Linda Molm

Ph.D. 1976


I entered the graduate program at Chapel Hill in the fall of 1970, a very turbulent time in the country and an exciting time to be studying sociology.  I was thrilled to be attending the 4th ranked graduate program in the country and was in awe of the people who were my professors in my very first semester—Gerhard Lenski, Amos Hawley, Hubert Blalock, and others.  I was supported my first year on an NSF Methodology Traineeship, under Blalock, and was one of his last students before he left the University at the end of the year for the University of Washington.  I completed my M.A. in one year, with Glen Elder directing my thesis, and took a leave from the program for two years to live and work in Washington, D.C., as a research associate at the American Council on Education.


Two years later, I returned to Chapel Hill and the sociology department.  This time, I was supported on an NSF Traineeship in Social Psychology, the field in which I would specialize for the rest of my career.  James Wiggins introduced me to social exchange theory, particularly the newly emerging work of Richard Emerson, which served as the foundation for my own theory development for the next 40 years.  I learned to conduct laboratory experiments, using the technology of the time: electromechanical relay circuitry on huge racks that ran lights and counters and recorded button presses on human test consoles through which subjects interacted with one another.  I was very proud of my ability to wire the relay circuitry, even though computers would soon make these skills obsolete.


The department I returned to was different in many ways—a new building, new faculty members (including the first women on the faculty during my tenure there), and new cohorts of students.  I was never sure which cohort I belonged to after coming back, but I had the benefit of taking classes with students from several cohorts and of becoming acquainted with students who would later become leaders in the discipline.  James Wiggins became my mentor in my studies of social exchange theory, but I also learned affect control theory from David Heise, at the very time that he was formulating it, and life course analysis from Glen Elder, at the time when he was completing his classic work, Children of the Great Depression.  I also took many methods and statistics courses, including experimental design from Krishnan Namboodiri and causal analysis from David Heise, in both cases learning the material from drafts of their forthcoming books.  Because I was fully supported on NSF Traineeships, I never taught, and completed my Ph.D. just three years after returning.


I began my professional academic career as an assistant professor at Emory University, where I remained for 12 years.  I built two different laboratories there (in two different buildings), initially borrowing electromechanical relay equipment from a psychology colleague, and gradually making the transition to a fully computerized lab, which became the standard for social exchange research.  I chaired the department during my last three years there as an associate professor, and then accepted a position as full professor at the University of Arizona in 1988.  I remained at Arizona for the rest of my career and served as department head twice.  During that time, I was delighted to welcome as colleagues two former graduate student friends from Chapel Hill.  Lynn Smith-Lovin joined our department in 1991, and Charles Ragin in 2001.  Lynn and I (along with David Snow and Henry Walker) developed a graduate program in social psychology at Arizona that was ranked in the top five nationally for some years, and we became the first co-editors of an ASA journal, co-editing the Social Psychology Quarterly from 1996-2000.  Other highlights of my career included receiving the 1998 Theory Prize from the ASA Theory Section for my 1997 Cambridge University Press book, Coercive Power in Social Exchange, and receiving the 2009 Cooley-Mead Award from the ASA Social Psychology Section for distinguished career contributions to sociological social psychology—and, in 2008, being invited to return to Chapel Hill as a professor of sociology.  I was greatly honored, but decided to remain at Arizona, where I retired as professor emerita in 2013 after a long and satisfying career

Submitted August 2015