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Graduate Students on the Job Market

JON ATWELL - The Role of Niche Signals in the Self-organization in Society

Co-chair: Elizabeth Bruch
Co-chair: Mark Mizruchi
Member: John Padgett (University of Chicago)
Member: Scott E. Page (UM Economics)
Member: Robert Savit (UM Physics)

Description of work:
Jon Atwell received his PhD in Sociology in 2017 and is a Data Science Scholar postdoctoral researcher at Northwestern University, with appointments at the Institute for Policy Research and the Northwestern Institute on Complex Systems. His research focuses on the computational aspects of the production of shared mental representations. In particular, he is interested in what signals individuals cum groups must be processing for mental representations to become similar enough to rise to the level of being cultural resources and how that signal-processing relates to the endogenous structuring of local environments. His dissertation research used a formal model, a large group experiment, and a natural language case study to explore how the endogenous structuring of social spaces helps creates information that permits order to emerge. This work suggests the signals that emanate from our material existence in shared spaces, from objects to overheard conversations, are instrumental in successful self-organization. Ongoing research uses a massive dataset of geotracking data to explore the general characteristics of how we share, or do not share, physical space and how those characteristics affect other social processes and outcomes.


JAMIE BUDNICK - The New Gay Science: Sexuality Knowledge, Demography, and the Politics of Population Measurement


• Professor Karin Martin (chair)
• Professor Jennifer Barber
• Assistant Professor Rachel Best
• Professor Alexandra Stern (American Culture)


I am a sociologist specializing in gender and sexuality. My work has been supported by the National Science Foundation, and the University of Michigan’s Population Studies Center and Institute for Research on Women and Gender. My sole-authored and co-authored scholarship has been published in Gender & Society, Contexts, Demography, and the American Sociological Review.

My research agenda comprises three major areas: First, I study the social construction of knowledge about sexuality. My book project, based on my dissertation research, shows how the sexuality knowledge produced by demographers and other social scientists shapes policy, politics, and identities. Second, I am deeply invested in advancing the demography of sexualities, both by producing population science that can be used to meaningfully address inequalities affecting LGBTQ people, and by shaping measurement and research practices. Third, I have examined young women’s sexual identity, behavior, and desire using innovative sampling methods in order to make theories of sexual fluidity more intersectional.


In my dissertation, I analyze the surge of interest in the demography of sexuality to show how social scientific thinking shapes policy, and vice versa. The last decade witnessed an unprecedented prioritization of research on non-heterosexuality, fueling progress in LGBTQ civil rights and activism focused on issues of data collection. Political upheaval and contemporary skepticism toward expertise leaves this sexuality knowledge in a precarious position. I draw on STS approaches to the politics of knowledge, the sociology of quantification and classification, survey methodology, and feminist epistemology to tell the stories of five prominent knowledge claims about non-heterosexuality. I use comparative-historical and interview methods to analyze newspaper articles, judicial opinions, court case arguments and amicus briefs, citations, survey documentation, and interviews with both research participants and expert stakeholders. I investigate how knowledge claims about non-heterosexuality circulate out in the world in public discourse and policy debates, and interrogate their technical production within social science, specifically demography. My case demonstrates the continued relevance, contested legitimacy, and sociopolitical influence of sexuality knowledge – as well as the high stakes of social science expertise on the national stage.

Curriculum Vitae


NELL COMPERNOLLE - Spouses Crossing Borders: International Male Migration and the Marital Relationship

Committee: William (Bill) Axinn (chair), Elizabeth Armstrong, Dirgha Ghimire (Institute for Social Research), Dean Yang (UM Economics)
Description of work:
I received my PhD in Sociology in December 2017 and am a postdoctoral scholar at the University of Chicago. My research lies at the intersection of family, population, and gender. My dissertation research examines how a key change in the social organization of work—shifting away from home and toward international markets—relates to relationship processes in rural Nepal. How labor migration relates to marriage is unclear: studies show that migration increases couples’ risk of dissolution, while scholars and policy analysts emphasize the broader social and economic benefits remittances can have for married persons. Here, I argue that these understandings mask the possibility that, under certain conditions, migration may improve spouses’ marital quality. I use panel data from the Chitwan Valley Family Study and primary mixed methods data collected among a subsample of migrants (in East Asia, Middle East) and migrants’ wives and non-migrant couples (in Nepal). I find that husbands engaged in temporary international labor migration report significantly higher marital quality than do non-migrant husbands, net of marital quality assessed six years earlier, whereas changes in their wives’ is inconclusive. That these benefits 1) diverge from previous understandings and 2) vary by spouse’s gender help me identify conditions shaping this association: social and structural forces supporting men as breadwinners, a strong husband-wife bond facilitating husbands’ migration, and marriage-protective social environments (universal marriage, little divorce, and strict migrant monitoring systems in common migrant destinations) at both ends of migration.

In addition to my dissertation work, I have a sole-authored paper analyzing the effects of perceived norms on young women’s unintended pregnancy in a Michigan county. I am expanding on this dissertation and published work as a postdoctoral scholar at the University of Chicago, where I am examining how age norms and expectations shape how relationship processes influence young women’s and men’s mental health in Malawi. In future work, I plan to analyze how relationship stability mediates the relationship between mental health and migration. I have also designed and implemented a mixed methods project as a consultant for the World Bank’s Gender Innovation Lab.

CHRISTINA CROSS - Dissertation Title: Racial/Ethnic and SES Differences in Family Structure and Their Impact on Children’s Educational Attainment


Karyn Lacy
Barbara Anderson
Paula Fomby
Fabian Pfeffer
Natasha Pilkauskas

Christina Cross’ research falls at the intersection of families, race/ethnicity, and social inequality. She examines how family structure, change, and dynamics influence individuals’ life chances, particularly among minority and/or low-income populations. Her dissertation draws on nationally representative, longitudinal data from the Panel Study of Income Dynamics (PSID, 1985-2015) to examine racial/ethnic and social class differences in the impact of family structure—both in the nuclear and extended family—on children’s educational attainment. A paper from her dissertation, “Extended Family Households among Children in the United States: Differences by Race/Ethnicity and Socio-Economic Status” (Population Studies, July 2018) received the 2018 Graduate Student Paper Award from the Family Division of the Society for the Study of Social Problems.

Beyond her dissertation, Cross has published articles related to the extended family support networks of African American and Black Caribbean families, trends in extended family households in the U.S., and the educational pathways of first-generation college students. Her work has appeared in Demography, Journal of Family Issues, Population Studies, Sociological Forum, and Journal of Child and Family Studies. Her research has been supported by a National Science Foundation Graduate Research Fellowship, a Ford Foundation Dissertation Fellowship, a University of Michigan Rackham Merit Fellowship, the Andrew W. Mellon Foundation, and the Social Science Research Council.

As a proponent of diversity, equity, and inclusion in higher education, Cross is actively engaged in promoting these values through her scholarship, service, and mentorship. She has worked as a researcher for the National Center for Institutional Diversity, co-chaired the Sociologists of Color at the University of Michigan, and served as a mentor for three pipeline programs for underrepresented students—SROP, MICHHERS, and Stein Scholars.

DANIELLE CZARNECKI - Modern Crosses: How Christian Women Navigate Maternal Desire, Religion, and Assisted Reproductive Technologies 


  • Renee Anspach and Karin Martin,Co-Chairs
  • Genevieve Zubrzycki
  • Elizabeth Roberts (Anthropology)
    My dissertation examines how religion shapes women's experiences with infertility in the U.S., a country with an unregulated in vitro fertilization (IVF) industry and uniquely high levels of religiosity among developed countries. I conducted a total of 80 interviews with Catholic and Protestant infertile women in order to better understand how women pursuing motherhood navigate cultural messages about gender, technology, and religion when making decisions about using assisted reproductive technologies (ARTs). While conservative Protestants and the Catholic Church have been vocal about protecting the embryo in their opposition to abortion and stem cell research, their positions regarding ARTs diverge. Protestant denominations generally support the use of IVF and have largely remained silent about ethical or moral concerns. Catholicism, on the other hand, is the most restrictive world religion in its position on ARTs. I examine how Christian women navigate the moral dilemmas that emerge when the pursuit of biological parenthood leads to encounters with technologies that threaten what they consider to be sacred—the human embryo.

    Personal Webpage

MICHAEL FANG - Three Essays on the Relationships Between Social Ties and Mental Well-Being

• Elizabeth Bruch (co-chair)
• Sarah Burgard (co-chair)
• Jeffrey Morenoff
• Rachel Best
• Paula Lantz (Ford School)
My dissertation consists of three studies that investigate the impact of social relationships on mental well-being. In the first, I use a between-school, within-cohort approach to test the social contagion hypothesis, which posits that certain social phenomena, including mood disorders such as depression, are “contagious” and can spread among people like an infectious disease. In the second, I employ a person, fixed-effect approach to test the reactivity hypothesis, which suggests that women and girls are more emotionally reactive than men and boys to the effects of interpersonal stress, contributing to gender differences in depression. In the third, I use marginal structural models to examine whether the protective effects of marriage against depressive symptoms become stronger over time, as predicted by the cumulative advantage hypothesis. Collectively, these papers help advance our understanding of how and under what conditions social ties influence our mental well-being.
Along with my dissertation, I have also published several studies that broadly explore trends in and determinants of various health conditions and behaviors, including diabetes (American Journal of Preventive Medicine, forthcoming), suicidal attempts (Social Psychiatry and Psychiatric Epidemiology, 2018), and cigarette smoking (Nicotine and Tobacco Research, forthcoming).

JESSICA GARRICK - Refocusing Old Rights: The State, New Social Movements, and the National Labor Relations Act

Sandra Levitsky (chair)
Rachel Best
Kate Andrias
Kiyoteru Tsutsui (cognate)

Research description:
My dissertation examines the National Labor Relations Act (NLRA) as a case of gradual institutional change. Passed in 1935, the law granted workers the right to unionize, but today is assessed in terms of its increasing inability to reverse the tide of deunionization. Scholars thus view the NLRA as another casualty in the trend towards markets deregulation, but I show that such trends do not go uncontested. Some officials in the National Labor Relations Board have sought to expand the law’s reach by promoting Section 7, which protects workers' rights to concerted activity, regardless of their union membership. These efforts, however, depend on street-level officials to promote the law, and on workers’ advocacy groups to help workers use the law. I examine the variation—both internal and external to the agency—that leads to differential use of the law by non-union organizations, thereby illuminating the social bases necessary for institutional change.

My other research projects are collaborative efforts to explore questions about the law in additional contexts, including universities' responses to shifting expectations around Title IX compliance, and the experiences of immigrants with i) workplace regulations and ii) cooperative immigration enforcement between local and federal governments.

CHARITY HOFFMAN - The 21st Century Mother: How New Moms Navigate Work, Family, and the Struggle to Have it All


Karin Martin and Katie Richards-Schuster (Social Work), Co-Chairs
Fatma Gocek
Mary Ruffolo (Social Work)

This dissertation examines the experiences of first-time mothers’ transition to motherhood. Based on interviews with 46 first-time mothers, I explore three aspects of the transition to motherhood in the 21st century: parental leave, engagement with technology, and the unique challenges facing low-income mothers. My central research questions were: (1) What structural challenges confront 21st century American women when they become mothers? and (2) What factors may exacerbate or mediate these challenges? These questions are addressed in three distinct papers.

The first article explores how, in the absence of a federally mandated parental leave policy, American women’s occupational group shapes their access to parental leave. I argue that disparities in access to formal benefits, including job security and paid or unpaid time off, are exacerbated by inequitable access to informal benefits, such as flexible hours and accommodations offered by “understanding” bosses. Furthermore, I find these differences are reinforced by women’s ability to leverage cultural capital and knowledge to access these informal benefits.

In the second article, I explore women’s use of social media and technology across the transition to motherhood. I argue that technology can be both an asset and a liability-- helping women stay more connected to social, cultural and material resources on the one hand, but heightening anxiety, fear, and a sense of competition on the other. I conclude that, despite technology’s potential to extend social support and connectedness for new mothers, it may also bring an additional source of invisible labor for women.

In the third article, I examine structural factors that may create invisible hardships for low-income first-time mothers. I also explore divergent logics of parenting for lower- and higher-income women, in an effort to explain why, in spite of these hardships, low income mothers often describe the transition to motherhood as less disruptive than more financially secure mothers do. I argue that for middle-class women, the transition to motherhood imposes chaos onto lives that are otherwise relatively controlled, while for low-income mothers, it may impose some regularity onto lives that are otherwise marked by instability.

In each of these studies, I explore how structural factors such as occupational group, class status, and access to technology, may shape the very personal and individual experience of the transition to motherhood.

HUIYUN KIM - Housing Insecurity and Low-Income Housing Policies in the United States


  • Sarah Burgard and Kristin Seefeldt (Co-Chairs)
  • Rachel Best
  • Richard Tolman
  • Lan Deng
    Description of Dissertation chapters: My dissertation project examining the role of housing assistance programs in reducing housing insecurity and implementation and policy design of low-income housing programs followed naturally from this early work. Using multiple methods, I have examined the intersection of low-income housing programs and housing insecurity among the poor, taking for example an econometric approach to program evaluation and a qualitative approach to examining decision making in program implementation.
    My first dissertation chapter addresses the role of housing assistance programs in reducing housing insecurity in the years immediately following the Great Recession. My second dissertation chapter interrogates local implementation of the federal Housing Choice Voucher (formerly known as the Section 8 voucher) program in relation to the federal initiative to end homelessness. I document the dominant patterns in the local preference systems in the Detroit metropolitan area, examine the mechanisms that have created the most common form of local preference system, and estimate this form’s impacts across income levels among those eligible for housing assistance. My third dissertation chapter examines the politics of admission policies in federal low-income housing programs: how QHWRA led to major change in tenant eligibility and preference in low-income housing assistance programs.

MIN HEE KIM - Causes and Consequences of Geographic Disparities in Home and Community Based Services

  • Sarah Burgard and Ruth Dunkle (Co-Chairs)
  • Sandy Levitsky
  • Emily Nicklett
  • Philippa Clarke

Place—in both the micro sense of a site of care such as a private home or skilled nursing facility and the macro sense of a broad geographic area—is the locus of social interactions for aging populations and a key determinant of services received. My research takes this as a launching point as it focuses on three areas: (1) understanding the dynamics of inequality and resource distribution in health and social services for older adults, (2) investigating how spatial distributions of health and social services influence service delivery and quality care, and (3) identifying mechanisms through which macro and mezzo level structural factors (such as race and social and built environments) shape physical and mental health in later life.

My dissertation bridges two areas of scholarship: research examining how multi-dimensional environments affect older adults’ healthy and productive aging and research asking how current public policy can best serve the complex health care needs of seniors, especially those living in communities with sparse resources, as the population grows. It examines policy that affects health and social service delivery to seniors, with particular attention to the geographic variations in resources and the impact of this variation. The first paper in my dissertation demonstrates an unequal distribution of a range of institutional and non-institutional health and social services for older adults and persons with disability in the state of Michigan. The other two identify service distributional factors and mechanisms that explain the chance of hospitalization and worsening cognition in older adults who receive home care funded by the state. The population that receives care paid for by public money has increased over the last two decades as the central and state governments have shifted toward home and community-based care over nursing homes. This situation calls for an in-depth evaluation of community resources and their influence on service delivery and health outcomes.

DANA KORNBERG - Reclaiming Waste, Remaking Communities: Persistence and Change in Delhi's Informal Garbage Economy


  • George Steinmetz (chair)
  • Greta Krippner (member)
  • Frederick Wherry (member)
  • Arun Agrawal (cognate)

Kornberg specializes in urban and economic sociology, using case studies to generate and refine theories of socio-economic transformation. Her dissertation project is an ethnographic examination of contemporary urban infrastructure in Delhi, India that explains an empirical puzzle: how have informal garbage collector-recyclers managed to persist despite competition from newly expanded, mechanized municipal garbage services? Responding to this question offers an opportunity to engage with the broader problem of why informal economies - defined by their absence of substantial recourse through state law - have endured so substantially in twenty-first century cities. Reclaiming Waste, Remaking Communities considers how everyday, informal economic transactions reveal and comprise wider patterns of structural economic transformation. The project begins by untangling the complicated knot of urban governance institutions in practice, analyzing the the production of a boundary between state and non-state economic actors. It proceeds by detailing the urban re-making of established social hierarchies, which are rooted in village-city relations, caste, and community. The research finds that particular economic materials and practices act as sources of durability for this informal economic domain, allowing it to persevere even when confronted by formal state-sponsored competitors.


In addition to the dissertation research, Kornberg has also conducted research in the Michigan cities of Detroit and Flint, analyzing the politics of water infrastructures.

DAVID MICKEY-PABELLO The Unintended Consequences of Affirmative Action Bans

Dissertation Committee

• Sarah Burgard (chair)
• Stephen DesJardins
• Barbara Anderson
• Deirdre Bloome
• John Burkhardt

Mickey’s academic work on affirmative action bans first began by estimating the causal effects of affirmative action bans on underrepresented students of color at medical schools in the United States. When planning his dissertation, he was inspired by Robert Merton’s work on unintended consequences (1936) and his training as a demographer at Michigan’s Population Studies Center. He felt that many of the impacts of affirmative action had not yet been studied or considered because most of the scholarship on affirmative action bans had been produced by economists, or field specialists in higher education, policy, or law. As a sociologist he did not feel as constricted as his peers who study affirmative action bans. He decided to investigate three particular issues as a result: 1) How did affirmative action bans diffuse throughout the United States?; 2) How have STEM and non-STEM majors been differentially impacted by affirmative action bans?; and 3) How has the proportion of interracial marriage changed as a result of affirmative action bans? As such, not only does his dissertation bring a theoretical sociological perspective to this work, but he also draws upon a diverse toolbox of methodological approaches found across social science. Mickey’s work aims to invigorate the public and academic debates about affirmative action. His previous work has been published in The Journal of Higher Education and the American Journal of Education and has been featured by The New York Times, National Public Radio, and The Chronicle of Higher Education. His dissertation is supported by the American Educational Research Association.

CHRISTOPHER NEAR - Bridging the Income-Parenting Gap: Three Papers on the Interrelationships of Household Income, Parenting Resources, and Child Outcomes

  • Professor Sarah A. Burgard (co-chair)
  • Professor Yu Xie (co-chair)
  • Professor Pamela E. Davis-Kean
  • Professor Elizabeth A. Armstrong

My dissertation research produced three studies of inequality and child outcomes (behavior problems and cognitive achievement), using two data sets (PSID and Fragile Families). I examined: parents’ distress and behaviors as mediators of the effects of family income on adolescent outcomes, using SEM; the effects of change in income on change in parents’ distress and behaviors and change in adolescent outcomes, using fixed effects regression; and the effects of household income and family background on type of daycare used and child outcomes, using propensity score analysis. All three studies are under revision for journal submission.
I published two papers while in graduate school. My first study (Near, 2013, Sex Roles) used content analysis of video game box art to investigate the role of female characters; results showed that game sales were associated with depictions of female characters as sexualized and not central to the story line. My second study (Xie, Killewald, & Near, 2016, The ANNALS of the American Academy of Political and Social Science) used census data to assess income inequality related to occupational and educational patterns, focusing particularly on scientists and engineers.
After finishing my PhD I was a postdoctoral fellow from 2016 – 2018 in the Department of Policy Analysis and Management, College of Human Ecology, at Cornell. I worked with my advisor, Professor Rachel Dunifon, on one study of the association of grandparent involvement with child outcomes (Dunifon, Near & Ziol-Guest, 2018, Journal of Marriage and Family); we are currently finishing two studies of grandparent involvement with grandchildren on parent stress level and grandparent well-being (also with Kelly Musick). Currently I am a visiting professor in Sociology at the University of Nebraska-Lincoln, where I teach Sociology of Sport (online), Statistics, Social Problems, Research Methods (online) and Multilevel Modeling (graduate course). This is a temporary position so I am seeking a long-term position.

MATTHEW B. SULLIVAN - The Rise of Deliberative Democratic Forms of Public Engagement in United States Science Policy


  • Professor Sandy Levitsky
  • Professor Renee Anspach
  • Professor Jason Owen-Smith
  • Professor Shobita Parthasarathy (Ford School of Public Policy)

My dissertation research intersects fields of political sociology and science and technology studies (STS). Using interviews, documentary data, and computational methods I am studying the rise of deliberative democratic forms of public engagement in United States science policy.

My pedagogical experience is somewhat broader than my research would suggest. I have taught several undergraduate courses including: introduction to sociology, introduction to theory, medical sociology, and sociology of science. I have also designed and taught a new course for our department aimed at pre-med students seeking to fulfill their MCAT sociology requirement. Finally, I designed and taught the course component for the Sociological Opportunities in Undergraduate Leadership (SOUL), our effort to serve the needs of first-generation college students. I am currently designing the second iteration of SOUL which I will teach in Fall 2017 and Winter 2018.