Ian Lundberg, '15
Sociology PhD Candidate
Many of us grow up assuming a lot about American society and the world in general: upward mobility is possible for anyone who puts in enough hard work, many Americans fall in a sizeable and well-defined middle class, most children grow up in homes and neighborhoods similar to those in which we were raised, etc. A sociology concentration teaches you to hold these assumptions up to the light of empirical data and formulate questions in a testable way. In Professor Beckfield's introductory course on social inequality, I remember being startled by statistics demonstrating the high levels of residential segregation by race in America today, cross-national comparisons showing clearly that the U.S. is by many measures not the best nation on earth, and evidence showing a range of factors that restrict people's chances for upward mobility. Professor Desmond's course on poverty in America brought me face-to-face with firsthand accounts of the suffering many people experience in an economy that has little to offer the poor. These stories and aggregate statistics showed me what it's like to be poor today and how government policies work to fill a portion of the gap while leaving much of the problem unresolved. Professor Garip's tutorial on migration and the growth of a transnational economy challenged me to consider poverty, family life, and network ties in a more global perspective that recognizes how these structure operate across national borders. These courses and others have shaped my understanding of the social world, laid bare its problems, and taught me to consider these problems and solutions from a range of empirical perspectives.
Beyond coursework, the highlight of my undergrad experience has been involvement in faculty research projects. The best part about sociology is that you can ask questions that matter, and with a little work you can reach the cutting edge and help contribute to answering them. I was particularly interested in gender earnings inequality, and one source of gender earnings inequality is that parenthood is associated with wage gains for men but wage losses for women. I sought to understand how this varies across contexts: are there some regions/countries/time periods in which the gaps are smaller? This overarching question came to define my undergraduate experience. Professor Beckfield initially kindled my interest in contextual variation, and then Professor Killewald poured countless hours into my work as my primary adviser. Meetings with Professor Winship also helped me think clearly about the methodological challenges and consider possible solutions. Everyone was encouraging, excited about my projects, and eager to help me prepare them to present at conferences and submit to journals. I would strongly encourage prospective sociology concentrators to read the literature, think about a research question that interests them, discuss it with a couple of professors or TFs, and get started early! There is no need to wait for senior thesis time to begin a research project. It's incredibly fun to explore something you care about, develop a relationship with an adviser, and possibly present the results to other sociologists at a conference. You learn a lot about the discipline and have fun along the way!
I will begin a Ph.D. in sociology at Princeton in the fall. Obviously, sociology had a huge role in helping me select my post-grad plans! After being deeply involved in sociological research at Harvard, I can't wait to continue studying sociology for years to come.