We pride ourselves on the research coming out of the Department of Sociology and Anthropology. Our faculty have contributed to the breadth and depth of the discourse in their research areas. Ranging from political economy to craniofacial growth, those research areas are as diverse as the complex human endeavor our faculty strive to analyze and understand. Ultimately, their fine research aids us in understanding human behavior and relationships, the foundations of culture and society, which each of our faculty explores from a distinct perspective.
Today, we meet Dr. Anna Manzoni, who joined the Department of Sociology and Anthropology in the 2011-2012 academic year as an Assistant Professor specializing in quantitative methods and social stratification in labor markets.
Could you begin by giving us a little information on where you’re from?
I’m originally from Italy. I had my undergraduate and master’s education at the University of Milan. Then I went abroad right after my master’s but not yet for my PhD. I had a period in between when I was trying to decide what I wanted to do. I had a grant from the European Commission for a research project, and I went to Berlin, Germany at Humboldt University. I worked there for six months and wrote a research paper. Meanwhile, I was talking to people and trying to apply for PhD programs abroad and I ended up getting a PhD position at Tilburg University in the Netherlands. I started there in September 2005 and spent four years there. In September 2009, I came to the US for a postdoc. I had submitted my dissertation but not yet defended it when I started my postdoc. I was awarded my degree in February 2010 when I was already six months into my postdoc. I did my postdoc for two years until September 2011, and that’s when I started here at NC State.
What did you study with your degrees?
I studied sociology. When you go to high school in Italy, you can choose a more professional high school, more vocational training, or what we call a lyceum. Basically if you go to lyceum, you have to go to University after, and you can choose different kinds of high schools. One is called the science lyceum. One is called the linguistics lyceum. One is called the classical study lyceum. And one is called the social sciences lyceum, which had been around for a few years when I started it. So, I started really early with sociology. We studied sociology, psychology, pedagogy, and what you would call civics. We still had latin and a lot of math but not as much as if I had gone to the science lyceum. It’s a very holistic education when you go to lyceum, but you can also choose to have more hours of a specific subject.
How did you know the social science lyceum and sociology, in general, was what you wanted to pursue?
I was really torn between the scientific and the social science lyceum, but I think it was a little unconscious. Honestly, I was 13. I was attracted to the new thing and I was a little scared of the scientific. I was really good at math but the scientific lyceum was known for being really hard. So, it was a sort of compromise. It was still a lyceum but also some new and exciting thing.
Did you have any moments when you got to undergrad when you thought about changing disciplines?
Not really, no. I think I started off really strong in my undergraduate program in sociology. My first three courses were the best courses, and I was pretty satisfied. I never really thought about wanting to change. And also within sociology, you could choose different branches of sociology. I think mine was called economic sociology. So, I still had options when I was there and those options were very different. One was really anthropological, one was really cultural, one was communication and media… Once you know you are in the social sciences, you can still expand quite a bit without having to change.
What made you decide to obtain your master’s?
My undergraduate and master’s studied were not separated. I did my master’s in the middle of a big institutional change in Italy’s education system. It’s known as the Bologna process. The old system was a four-year program and you got both your bachelor’s and master’s degrees. In my year, they switched to a three-plus-two system where you do three years of undergraduate study and then decide if you want to do two more years to get your master’s. I could choose to stay in the old system, or move to the new one. I was committed to the master’s right away, so I stayed in the old system. But everyone who enrolled after me had to do the three year bachelor’s and choose whether or not they wanted to keep going or not for the master’s.
When did you know that you would become a professor? How did that decision come about?
Everything which happened to me was a little random, and I think I was lucky in my process. When I finished my master’s, I had no idea what a PhD was. No idea. My advisor for my master’s thesis told me that I should keep going for a doctorate degree and I was like “What does that mean?” I had no idea. He told me that you keep doing research, which was a very abstract idea. But I trusted him and he pushed me to apply for a grant, which I received, and that gave me a good idea of what I would have been doing getting a doctorate degree. He also suggested that I leave Italy to get a doctorate degree, since there isn’t much money for research in Italy and northern countries tend to have better resources and funding for research. So, I started applying and was called for a couple of interviews. It felt good, so I was like, sure, I’ll do it. I didn’t have a plan. It just happened, and the same with my postdoc. It just happened, without too much planning ahead. Well, a bit.
What was the focus of your research in the doctoral program at Tilburg?
The topic of my dissertation was very research-methods oriented. The substantive topic was labor market transitions but it was very strongly focused on trying to understand the best method to gather data and the best data we can use to study labor market histories. In particular, the focus was on trying to reconstruct entire histories and the different ways survey data can be gathered. I was trying to study different sources of bias in different types of survey data. That was the main focus. The most citations I get are for recall bias in panel surveys, which is a very “technical” topic. However, my dissertation was something pretty different from what’s the norm here in the US, which is still a sort of book-wide concept. Now the norm is moving toward what I did. My dissertation was a collection of articles and within that there were some articles which were very methodological but also some articles more focused on substantive issues. Within that I have different interests. One for example is how some events in your life can affect your future career. Based on my methodological conclusions, I used the data which I realized were the best to investigate each substantive question. It’s a little different concept because some chapters can seem a little disconnected but your role as a graduate student is to merge them and find the thread that connects everything.
What did you find in your research?
In the methodological part, I investigated recall bias in retrospective data. To give a little background: You can ask people what they did in their past, like you’re asking me now. And I tell you all my history, reconstructing now what happened in the past. And the main concern there is recall bias. People might not recall things right or they might distort things voluntarily or involuntarily. Not only that, but it might be that different people with different characteristics have a different extent of recall bias. If you ask a very old person, she or he might not recall what happened fifty years before. But if you ask a young person, she or he may remember better what happened, especially just three or four years before. So, there are different things which might affect recall bias. I compared this type of survey data with panel data where people are asked every year or two “What are you doing now?” And then the researcher has to link those interviews. Even merging information from different interviews can have problems because, at different interview times, respondents might have different parameters according to which they classify, for example, their jobs. They could be at a different point in their life, or there could be artificial gaps created when the researcher tries to merge information from, what we call, different waves of data.
Eventually, what I found was that it really depends on what your research question is. For example, if you are looking at information about occupational status, panel data are usually considered better than retrospective data but can actually be pretty tricky because the artificial gaps between interviews can create changes at the seam between two interviews which are not actually there. This is one example. What people are most concerned with is recall bias in retrospective surveys. What I found was that when you are interested in labor market transitions, retrospective data do a pretty good job. So long as you can add some control for, for example, the length of the recall period, which is one of the biggest predictors of recall bias, you can pretty much rely on retrospective histories. We should always be aware of the bias that can be there but they can provide pretty good data.
And one of the chapters in my dissertations is very technical. It’s a way of dealing with memory bias, or how we can introduce a control in our modeling to actually capture recall bias. I also tried to offer a solution for how we could measure how much recall bias there will be and adding a control for the measurement of bias.
Once you came to the States, did you continue that line of research in your postdoc at Yale?
When I was at Yale, I spent some time trying to get articles out of my dissertation but I had already done a pretty good job during my dissertation, not because I was “special” but because of the way the dissertation was structured. It was structured as a collection of articles, meaning that when I was writing for my dissertation, I was already writing articles. So I had three articles published before I defended my dissertation. At Yale, I worked on one more article, trying to get that published. I did publish it, and it was what I call my “job market paper” for a real faculty job. Then I started to think in terms of my longer research agenda. One of my goals was to establish myself more because everyone who knows me from my dissertation thinks I’m all about methods, methods, methods. I wanted to begin a more substantive research agenda and that’s what I tried to do at Yale.
After I finished that fourth article, I started a couple of projects with some people at Yale. Those projects were still using longitudinal data where we have histories of people, but with the goal to answer substantive questions. My substantive interest is in social stratification in the labor market, so differences like gender and social class in the possibility of people progressing in the labor market and being successful. For example, I wrote an article, which recently got published, about progression in occupational status over the course of careers, which relies on retrospective data, based on the claim that retrospective data are fine to reconstruct history. The main questions there are: “Does the position at which you enter the labor market matter? Are you stuck in that position or is there any possibility for you to progress? Does entry position and possibility of career progression vary by social class and background? I found that, at least in Germany, where you start matters, as possibilities of career progression are fairly limited.
I had other work also using long-term survey data, or what I call life histories, that looked at unemployment. I was interested in looking at how some events early in your career might affect the possibility of being successful later. I looked at how a first unemployment early in your career might affect your career success later in your life course, or what we call the scarring effect of unemployment, and whether that matters more for some groups or whether it’s the same for everyone. I’m always interested in social class background and in gender differences, as well as age differences. Does it matter at which point in your life you experience unemployment? Does it matter more when you’re old or young? Does it matter more for men or women? These are the main substantive projects I did during my postdoc.
Could you explain what you mean by social stratification in the labor market?
I mean social stratification as inequality based on characteristics such as race, gender or social class, or even age… I’m very interested in the outcome of your labor market career, or in how you perform on the labor market. I look at several stratification factors, such as social class, gender, age, and family background. With what I’m doing now, I’m more and more interested in your family background and its effect on your employment outcome.
What drew you to NC State?
When I applied for the postdoc at Yale, I actually did not want to go to the US. I was not one of those with the American Dream or anything like that. It just happened. I applied to many jobs in Europe at that time, mostly for postdocs. And, in fact, I got a bunch of postdocs in Europe, and one in the US, which was at Yale. My advisor thought that the job at Yale was perfect for me, and it really was. When I got the job offer, it took me forever to accept it. I didn’t want to go to the US, it was so far, but this was Yale. Having Yale on your CV, especially in Europe, is still a big plus and publishing in American journals is considered the best. The US is still seen as the center of research. So, I thought, Ok, I’ll just “sacrifice” a couple of years. I went there and I really loved it and afterwards, when I was applying for faculty positions, I decided that I wanted to stay across the Ocean. I interviewed in a few places and my interview here at NC State was really great. I loved it here. People were amazing with me. The interview was really intensive but very “social” too. I had a great experience and impression of the department and prospective colleagues.
What courses do you currently teach?
I first taught SOC 707, which is our stat II or quantitative analysis for social science, which is basically a regression course. I also taught a 400-level course, which is Family and Work. The second semester, I taught two sections of 204, which is called Sociology of the Family. Last semester, I taught 708, which I’ve now been teaching for three semesters. 708 is the advanced quantitative methods course, which I share in rotation with two other professors. We each offer five-week modules on different topics in advanced methods. So, my core courses have been 204, 404, 707, and 708.
Could you describe your teaching style or philosophy?
I teach very different courses. In the 204, which is undergraduate and fills the University’s diversity requirement, I have mostly students who don’t care much about sociology or have no idea what sociology is. 99% are not sociology majors and 90% are not even CHASS majors. They are mostly from other colleges and are only taking this course for the diversity requirement. That’s very different from teaching 708, which is a graduate course where I only have students who take it as an elective course. It’s not required, so they are really interested and committed to the course. So, my style highly depends on the class I am teaching.
For my undergraduate classes, my main goal is to make them understand that sociology is not common sense. In fact, it’s very different from that, and it’s actually really important in our lives. I’ve taught that class five or six times and I have some idea of what can be successful in helping me reach that goal. In the beginning, I was really focused on knowledge and content. Now, I’m more and more interested in trying to help them understand how sociology applies to their everyday lives and how important it is for them to know about these things to avoid making wrong inferences based on common sense, and not on sociological research. In class, I often bring up debates starting from some recent news related to the family, like same-sex marriage or working mothers, to mention a couple. One of my goals is for them to think more critically and be able to debate on any topic. I apply that to topics in the family but I’d like that to be translatable to any other topic. So, I make them argue all the time and I always try to present the pros and cons of every argument, or the different opposing viewpoints on every topic we touch. I tend to mix in lectures and videos, debate activities, and collaborative learning groups.
In my graduate classes, my goals are completely different and are very much related to knowledge and learning the methods. The graduate courses tend to be very hands-on. Over time, I’ve realized that the more time we have for exercises, the better the course is for the students. I took tons of classes in quantitative methods but didn’t really learn anything until I had to struggle with my own data and models. So, I believe the courses have to give students the instruments so that they will be able to translate their knowledge to another new problem which will come up at some point, which is not exactly the example that appeared in class, which, of course, worked out great. But then with their own data, they have to struggle. So, I try to create a situation that makes them struggle. I give them basic knowledge but I tell them all the time that they will not find the answer to their research questions, the exact methods, in my class but hopefully they will think in such a way that they will be able to find the answer starting from this basic knowledge. That’s basically my goal. It takes a lot of time and practice before you master a method. We try to make them do a lot of exercises and give a pretty basic theoretical knowledge but we don’t focus too much on all the equations. I try to focus on finding the appropriate way to answer questions.
What do you think are the most important attributes of a good instructor?
I went to school in a very different system in Europe, which was a very hierarchical system. I wouldn’t have ever thought of emailing my instructor. Here it’s a bit different and, at times, I think it can be a bit too much. However, I do feel that approachability is very important because students should absolutely not be afraid to ask a question. I’m here for their learning and they should be able to ask without being afraid. I think it’s important to be approachable, answer questions, and create a relationship where they may have to study hard but I have to give them the tools to be able to study in the appropriate way. If the instructor is someone like I had, who is very distant and just comes and lectures, students could just teach themselves, especially with all the resources that we have nowadays. So, I try to give students something that they wouldn’t get if they were studying by themselves. In the undergraduate class that would be creating a debate situation. They can read knowledge from a book but they cannot create this debate situation or a situation in which they have to really think. In the methods course, what I try to create are situations in which they can really apply their knowledge to solve their problems and answer their research questions. The instructor has to give something more than what is in the books.
How do you define success and what does a student need to do in order to be successful in your class?
For me, being successful as a teacher is when an undergraduate student tells me that they went back after class and did more research on a topic we discussed without being required to. And this has happened. A student emailed me about five hours after class and told me that she left class thinking about what we discussed and she had never thought in that way before. She told me that she did more research on the topic as that really caught her interest. The best thing, to me, is engaging students in some topic and them leaving and doing some extra research. I don’t really care what you got on the quiz or on the essay. Of course, that makes your grade but I think that the most successful student is the one who really gets engaged in the topic.
The graduate methods class gives you knowledge which is limited. A student can do great on the exam but I’m not always sure those are the students who got the method best. Sometimes you’ll see a perfect exercise but then there’s this little thing which makes me wonder if it is an automatic thing or if the student really got it. Often, I realize that a student got it or not when that student comes to me afterwards and we talk about applying that concept to something outside of the class. To me, a student who is successful in the methods class is someone who can apply the knowledge we’ve learned to more advanced or slightly different questions and contexts, someone who can transfer the knowledge to something else. In general, I see the education given at University not just a specific knowledge but more a way of thinking and understanding that can be translated to real basic social problems, and not just the artificial situations that are created in classrooms.
If you could create and plan your dream course, what course would it be?
I really never thought of that. I think it would be great if I could combine my expertise in methods and family substantive areas. That could be an undergraduate course. With my undergraduate classes, I always struggle with slipping into methodology and asking, “What would be the best way to answer this question or use this type of data?” And then I realize that I’m using terms that are too advanced or the focus is being diverted too much for that type of class and I cannot go further. So, it would be fun and interesting if I could actually have a course where students try to answer some substantive question and find the best method for doing so. Maybe an advanced 400-level, which students could take in their last year of undergrad.
What are some of your favorite assignments for students?
In my undergraduate class, I’ve recently had them listen to podcasts, like an NPR podcast on racism. And they have no excuse for not doing the assignment because they can listen to it while they drive or take the bus or, alternatively, they can read the transcript. Then I set up a debate on that topic. Students in the evaluations were really positive about those because I link the course to something that is part of their daily life, something that they could discuss in general conversation with anybody but now they could do in a much more informed way. Finding the right sources for this sort of assignment is time-consuming. You have to listen to 100 podcasts to find the right one but I think it works for the undergraduate class.
Methods classes aren’t as exciting as other classes where you can really be creative and our time is limited to only five weeks in the course I currently co-teach. I can’t have long research papers but I feel like creating exercises is probably the best thing to do. Also, what I am now doing is home assignments. I give several home assignments which take a lot of time and effort to complete, but the students can actually work together. I don’t actually mind. In fact, I encourage that. I think it’s great that they help each other and I think they appreciate that. With the methods course, they can come and ask me all the time, and even though I’m approachable, they don’t really want to knock on my door every two minutes. So, the possibility of working with other students, some of whom are really more methodologically inclined than others, is great and having to explain to other students is really good practice. In the home assignments, I always try to provide a question that we haven’t explored in class and I let them know that, because that is what will happen in their own research. I gave them the basic knowledge, they just have to apply a different version of the model and struggle with the question.
Can you tell us about your current research interests?
Recently, I’ve been trying to link my interests in longitudinal data analyses with my substantive interests. I’ve been exploring new data sets, American data sets specifically. In my past research, I’ve focused a lot on European countries.
I’m trying to study the link between family and work. When most people think of family and work they think of women and juggling family and work. For me, it’s a little different. When I talk about family and work, I’m interested in employment outcomes, again, and I’m interested in the effect of family background on employment outcomes. I’ve been focusing on how youth separate from the family of origin and how youth become successful in the labor market later on. I’ve been doing a lot of research on the concept of independence. What does it mean to be independent of your parents? Does it mean having a job? Does it mean not living with your parents anymore? I’ve been doing a lot of research on different ways in which youth can be independent. In the past, independence has been associated with living on your own or having a job, but I have a more complex and composite view of independence based on the fact that economic independence and residential independence have not been developing simultaneously for youth recently. For example, some youth live independently because they go to college but they still get money from their parents. These are new situations which have been created by the expansion of education or by bad situations in the labor market where people cannot find a job so they go back to living with their parents. Besides trying to re-conceptualize what it means for a young person to be independent based on economic, residential, and even emotional characteristics (or how you judge yourself as emotionally independent from your parents), more recently I have been studying the effect of family background and the help that parents can give to their kids to become independent and successful on the labor market.
I’m currently working on this with some graduate students in the department who have helped me reconstruct this huge data set, which is really time-consuming. But we can answer some really interesting questions. For example, one thing that I found super interesting is that parents very often do give help to their kids. They pay for their college tuition or give money for a house. The question we can ask is: Does that really help them to launch? One hypothesis could be that if you get a little extra help then you can be successful because it can help you to launch. The competing hypothesis could be that those who get help from their parents sit back, slack off and don’t want to do anything anymore because, for example, they didn’t have to struggle to go to college. So, I’m trying to test these conflicting hypotheses on the effect of help from your parents during college or early adulthood for your future success, which could be measured in different ways. Will you be able to enter the labor market at a low position and go up really fast? And I look at this for people of different social and economic backgrounds. You can say that parents of different social origins can offer different kinds of help. For example, rich parents might transfer money to their children but people from poorer social and economic backgrounds do not have the resources to give extra financial help, so they might offer shelter for a period of time. But also the opportunity costs of leaving the house might be different for kids of different social backgrounds. So, think of the situation of living at home with your parents if you’re from a poorer background. It’s probably not as attractive as if your parents have a big mansion and you have your own bedroom and so on. Considering all of these factors and how they interact, my main interest is whether or not it’s really good to help your kids or push them out and let them go by themselves.
I think this topic is becoming more interesting because of the claims that it’s more and more difficult to get established in the labor market. People talk about the floundering of young people. Some claim that it’s just due to socioeconomic context and some claim that it has to do to the fact that support from your parents lasts forever, so youth don’t make an effort to succeed anymore. These are the questions I’m trying to answer now. I don’t know the answers yet. I have some ideas but I’m not there yet.
What does the data seem to be hinting at so far?
It’s really, really preliminary because it took us forever to reconstruct those histories. I started this just about a year or so ago. A couple of years ago, I started looking at youth outcomes but I focused more on a descriptive account of different types of independence. Is there a match between economic, residential and emotional independence or do all those dimensions combine differently for different groups? So, this question about the effect of parents’ help is really, really recent.
What theoretical framework are you working out of?
Because most of my research is based on longitudinal data, I always look at the effect of previous conditions on later outcomes. Life course theory is one of the main frameworks for that, which basically claims that you cannot look at one point in time but have to think about the entire history and how previous experiences affect future outcomes. The second is social stratification theory because every time I look at any sort of outcome I’m always interested in whether this outcome occurs to the same extent for different groups of people. I’m mostly interested in social background and gender differences.
What research methodology do you use most?
Mostly, methods for dealing with longitudinal data. Most of my research is based on data where you have repeated observations for the same person, so you always need some sort of method which takes into account that the observations that you have are not independent since you’re observing the same person. So, I always need methods for longitudinal data where you have the different levels of a person observed over time. I mostly use regression methods, as do most people in sociology, but basic regression assumes that all the observations are independent so I use additional models to counter that assumption. In the past, I’ve used sequence methods, which are a different way of looking at histories through sequence analysis and I am thinking of going back to that. I am teaching a module on sequence methods in the Fall. Rather than looking at what events happened at each point in time, you look more holistically at the life course of a person. More recently, for a paper I wrote about different types of youth independence, I used latent class analysis, which is a pretty different method. That case was one of the few projects in which I did not use longitudinal data. With latent class analysis, I was trying to re-conceptualize youth independence. The idea behind is that we cannot directly measure independence. Independence is a concept. We cannot see it. There is not a question a researcher can ask that will capture all the dimensions of independence, if we assume that independence is actually a multidimensional concept (residential, financial, and emotional). There are a lot of indicators of independence and they all combine to create this latent concept of independence. So, I used this method to see how youth can be classified based on their responses to a number of questions, and how they can be clustered into groups for which all these different dimensions combine differently. For example, you have the super independent ones, who are independent according to all these dimensions. They live by themselves, they have their own income, and they aren’t emotionally dependent on anyone. And then we have those who are ambiguous. For example, they live by themselves but they get money from their parents. So, are they independent or not? I use this method, latent class analysis, to cluster people belonging to different combinations of the dimensions of independence.
I imagine that looking at the life course of just one person is fairly intensive work. So, how big is the data set that you’re working with now?
It’s huge. Well, now that we have the concept of “Big Data” this is not huge anymore. But I used to have data that contained four million observations. So, it could be that big. Recently, though, I have about three thousand people but each person has monthly data for ten years. So, I have 120 observations for each individual and then three thousand individuals. You can get a lot of cases. That’s why we need the computer and sophisticated software.
What are some of the challenges you’ve faced in building this project?
Structuring data is always a huge investment. Thankfully, I had a grant from the department so that I could hire a student who was previously in my class where I gave some basics about how to structure data. This is really complicated work, so it’s not easy to find a student who is able to do it. I had a student in my course who I knew I could train to help with the task. Getting help with the data is a challenge. I don’t want to spend so much time crunching the data. I did enough of that during my previous training and I don’t want to do that now. I want to focus on producing new knowledge instead. But it has to be done. It’s necessary. So, that’s one challenge.
The second is just that I’m digging into an area where there really isn’t anyone in the department who does anything close to what I’m doing. That’s always a challenge, both substantively and methodologically. Sometimes, I bump into issues and I share some things with others in the department. We meet and discuss the issues, but the methodological problems are always a challenge. In general, I can discuss the issues with my colleagues and that does help but one of the biggest challenges is being able to share the methodological expertise.
Do you have a rough timeline for completing this project, or is it still too early?
I’m currently working on articles. I recently submitted two articles. One is based on the latent class analysis of the concept “youth independence” and another looks at the link between residential and economic independence and how the two can affect each other. Those are under review right now. Currently, there’s one article about getting help from parents and the outcomes. I’ve started modeling and plan on spending the summer of 2014 on this project. I’m not sure I’ll be able to have anything by the end of the summer but the goal is to do the most now because once the semesters starts it’ll be really hard. I need to have a very extended period of time where I only think about this project. I cannot work on it just 3 hours a day. Teaching, even though it only takes two or three days a week, can be really distracting. This project requires a lot of time. The data set we had was huge and this is just one recent question I’m trying to answer. There are so many other questions we can answer once we’ve created the data set. I’m sure new questions will arise from the findings I have from answering the first question.
What do you hope the implications of this research will be for future researchers?
This current question excites me because I think it has real life implications. I can think of a lot of links to policy because if we know what the effects of parental help for young adults are we can act differently in incentivizing parents to educate their children. So it is not just relevant to researchers.
Some other research I have been doing is, I think, more helpful to other researchers. For example, when I try to re-conceptualize youth independence, that could affect a lot of other researchers. Most research is based on a very basic view of independence. Having the idea that things are black or white seems to be breaking off, especially considering the current situation. While in the past people were leaving their parental home, mostly to get married or once they got a job, things are not like that now. But the research is really striking because scholars haven’t been operationalizing it in different ways. If my way of re-defining independence in different clusters could be used for future research that looks at more substantive issues like, for example, what determines youth independence, you could use as your outcome variable this newly developed measure of youth independence. That could be used both as a dependent or independent variable. If you are interested, for example, in what determines youth independence, you can have different set of variables as predictor of this composite measure or you could have this composite measure as a predictor for future outcomes. For example, being a specific type of youth with a specific level of independence, how does that affect your future success in life? Would having left home at the same time as you found a job actually make your more successful because you had to struggle with two variables at one time or would it have the opposite effect?
Other than the questions you’re currently investigating, what do you feel are the biggest unanswered questions in your areas of interest?
Method-wise, there are still problems, for example, in dealing with longitudinal data and the best way to model that data. Recently, I’ve been struggling with the causality inference. Sociologists are always interested in how something has an effect on something else, or making causality claims. Very often, people think that using longitudinal data solves this problem. This is not the case. Using longitudinal data in the appropriate way can help a lot but there are still a lot of traps in using the data. One of the main challenges in our field is that unfortunately methods still tend to be misused very often. While I am not a statistician and I probably won’t be the one to find the solution for reverse causality problems or whatever other problems in data inferences, I think one of my main goals as a “methodologically-oriented” sociologist is to make people aware of the limitations of some methods. That’s what I’ve done in my dissertation research and what I try to research about. I think the appropriate use of methods is still a trap for our discipline.
Substantively, there are tons of unanswered questions. I’ve been trying to address some, which are social stratification questions on family impacts on work, but I think it’s really hard to try to isolate a couple of questions that are “the” most important.
In listening to your academic and professional journey, the cards seemed to have aligned well for you. Do you have any words of wisdom for young scholars trying to navigate similar waters with the goal of obtaining a faculty position?
Yeah, always reach out. Don’t be afraid of asking. As a graduate student, I was always focused on my research, spending all of my time in my office and being really reluctant to take up lunch invitations or going to meetings or talks because I had to work on my research, but all the times that I did, that meeting or talk gave me that important idea or contact with a person who proved to be really helpful. Talking to other people can always help us see things from a different perspective, especially in our field where it’s very important to think critically. So, my strong advice is this: That extra hour that you would spend on your computer is not worth the extra hour that you could spend talking to somebody because that will probably give you extra insight or contact which could be really helpful. Always reach out and talk to people. Engage in discussion with others.
What’s your favorite part of your job?
My favorite part is doing my research. Honestly, the most exciting part for me is the beginning of a project, which may actually be really overwhelming. I start researching and I feel so overwhelmed, like I have to read so much and will never be able to read all that much, but the best part is getting an understanding of all the dynamics and really digging into new research ideas.
Do you have a favorite place? It can be anywhere in the world.
The mountains. I am a rock climber and now that I live here I love to go to the New River Gorge. In general, I love anywhere where there are rocks and being in the woods and nature where there is no city. I like that.
Do you have any free-time activities that you enjoy?
I’m definitely addicted to rock climbing. I do other activities, like yoga, rollerblading and a little running. I barbecue and throw dinners with friends, but rock climbing is definitely the thing, which takes up a major part of my “freetime.” I’ve been practicing it since I started my PhD. I actually started because rock climbing was the only thing that really got my mind away from my work and it also helps me in my work. It gives me a mental break. People who don’t know anything about rock climbing may not understand but rock climbing is a lot of thinking. It’s thinking of problems and how to solve the problems because you have to reach the top of the mountain and you don’t know how to get up there. It’s really unfolding or unlocking a sequence of moves and finding a solution. I love it. If I start talking about rock climbing now I will never stop, so you may have to stop me now.
We’d like to thank Dr. Manzoni for her time and good humor. If you’d like to contact her to discuss her research, you can find her information here: Faculty Listing – Dr. Anna Manzoni
Until next time,