Graduate Student Spotlights (by Ann Horwitz)

We’ve all experienced them: those moments when the stresses of grad school seem too overwhelming, and we find ourselves questioning whether we’ll ever make it out of this place alive and with our dignity relatively intact.

Okay, maybe that’s a bit dramatic. But every grad student knows that the road can sometimes seem very long and arduous. For that reason, it’s nice to hear the success stories of recent PhD recipients. Here are three outstanding UMD sociologists–Michelle Smirnova, Paul Dean, and Javier Garcia-Manglano–for us to look up to (and envy).

pic for news

Michelle Smirnova


Paul Dean


Javier Garcia-Manglano






AH: Where are you right now?

MS: Right now I am working at the U.S. Census Bureau, but this fall I will be an Assistant Professor at the University of Missouri, Kansas City (UMKC).

AH: What was the process of applying for the UMKC position like? What about the decision to accept; how did you navigate that choice?

MS: I believe that it was my experience in the Census Bureau’s Center for Survey Measurement (a unit in the Research & Methodology Directorate that is involved in qualitative research) that helped me land the tenure-track position at UMKC. I will be teaching Classical and Contemporary Theory as well as a graduate level course in Qualitative Methods.

I applied to over 60 positions across the country and internationally.  I tried to market myself as broadly as possible since I really wanted to land an academic position. The three positions that invited me to interview each wanted me to teach theory and qualitative methods. Although I knew these were areas of expertise, I’m not sure I would have recognized these areas as my selling points before the job market process had begun since I had studied so many different things during my time at UMD. The schools were all primarily interested in what I could teach—even at “research oriented” schools.

I received some really great advice from professors at Maryland to think strategically—I was also told to develop the skills and expertise for my dream job. Although my CV can appear a bit all over the place, it turns out that UMKC was particularly interested in me for each of the (seemingly unrelated) components of my research agenda. Based on my experience, I would encourage students to apply broadly; it can be difficult to discern what exactly hiring departments are looking for. The application process involves strategy, but also quite a bit of luck. Departments are looking for the best fit, and each year and pool of candidates are very different. Read up about each particular school and the department and try to highlight how your past research and teaching experiences suit their needs. In preliminary interviews (e.g., phone or ASA), ask where they see the department in the future.  How does the department fit into the University’s strategic plan?  Who would be the ideal candidate for this position?  Ask as much as you can about what they are looking for, assess whether you would be happy being that person (or if you are that person), and then convince them.

I chose my position because it was the first one that contacted me, and once they offered it, I couldn’t imagine passing it up. They wanted me to teach the classes I wanted to teach, it was in a location I was excited about, and it was an all-around great fit for me.  I was incredibly lucky.  Only after I accepted, was I invited to interview at the University of Amsterdam. I’m sure the chocolate in Kansas City is much better.

AH: Do you feel that Maryland prepared you well for the job market?

MS: I do.  As difficult as the job market continues to be, Maryland students seem to land jobs. Our faculty are committed to helping us land jobs, and they push us in different ways to get there.  Reach out to them, tell them your goals, and they will try to help you get there. My coursework in the sociology department as well as in the communications and political science departments prepared me to engage in interdisciplinary dialogue and research.

I also completed the University Teaching and Learning Certificate program which helped verify my credentials for teaching.  I would highly recommend the program for anyone—regardless of whether you want to go to a teaching- or research-oriented institution.  UMKC identifies as a research-oriented institution, but many of my one-on-one interviews focused on my teaching website, “My Sociological Activation” (, which focuses on experiential learning activities to be used inside and outside of the classroom. They saw the project as evidence of my commitment to effective and meaningful teaching; I believe it had a major impact on my success on the market.

Lastly, living in (or near) D.C. gives Maryland students many opportunities to get involved in other non-profit or government organizations to help with research, development or other valuable experiences. I would encourage all students to try and take advantage of such opportunities while you’re in the area.  I think these experiences also bolster your CV.

AH: Anything else you’d like to share?

MS: I like chocolate. And unicorns. I’ll miss UMD.


AH: Where are you right now?

PD: I’m an Assistant Professor at Ohio Wesleyan University.

AH: What was the process of applying for the Ohio Wesleyan position like? What about the decision to accept; how did you navigate that choice?

PD: I applied to 40 jobs and had 4 job offers, including 2 at liberal arts colleges and 2 at teaching-intensive public universities. I wanted to be at a liberal arts college for the type of learning environment it offers students, and its heavy emphasis on teaching. OWU was my top choice for its curricular programming, my great interviewing experience with the department faculty, its proximity to a metropolitan area, and proximity to family. My first year experience here has made me feel like I made the right choice!

AH: Do you feel that Maryland prepared you well for the job market?

PD: Yes, I had excellent mentoring from George Ritzer and Patricia Hill Collins, and I received excellent teaching preparation by working with Linda Moghadam and the Center for Teaching Excellence’s Program for grad students. I also knew early in my studies I wanted to be at a teaching-intensive institution so that helped me to start preparing myself early.

AH: Anything else you’d like to share?

PD: Happy hours with my fellow grad students were a vital part of surviving grad school (thanks guys!). Never underestimate the value of a good pint.


AH: What are you up to?

JGM: In September, I will be joining Nuffield College, University of Oxford, as a Postdoctoral Prize Research Fellow. Nuffield is a graduate college specialized in the Social Sciences, particularly Economics, Political Science, and Sociology. I’ll be a member of the Sociology Department, too. This is a three-year position.

AH: What was the process of applying for that postdoc like? What about the decision to accept; how did you navigate that choice?

JGM: The application process had two stages, one relatively easy, and the other one extremely competitive. The application itself (submitted in early October), was relatively straightforward, consisting only of a one-page summary of current research, a one-page research plan, a CV, and two or more writing samples. Every year, Nuffield gets more than 400 applications for this position; they interview 12 candidates, and extend only 4 job offers. With those ratios, I was quite surprised when I was notified (in mid-January) that I had been shortlisted for an interview. This took place in Oxford in early February, and consisted of a 25-minute presentation of one of my papers in the morning, and a 25-minute interview with the selection committee (two economists, two political scientists, two sociologists) in the afternoon. It was pretty intense… and even secretive! We were not allowed to attend the other candidates’ talks, so I met only one other guy being interviewed that day, because we happened to eat breakfast at the same time… and we recognized the same expression of pre-interview anguish in each other’s faces. Honestly, I left Nuffield not feeling too good about my performance, and not too hopeful. So I was stunned two days later (already back in the US) when I received an email with a job offer. This postdoc was at the top of my list in terms of preference, so my job hunt ended right there.

AH: Do you feel that Maryland prepared you well for the job market?

JGM: As a quantitative nerd, I guess I can best answer this question with an equation: I’m getting my degree from Maryland + I got an offer for my favorite postdoc at a great university = we can say that Maryland prepared me well for the job market. But equations are too cold and impersonal, so I’ll just add a word of gratitude to my advisors, who helped me (in so many ways) navigate the ups and downs of getting a PhD and successfully transitioning to the job market: Thanks Joan! Thanks Suzanne!

Congratulations to these fellow Terps! Your successes inspire us to keep on truckin’, even when the going gets tough.

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