I am an Assistant Professor in the Department of Sociology and the UMass Computational Social Science Institute. My research interests include social determinants of health, culture, and social network dynamics. If we better understand how, when, and why people are connected, we can gain insight into how health and culture changes at the individual, interpersonal, and population level over time.
Prior to my UMass position, I was on the faculties at Massachusetts General Hospital and Harvard Medical School. My post-doctoral training was with the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation Health & Society Scholars program at UC Berkeley and UCSF. My research is currently supported by the National Institutes of Health (NICHD, NINR, NHLBI), and has been supported by the National Science Foundation, the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation, National Institute on Aging, National Institute of Diabetes and Digestive and Kidney Diseases.
PhD in Sociology, 2010
MA in Sociology, 2007
BA in Sociology, 2003
I am interested in evaluating how individuals' social relationships and interactions shape their health behaviors. For example, how do a person's changing set of relationships with people in their lives affect their health-related decisions, physical health, and mental health? Exploring how social ties to others at a given stage of one's life can shape one's future prospects would help address the question of, 'How does who you know when you were 5 years old affect your health at age 55?'
Pediatric obesity has increased two- to three-fold since the 1970’s and continues to be a major public health concern. The proposed research on adolescent school-based social networks will uniquely identify leverage points that can be exploited to improve interventions targeting physical activity, screen time, and dietary intake. We anticipate that next generation interventions will be able to use the information obtained from this study to improve their ability to prevent excess weight gain in youth thereby reducing the prevalence of related health risk factors and co-morbidities. NICHD R01HD086259-OIA1, Co-Investigator. James Kitts & John Sirard, Co-PIs
Activity behaviors change dramatically across adolescence, as youth experience the overt physical changes of puberty and begin to make decisions about their social settings that will impact their current and future health. In general, physical activity levels decline (especially in girls and racial/ethnic minority populations), screen time spent with televisions, video games, and computing devices increases, and sleep is truncated. Further investigation is needed to evaluate pathways through which adolescent activity behaviors, relationship environments, and pubertal development may interact to shape later cardiometabolic risks and racial/ethnic risk disparities; this will inform the design of new interventions that leverage social ties to interrupt the development of pre-disease pathways during the life course. NINR 1R21NR017154-01A1, Mark Pachucki and Lindsay Hoyt, Co-PIs
This project is conducting research that is applying the collective impact framework to examine specific components of a multi-organizational partnership, with emphasis on the backbone infrastructure and functionality of the collaboration. The multi-organizational partnership, which is focused on broadening the participation of minority teenage girls in STEM, involves K-12 schools, colleges and universities, industry, and STEM research organizations. An important contribution of the proposed research is to understand how this multi-organizational partnership functions without a traditional backbone organization. There are five research questions: (1) What key features (roles, relationship types, individual attributes) within and between organizations make the collaboration successful? (2) To what extent does this collaboration satisfy the five defining criteria of collaborative impact strategies? (3) What components of the organizational network within the partnership serve as backbone support? (4) How was the backbone developed and sustained over time in tandem with other collective impact elements? (5) To what extent are the features of the backbone replicable and scalable to other collaborations between universities and STEM-focused community organizations? NSF #1834897, Co-PI. Ezekiel Kimball (Principal Investigator), Nilanjana Dasgupta (Co-PI), Ryan Wells (Co-PI), Chrystal George Mwangi (Co-PI).
Using wearable sensor and other passive technologies to measure social relationships and their sequelae in ways that complement (and sometimes challenge) prior self-report or observational approaches to understanding social structure. In what ways does precise quantification of interactions provide new insights into social dynamics? In which cases does an individual's own perceptions of their relationships provide useful information?
I welcome research partnerships that relate to social networks, culture, and health across the lifecourse, and am a firm believer in team-based science. Curriculum Vitae.
I collaborate broadly and hold the view that working on problems from multiple perspectives advances the scientific enterprise. I am a core faculty affiliate of the UMass Computational Social Science Institute (CSSI), a 2018-19 UMass Center for Research on Families Scholar (CRF), member of the Umass Institute of Diversity Sciences health disparities working group, and affiliate of the UMass Center for Community Health Equity Research.
A note about some of my values as an educator and scientist: I’m not doing my job as a member of the scientific community and UMass faculty member if, day in and day out, I’m not actively helping students do their best work. If I’m not helping the quieter or silent voices to be heard, to be known, to be recognized, to be valued in the same ways as those who have a more visible presence, I shouldn’t be in this job. I believe that recognizing diversity of thought and experience is what leads to a more just and equitable society, and also is what leads to progress in our collective work as scientists.
My research and teaching is largely concerned with investigating social relationships, culture, and disparities in health. These disparities take many forms – racial, socioeconomic, gender, sexual identity, and political ideology, among other forms. I condemn racism in all of the various guises it manifests – personally-mediated, institutional, organizational – among others. I condemn in the strongest possible terms hateful actions, words, and disparaging behavior of any type towards others.
Cultivating a culture of self-reflection about our work is important; I believe that we all make mistakes, and that mistakes can help us grow, but only if we own them, and this requires honesty about our strengths and weaknesses. I also believe in team-based science and contributing to a collaborative scientific community. This can mean many things, but to me it means being transparent about your workflow and analytic decisions, and it means being humble about what you know and what you don’t know and being willing to reach out for help when you need it.
I trained to do the work I do because I believe the only way forward in building an equitable and respectful community and society is by digging deeper — by running towards a problem, not away from it. I believe in conversation with those whom we disagree. If you’re interested in working on any of this research with me, or want to talk about what we do in our shared enterprise as scientists and as fellow human beings, please reach out.
I am an instructor for the following courses at University of Massachusetts, Amherst:
• SOC213 (U): Data Collection & Analysis (Social Research Methods) (Sp2019)
• SOC297F (U): Food as Culture: Eating in Social Context (Sp2018, Next:2020-21)
• SOC356 (U): Social forces, health, and the life course (Fa2015, Sp2016, Sp2017, Fa2017, Sp2018)
• SOC797NH (G): Relationships, Networks, and Health (Sp2017)
• SOC697P (G): Publishing Seminar (Sp2018)
• SOC797CN (G): Culture and Networks (Fa2019)
I am always happy to write letters of recommendation for students. My policy on letters is here.
I take advising and mentoring seriously, and to promote equity and access in mentoring, I have put together a short handbook to serve as a starting point for conversations about working together.