Skip to main content

Ph.D. 2007

    My Carolina story begins in Illinois, where I attended the University of Chicago’s Ph.D. recruitment day. It was my first of two such trips, having applied to just three Ph.D. programs and been rejected from one.

My family has some history with the Chicago sociology department, but seeing my great grandfather’s photo in the faculty board room did nothing to calm my nerves. I had not known that I should have contacted prospective advisors to arrange meetings in advance, so after a welcome event, a tour, and meeting some brilliant-but-unhappy graduate students, I was on my own while the others met with famous professors. It was a strange and alienating day, but I remembered hitting it off with another “recruit,” who outwardly manifested as much nervousness as I was trying to hide.

My first impression at Carolina could not have been more different. At the time, UNC did not have a general recruitment day, so I was once again alone. On top of that, it was spring break, and few students or faculty were around Hamilton. But the ones I met—Jim Moody, Francois, and Rachel—were genuinely friendly and welcoming, and the impression contrasted starkly with my first trip. By the time Francois and Rachel took me out for ice tea at Weaver Street, I felt like my decision was made.

When I later made the call to formally accept their offer, that guy I met at Chicago, Jeff Rosenthal, was in the office learning about the program. He heard that I accepted, and I guess that tipped him over the edge. Two decades later, we remain great friends. Besides Jeff, I made a small handful of lifelong friends at UNC, and for this reason it will always be special to me.

And of course, I am indebted to UNC for more than these friendships. Guang Guo, Barbara Entwisle, and Tony Oberschall taught me so many of the important tools of the trade. I recall many engaging discussions with Charlie Kurzman. It wasn’t on his job description, but Jim Moody taught me social network analysis. Ken Bollen helped me across the finish line, and taught me to think of observable reality as indicators of latent constructs–not to mention a fair amount of Greek that I have now forgotten.

I owe my greatest debts to Peter Bearman and Susan Ennett. Peter changed how I think. He gave me the confidence that I could do this stuff, yet also set an intellectual bar so high that I could never hope to reach it. But it’s the striving that matters, they say. In my career he has also acted as—to borrow from a Bearman favorite, Propp’s Morphology of the Folktale—a Donor, a sort of fairy godmother who helps in times of need. He has done so yet again, just in the past few weeks.

I was a bit adrift after Peter left for Columbia, but eventually was taken in by Susan Ennett, in public health. Susan gave me the biggest opportunity of my career, a chance to get involved in a large, longitudinal social network study of youth. Moreover, she encouraged me to add a battery of questions to the original study, at significant cost to the project, and thereby gave me the data I used for my dissertation and long after. She has been a tireless advocate, mentor, and collaborator, and for that I am eternally grateful. To the extent that I have gone anywhere in my career, it is due to her support.

The University of North Carolina is a remarkable institution, offering a world-class education to communities generally not afforded such opportunities. It has changed many lives for the better, mine among them. After graduating in 2007, and before the financial crisis shut the doors to academia for so many, I was fortunate enough to land a job at UC Davis, where I remain. While here, I met my wife Addie, and we now have a rambunctious two year old girl, Nora.

I used to imagine faculty life as somewhat lonely and isolated compared to the social life of graduate school, and never expected to make the same kinds of friends again. But Davis, too, is a unique place, and you can find many of us, faculty and students alike, enjoying live music together at the Davis farmer’s market every Wednesday evening.

It’s quite a bit like Weaver Street, actually.

p.s., Jeff and I were fortunate enough to be standing in the bleachers roughly ten feet away from Marvin Williams when he hit the go-ahead shot in our comeback win against Dook in ’05, and that will forever be the greatest thing I’ve witnessed on a basketball court. Go Heels!

submitted August 2018