Professor Dana R. Fisher is approaching her fourth anniversary here at UMD Sociology, and it has been a busy four years for her and for the grad students she mentors. When she first arrived, she was kind enough to let our own Anya Galli profile her for Imagine. Now, four years later, we’re stopping by Dana’s office again to find out how her time here has been so far; what frustrates her and what excites her most about her work (spoiler alert: her answers will probably be familiar to grad students and faculty alike); and what she has planned next.
In the fall our department will be joined by two new faculty members, Andres Villarreal and Wei-hsin Yu. Graduates of the University of Chicago, they join us from Austin, where they currently work in the Department of Sociology at the University of Texas. Rounding out their household is their four-year-old daughter.
As a demographer and a former Austinite, I jumped at the chance to ask them a few questions.
Our newest faculty member, Dr. Liana Sayer, received her PhD in Sociology here at the University of Maryland, and will be returning to the department in the Spring of 2013. Though Dr. Liana Sayer is currently finishing up her position at The Ohio State University, I’ve had the privilege of getting to know her over the past few months. I recently had the opportunity to interview her about her research interests, career, and time here at Maryland. Liana lives with her long time partner, Bryan, her mother, Mary Ann, and their 3 cats: Simone (after Simone de Beauvoir), Dexter, and Isabella.
As an undergrad you majored in Government and got your MA in political science. How did you end up pursuing a PhD in Sociology?
My first experience with graduate school — pursuing a PhD in political science — was a disaster because I hadn’t yet realized I was really a sociologist. I wasn’t connecting intellectually with the material in the program and — in part because I was 22 and clueless — interpreted this as an individual failing instead of lack of disciplinary fit. So I left the program, moved to the DC area, and started working at the Business and Professional Women’s Foundation as a researcher on “women’s issues.” I’d long had an interest in “gender” — perhaps from experiences like seeing my full-time employed mom’s credit card application to a local department store be rejected, unless my Dad’s name was on the card — and preparing briefs on issues like reproductive rights and the wage gap exposed me to a lot of sociological research. So I took a Gender, Work, and Family class with Bobbi Spalter-Roth at American University, to see if I could really make it in graduate school, and then decided to apply to PhD programs in sociology. Continue reading
We were putting the finishing touches on the previous edition of the newsletter late one Friday evening last semester when we realized we were not alone. Up there on what we thought to be a vacated-for-the-weekend 4th floor ASY, our occasional giggles and/or raucous laughter turned out to be audible to others. Or, one other. One Dr. Segal — Dr. David Segal who, in his usual kind spirits, encouraged our on-the-job fellowship, and even came to join the party. We got to talking, and by the by (read: we asked him) we began to talk about how he and Dr. Mady Segal met. It was a great story, one that he finished by saying, “But you ought to talk with Mady.” So we emailed her to request a date when the four of us might sit down and talk together. Here’s what she said:
Bev and Meg,
I’m looking forward to talking to you about how we met. David will tell his version and I’ll tell the truth.
And so in honor of love and partnership we are humbled and excited to share Drs. Segals’ stories. We share an excerpt of the transcript below.
9 April 2012, 3:30pm
ASY 2115 – Dr. Mady Segal, Dr. David Segal, Bev Pratt, Meg Austin Smith
Meg: Thank you for coming, Dr. Segal and Dr. Segal.
Mady: I’m Mady. He can be whatever he wants.
David: Your Excellency.
Meg: So who goes first?
Mady: I’ll start. He’ll interrupt. After 45 years… We’ve been married 45 years. We met when I was still an undergraduate…it was 1965, and I applied to many more schools than most people, my fellow students who were men, because they could predict where they would get in, but it was legal to discriminate against women, that was before the Equal Opportunity in Employment and Education. I was graduating from Queens College, and I had been a mathematics major and changed my major to Sociology the summer before my senior year, and my goal was to teach high school math or junior high school math.
David: You can still do that; you’re retired.
Mady: And in the NYC school system you had to earn a Master’s degree, but I found out it didn’t have to be in education or whatever your field was…I found out there was this field of mathematical sociology, so I went to the library and checked out all the books I could find, including those in mathematical psychology, started reading them, and decided to apply to schools that had programs in mathematical sociology…Turns out my mathematics actually got me in. I was choosing between three schools, the three that were most attractive to me were Chicago, Michigan and Stanford. And of course those were superb schools and I was just shocked that I had gotten in and had gotten funding… I was living at home as an undergraduate, the phone rang, and my mother answered it and came running up the stairs and said, ‘Mady, there’s a professor from the University of Chicago on the phone.’ Now, my father was the first in his extended family to go to college and he did it at night while working full time, I was three and my brother was six when he graduated. We did not have professors hanging out in our house a lot….It was Bob Crane [on the phone] who was the advisor at the time for the mathematical sociology fellows at the University of Chicago, and he said, ‘Have you gotten our letter yet?’ and I said no, and he said, ‘Well, I’ll tell you what it says. We’re offering you a three-year fellowship through the National Defense Education Act in mathematical sociology. It was in the wake of Sputnik…
[Bob Crane] gave me his number and said “Call collect” – back then it was important because it was very expensive, and he said, ‘You might want to take a trip out here and if you do, we can’t pay your plane fare, but we can put you up in the Eleanor Club for Women…
David: Can I interrupt for just a minute?
David: Well I will anyway. One of the interesting things is the difference in the admissions process between the University of Chicago and Maryland…At Chicago, decisions were made based on who had funding to support graduate students. Here we have a graduate committee and people talk about who is going to be supported and how, and a lot of people are supported through teaching assistantships, and at Chicago we didn’t have that. Graduate students could not teach undergraduate students…The people who controlled the research assistantships and the training grants made the decisions. So they had a stake from the get-go in who were the incoming students. Once they made their decisions about who they wanted, they worked very hard to get who they wanted…
Mady: I actually wasn’t intending to get a PhD. I was still intending to become a teacher. But that’s not what you can say in these applications….they were all PhD programs. You had to say you wanted a PhD. So by the time I finished writing them all, I had basically socialized myself that I was going to get a PhD. But I also, when I was taking preliminary exams, I said if I pass them at the Master’s level, then I’m taking it and leaving. Because I wasn’t going through that again. It’s like comps but earlier…
David: It is a comprehensive exam. It covered the 14 fields that Chicago felt it was strong in. You could take courses in them or not, but there was a reading list…
Mady: So I talked to my parents, and because they did not want me going as far as Stanford…I was 19 at the beginning of my senior year…so I wasn’t going to take a trip to Stanford. I had a boyfriend there….
Mady goes to Chicago to visit…
So I flew to Chicago…and the person who picked me up at the airport was the son of family friends. It was who my mother was trying to get me together with. And I had a boyfriend back at home.
Bev: And the one at Stanford?
David: It’s the story of my life.
Mady: Back then we did not just date one person. Norms were very different…
David: Did that change when you married me?
Mady: Hmm. Most of the time…Bob Crane knew that I was interested in social psychology…so he suggested that I go to this evening seminar that they had…but it happened to be going on when I was there…they had an outside speaker, there was dinner served for $2, and then there was a question and answer session after dinner. That’s where I met David.
David: I was a social psychologist in my early life.
Mady: It was pretty funny because my mother’s response was, ‘You had to go all the way to Chicago to meet a nice Jewish boy from New York?’ We were actually born in the same hospital. …So David was in his third year…my first year was his last…First of all, the guest speaker was actually talking about neurotic kids’ backgrounds, and he was talking about growing up in New York, and I was slinking under the table…I was talking with people at the table after the talk…David’s roommate had gone to Stanford as an undergraduate, so he suggested that I come over to his place to meet [his roommate]…
David: I thought we went to Jimmy’s first.
Mady: First he took me out for a drink…On our first date, I wouldn’t really call it a date. I had a Coca-Cola.
David: We had good Coke in Illinois.
Before Mady left Chicago…
Mady: We went to breakfast at Gordon’s…I had taken a philosophy course at Queens, it went back to B.C., and Hannah Arendt was one of the people we read in there, so I associated her with Plato and Aristotle. So we walked in and there was a woman having breakfast with a student and David said hello to her, and I said, ‘Who was that?’ and David said, ‘That was Hannah Arendt.’ And I said That’ it! I’m coming to Chicago…
I did have a very expensive telephone call with my boyfriend at Stanford. I actually made a list of all the advantages and disadvantages of each of the schools.
Meg: Was David on the list?
Mady: No. I don’t think so. I actually can’t remember.
David: That’s probably the safest answer.
Mady: We did make up [a version] of the story to tell our daughter, because it doesn’t sound very romantic, “Where did you meet?” “At a social psychology seminar.” …Now it’s your turn.
David: Part of the story is that Bob Crane knew that Mady was going to the social psych seminar and he knew that I was going to be there, and he asked me to make sure that she came. So I married her.
Mady: That’s the version that he likes to tell.
David: The other version is that when she was a teenager, she was learning to knit and she made a sweater for one of her previous boyfriends, and it was a beautiful grey cable knit sweater, however since she was a brand new knitter and she was taking lessons from her cousin who didn’t teach her anything about gauge –
Mady: How many stitches to the inch.
David: … so the sweater didn’t fit him. So she went looking for somebody who could wear the sweater.
Mady: It was in my closet for a long time.
David: And it fit me. So she married me,
When Mady came to Chicago, it was the first time she’d lived on her own. She didn’t know how to cook
David: I’m glad your mother didn’t teach you to cook, because then you would have cooked like your mother.
Mady: I’m a better cook than she is.
David: What a disaster.
Mady: My mother was actually a pretty good cook, but he would say things like, ‘What is your mother drying out for dinner tonight?’
David: Well who eats baked liver?
Mady: So we had an eating arrangement, because we both lived alone…I had an efficiency. The kitchen was a sink, a refrigerator and a stove. There wasn’t even a counter… My mother doesn’t cook any more, but she is still alive. She’s 92. My mother didn’t think he was good enough for me….then it got to the point where she didn’t think I was good enough for him.
Mady and David were engaged May 16, 1966 and married December 25, 1966. [David: And every year people start putting up decorations for our anniversary!]
Bev is a fourth year PhD student. Meg is a third year PhD student.
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 (www.familyinequality.com), 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.
It was my decision to retire,
There are other things I want to try.
So why am I looking at my almost empty office
Fighting a compelling urge to cry?
I’ve been teaching college students
For more than 40 years
Passing on a love for knowledge
While quelling their many fears.
I’ve done research I’m proud of
And published it to share
With others in the profession
And policy makers who care.
I like to think my work has mattered
That I’ve helped improve the lives
Of the students in my classes
And some military wives.
I look at the recycling
Outside my office in the hall
So many years of papers
Form a pile a tree height tall.
Memories rise from the committee files
Paper traces of time and effort spent
To change things for the better.
Is this where my life went?
The walls are white and barren
Only picture hangers to stay
I’ve cleared my last belongings out
To take them home today.
I mulled it over last night
As I tried to fall asleep
How to manage transporting
The items I’d want to keep.
The precious photos of my family
Wouldn’t take up very much space
But the plaques on the wall would
And the mirror I used to check my face.
I took a rolling suitcase
For the awards from the wall.
Is this what’s left of all that work?
I hope my legacy’s not so small.
I wanted to retire
I did it in my time
But I’m leaving some of myself
In this room I’ve left behind.
My identity as professor
And active researcher too
Are moving into history
Another life passage to move through.
I haven’t really missed them
As I’ve had the office for another year
But as I wheel my suitcase out
Here comes another tear.
I’ve left the memories behind me
Emotions boiling when I get home
So I grab a piece of paper
And try to purge them in a poem.
I’ve never done this before
There’s always a first time
Perhaps it will feel better
To get it written into rhyme.
It helps for a while now
But I’m still feeling really down
Thinking of the suitcase
Locking away all of that renown.
When my husband’s home at last,
We go to our cozy basement den.
Together we hang the awards there
And for each I remember when.
He tells me he judges
Much of my work to be great.
He knows I’ve worked my heart out
The suitcase is now empty
Because the plaques are on the wall
Where I can see them and remember.
Then a tear of joy starts to fall.