What attracted you to Rice Sociology?
It’s very interesting how I got here. I was in grad school at UT-Austin finishing up my dissertation in Sociology and I saw the job description posted and I was really interested because I also got my Masters in Statistics before I finished up my PhD in Sociology. I’ve always been very interested in how methodology works in social research, so I had a natural attraction to the job description. I applied, and at the time there was no PhD program here yet. The department wanted to start the position at the same time they started the PhD program so that they could grow together, because the position is largely for the benefit of graduate students. The major responsibilities are teaching the Stata programming course to the first-year cohort and then consulting work with all of the graduate students and postdocs. I’m also doing my own research on the side. I applied for the job, and I interviewed on campus and at that time I got to know almost everybody in the department. I was, I think, among the top two or three candidates, but I actually didn’t get the offer. So I ended up doing a postdoc in Waco at Baylor University. My postdoc lasted less than three years, so when I was finishing up I was looking for a job, and I knew that the position at Rice was open again. I was invited to apply because the faculty remembered me. I actually got the offer on site!
Most Sociology departments don’t have an in-house methodologist. What do you feel like are the benefits that graduate students get from your expertise?
I think for the people on the quantitative side, as they progress in the program a lot of times their research has unique challenges. They need to talk with people who have the expertise. It’s true, a lot of departments don’t have a person like me in this kind of position. I struggled a lot in my PhD program. My cohort was about 18 graduate students, compared to about five or six here. And it could be challenging to get help with my research. I asked senior graduate students, I asked people in the Statistics department, finally I spent so many hours on my own to gain my methodological expertise. I’ve gained a lot of knowledge and it’s good to share it with the graduate students at Rice. The graduate students really have the opportunity to take advantage of the methodological resources here. I help them speed up their research and get to see the bigger picture of how different methods can work in their dissertations and theses. I think it’s really a great opportunity for them to take advantage of. And they actually do! Starting from their second year, they start to have their own research agendas and a lot of questions are pretty unique to their own research. They learn the general methods from class, from reading the textbooks, but a lot of times their cases are unique to their own research questions, and a lot of times the application of the methods is not so straightforward. Some advanced graduate students will have standing weekly appointments with me for an hour or two to work through their particular challenges.
In terms of your own research, what are you working on right now?
My interest is in immigration-related issues: education, health, and work. In the department, I have been collaborating with Tony Brown and Sergio Chavez. One of my papers under review focuses on Vietnamese 1.5- and second-generation education. I also have another project on Asian-American issues more generally, focusing on outcomes such as housing and discrimination.