I had the chance to interview Michael Rendall a little while back to get a sense of his research agenda, why he likes the University of Maryland, and what his professional goals are. He came over from RAND to Maryland this fall and was hired as a full professor. From what I hear (and if you take a look at his CV), he is a world-class demographer and someone who will greatly contribute to our department. He’s also a very friendly guy (a fact that you won’t find on his CV).
He has previously published on US born children of Mexican immigrants and educational outcomes and now is looking at health outcomes of children of immigrants. He is using Mexican data sources to study migration from Mexico—an approach not usually seen in the American literature on migration.
Michael: “The idea is that US sources have got major deficiencies for a population that has motivations not to be visible. Mexican data sources have no such problem. And more than that, there is kind of a crisis in survey research in the US and other developed countries because the response rates are going down and people don’t have landlines phone anymore. All kinds of things are making it difficult. However, countries such as Mexico have response rates of 90%. They have in-home interviews, et cetera.”
He has also been recently invited to give two local presentations: a talk at the National Children’s Study Health Disparities Symposium and another at the National Academy of Sciences Workshop on Measuring Immigration Flows. Needless to say, he is keeping busy.
I figured that rather than ask mainly about his past (which one can begin to comprehend by examining his CV), I should ask about the present, future, and for some advice.
Tyler: What’s the reason for going from RAND back to the university setting? What’s the motivation? What are the benefits of being back in the university setting?
Michael: Good question. I will say that at RAND we have a graduate school—not well known—but it is there. And I enjoy working with graduate students and that is one of the attractions of being here—although I enjoyed working with graduate students at RAND. I certainly came here in part for the Maryland Population Research Center and that was a good mix there. I enjoy that the Sociology department here is strong not only in demography but more generally as a highly ranked department. I think the department has a bright future. And it’s good to be part of the new cohort of people who are coming…I’m excited by developments like how sociology has been awarded two of the Computational Social Science hires…So I’m very happy with that. I tend to be a very interdisciplinary person by background and I see the Maryland campus as providing great opportunities for interdisciplinary work. My background is a Master’s in Economics and Sociology, and a Bachelor’s in Psychology so I’m happy with that (the interdisciplinary nature of Maryland). I’m happy to see my former dissertation committee chair Fran Goldscheider. So there’s another fact you can put in.
Tyler: I didn’t see that in the CV. Maybe I wasn’t looking close enough.
Michael: I didn’t include that. Sometimes I have but the CV is always a selection you know…(quick sidebar about his current work)…Now I haven’t quite got it yet but I have a conditionally accepted article on child obesity with my colleagues back at RAND. It’s racial disparities—black/white differences in early childhood obesity and the sources of that. I think one of my continuing, ongoing topics of research is racial and ethnic inequalities and that’s a big part of the child obesity study.
Tyler: That leads into my question about your short and long-term goals at Maryland here.
Michael: Well I certainly want to be a part of the on-going, upward trajectory of the sociology program at Maryland. I want to be a part of the interdisciplinary successful trajectory of the Maryland Population Center. The near-term goal is to get re-funded this coming round. This current work on my desk (he shows me a large stack of papers) right now is about the development core of the Maryland Population Center. So those are part of the positive trajectories of both of those.
Tyler: And lastly, what are some of the key pieces of advice you would give for aspiring scholars, whether it’s people like me—first year PhD students—or people near the end of their dissertation?
Michael: Consider your PhD program to be a training ground and make the most you can of the opportunities to work in partnership with the faculty here. I would say try to make your research path somewhat aligned with the faculty here. Save your great, innovative things, that are different from the faculty here for when you have your PhD. Here is your place to exploit your opportunities to work with faculty who want to work with you.
I hope you all know a little more about Michael now! As you can imagine, he is quite busy between his Sociology and Population Research Center duties so I was lucky to squeeze in some chit-chat with him. If any of his responses or academic history seem unclear to you, you have all the more reason to meet him and pick his brain!
Tyler is a 1st year graduate student.