their students' education.

What advice would you share with our current criminology students?

If you plan on going into research, take more than just the required statistics class. 

Dawn Carr

Dawn Carr

You graduated with a PhD in 2009 in Social Gerontology. What inspired you to pursue this field of study?

Just a few days before starting my first days of college when I was 18, my mother was diagnosed with terminal cancer. At the same time, I had two living grandmothers, both in their late 80s at the time, and both lived nearby where I was going to going to college. One grandmother was diagnosed with cancer only months before my mother, and the other was struggling with debilitating problems related to spinal arthritis. Through these caregiving experiences, observing how me and my family members responded to these long illnesses and deaths, I became very interested in aging issues. Not only was I passionate about family care work, but also about coping with losses, resilience, and the factors that shape long-term health and wellbeing. I had maintained a very close relationship with my mom's mom for all of my life, and our friendship and her death at the late age of 94 was something that helped me learn how valuable and important older people are to the families and to society. I honestly can't imagine a more important subject, or one that influences peoples' lives than gerontology.

You went on to complete a post-doctoral fellowship after the PhD. How did this step in your training help you in your career trajectory?

My postdoctral training was a critical launching pad for the steps that I have taken in my career. I completed a two year fellowship at UNC Chapel Hill, with extensive training on NIH grant writing, health disparities research, and I learned how to work with longitudinal data through one-on-one tutoring that I received from a statistician at UNC. These experiences paved the way for my ability to ask the kinds of research questions I'd always wanted to be able to tackle, and has led me to develop expertise in a dataset that I continue to use for much of my research - The Health and Retirement Study.

You're now an Associate Professor in sociology at Florida State University. How does the discipline of gerontology continue to resonate with your work today?

Although I am currently serving as faculty in a sociology department, my research has continued to be interdisciplinary in nature, and I maintain the identity of a gerontologist. I serve as faculty associate at the Pepper Institute on Aging and Public Policy, which is a wonderful research center with primarily sociologists working together to tackle a variety of health and aging related issues. I also work regularly and extensively with my colleagues across campus in the psychology department, particularly through collaborations through the Institute for Successful Longevity which is housed in the psychology department. I am working on projects that range from identifying ways that phone apps can be used to effectively promote adherence to cognitive health behaviors, to identifying structural inequalities in the lives of older workers (especially those older workers who are caregiving), to the ways in which early life factors have significant impacts on how resilience in later life. In all of this work, gerontology is the foundation of what I do and my professional identity.

What do you miss most about your Miami experience?

That is an easy question - the people. My time as a graduate student provided a kind of intellectual community that is hard to find elsewhere. I feel very fortunate that I've found my way to such an incredible work environment now, but I have worked with my colleagues to intentionally cultivate an environment that mimics many of the most important qualities that I was lucky to have as a graduate student. My colleagues and I engage in meaningful, collaborative work, that is centered around mentorship. this is what was modeled for me at Miami. I also maintain close connections with many Miami alumni because we shared a sense of what it means to provide service to the profession and to take our training as a gift that we can use to make the world a better place. I truly can't imagine a better legacy than leaving my own graduate students with a similar memory.

What advice would you share with our current gerontology students (both graduate and undergraduate) as they prepare to enter the labor force?

Honestly, I am in a work situation that I never dreamed could be this fulfilling, and much of what got me here is related to three key factors: luck, professional connections in gerontology, and publishing. I say luck because you cannot control what the world is going to throw your way. This pandemic is a great example. I graduated at the start of the great recession, and I struggled to figure out how to build a career when there were so few jobs available, and we are in a similar situation now. Ultimately, I fumbled my way through for a while, but I focused on building meaningful connections with others, staying focused on doing research that I was proud of, and publishing it in the journals that my colleagues read. There is no one way to be a great gerontologist - there are so many factors that can make a difference, from teaching, running agencies or centers, doing the hard hands-on work of caring for older people, building an age-friendly community, and identifying policy and program solutions that make the everyday lives of older adults better. I am sure that my own work isn't nearly as important as many others, but I feel confident that the work I am able to do every day is concerned with identifying ways to promote the health and wellbeing of older adults.