Ph.D., 1977

I grew up in Jackson, Mississippi, went to Catholic schools for twelve years, and was mostly a math and science jock in high school. I began my college career in engineering, but after two years lost interest in that field. I had taken an interesting sociology elective course in my sophomore year and so rather haphazardly selected sociology as my new major. Given my background, I aced the statistics courses in the sociology department that many other undergraduate sociology students struggled with. I had one course in the sociology department on human ecology, which really interested me. So when it came near time to graduate from Louisiana State University, I applied to several graduate schools in sociology that had strong demography and human ecology components. I was honored to be selected for a scholarship and to study at UNC with Amos Hawley in the human ecology program. I packed up my black 1960 Chevrolet BelAir and made the trip alone from Mississippi to Chapel Hill in September of 1971 to begin my graduate school career.

Graduate school was a time of great intellectual ferment for me. I recall especially Everett Wilson’s first semester course in sociological theory, when he started the class speaking French! Learning about our great sociological forefathers in this and other courses was exciting. I enjoyed the second semester course on theories of social organization, taught by Richard Simpson, Gerhard Lenski, and Amos Hawley. After the first year or two, I began to take more statistics and demography courses, and so solidified my place in the “hard science” wing of the sociology department. Some of my memories include “arrow man” David Heise teaching path analysis, Krishnan Namboodiri’s rigorous and technical course on survey methodology, and Peter Uhlenberg’s detailed two-semester course on demographic techniques using the two-volume tome The Methods and Materials of Demography by Shryock and Siegel. After completing my master’s degree in 1973, I briefly considered a teaching job, but since I had completed almost all of the coursework for a Ph.D., I decided to continue toward that goal. It took me four more years to finish, mainly due to some complications with my dissertation, but I had some enjoyable research and teaching assistant jobs during that time. I completed my dissertation (Urbanization and Regional Convergence: A Comparison of Wheat and Cotton Areas of the United States) and received my Ph.D. in 1977.

By that time, I was more interested in applied research and public policy than in teaching sociology, so I took a job in 1977 as a Planning Data Analyst in the State Health Planning Agency of the North Carolina Department of Human Resources. In 1980, I moved to the State Center for Health Statistics, in the North Carolina Division of Public Health, where I worked for 29 years as a statistician, unit supervisor, and eventually Director of this 65-person organization. My UNC training in demography and statistics was most useful in these jobs, as well as my learning of SPSS and PL1 (back in the punch card days!). During my career as a health statistician, I had the opportunity to publish many papers related to my work in peer-reviewed journals. I became affiliated with the Department of Maternal and Child Health at the UNC School of Public Health and am still an Adjunct Professor in that department. Since retirement from state government in 2009, I have done some part time consulting work in health statistics, including a current project with the Carolina Population Center related to the Add Health Survey.

In 1985, eight years into my career in state government, I presented a paper to the Southern Sociological Society titled “Sociological Training and Non-Academic Employment: A Viewpoint.” Many of my observations then still ring true to me today. I invite those interested to contact me, and I will send you a scanned copy of this paper.

Since I retired from state government in 2009, I have been very engaged in taking continuing education courses at N.C. State University (history, literature, poetry, and a variety of other topics), traveling, volunteering at a community garden for refugees in Raleigh, maintaining my home vegetable and flower garden, being Treasurer of the North Carolina Gourd Society, attending college football and basketball games, and playing in competitive billiard leagues. I have been married for nearly 40 years to Barbara, and now have two grandchildren who live in Raleigh. I have lived in the same neighborhood in Raleigh since 1979. Retirement has truly been one of the best times of my life.

I may be contacted at paul.a.buescher@gmail.com or (919) 696-0744.
Submitted July 2015