New Faculty Update: Philip Cohen, PhD (written by Joey Brown)

Although Dr. Philip Cohen is a new faculty member here at UMCP, he is no stranger to the department.  Since earning his PhD in Sociology from Maryland in 1999, he has held positions as an assistant professor at the University of California – Irvine as well as the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill.  He has published several articles on gender, race, and occupational inequality.  He returned full force this semester, serving on department committees as well as teaching.  Currently, he teaches a course on Gender, Work, and Family.  In the fall, he will teach Theories of Stratification.  For all of us current graduate students, his career trajectory shows there is light at the end of the tunnel (especially for me, a first year student).

Aside from being a successful researcher, publisher, and blogger (, tell us a bit about yourself.  What do you enjoy doing when you’re not working?

My wife and I have two young children and a puppy, so that’s most of the non-work day, happily. When I have time I like to take photographs, especially of birds, flowers, food and random people.

From a previous interview, we know that you have parents who are scholars (a mathematician and biologist) and grew up in Ithaca in an academic environment.  Why did you choose sociology as a career path with gender inequality, demography, and stratification as focal research interests?

I knew I was interested in inequality before I knew about sociology. As I was finishing my undergrad degree in American Culture and looking at graduate school, I realized that what was happening in sociology research was closer to what I liked to do. Eventually I got into quantitative work, but that was a lengthy process, requiring some excellent statistics instruction, great mentoring, and a lot of trial and error.

Having received your doctoral training here at the University of Maryland, how does it feel to return to the department as a faculty member?

Great. Except for a few odd moments of déjà vu, it feels very natural to be here. Of course, now I have a bigger office (and paycheck) than I did in grad school. (On the other hand, I’m not as good at staying up late working.) So it’s an adjustment, but I’m very happy to be here, and everyone — including students! — has been super welcoming.

You are among a variety of sociologists who have a large Internet presence.  What role do you think blogging and social networks should play in knowledge production and transmission?  Do you think these technological advances produce pressure to be a public sociologist?

I’m not sure I meet the criteria of public sociologist that some people use. However, I do think it’s important and valuable to communicate with the non-academic public, and technology now makes that a lot easier — or at least reduces the cost of entry. Actually, most of my blog readers — at least the ones I hear from — are sociologists. And that’s great, too, because they often are the people I can get an immediate boost from engaging in conversation over my work (and their work). We share research findings and reactions, and talk about teaching, and that provides a great entrée into discussions with the non-academics out there as well. It’s a very fulfilling part of my job.

What do you find most rewarding about being a professional sociologist?

The best part is having the time and resources — including the skills I’ve learned, and the people around me — to try to figure out the social world. Solving empirical sociological puzzles — putting together the story of how social change unfolds — is what I most enjoy. As I get older I’m hopefully getting better at it, especially when it comes to learning from other people — students, academics and laypeople. One of my ambitions is to get better at teaching and mentoring. The undergraduate textbook I’m writing, the blog, and the great students here at UMD are all part of that process and, I hope, transformation.

Joey is a first year PhD student.

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