Dr. Sarah Spell
PhD, Sociology, University of Pennsylvania, 2016
BA, Sociology & Psychology, UIC, 2007
Addressing inequality through research
Sarah’s dissertation examined the ways in which college hookups are racialized and unequal. While she says that often people focus on the “hook-up” aspect of her dissertation topic, she wants to emphasize the inequality revealed in the findings of who hooks up with whom and why. Through her research, Dr. Spell found that the ability to hook up in college was a privilege available to some more than others, revealing that racism and racial inequality are prevalent not only in formal spaces, but also in informal college settings, like sexual and romantic relationships.
Sarah continues her research on inequality in her current job
Dr. Spell is a Senior Research Associate at Pew Charitable Trusts. After graduating from the University of Pennsylvania last year, Sarah decided that she wanted a position that would allow her to continue to impact inequality. Her work at Pew Charitable Trusts allows her to do policy research related to fighting old age income insecurity through state level retirement savings policy that results in reports read by a large audience of academics and lay people alike.
Finding sociology at UIC
Sarah’s parents did not attend college, so they did not have the personal experience to help her to navigate college. She attributes her early success at UIC to the wonderful resources she found in the Sociology department. In particular, the guidance of Dr. Shawn Neidorf (a PhD alumna of UIC Sociology), her TA in Sociology 100, was tremendously impactful. Shawn helped Sarah not only as a TA but personally connected her to Dr. Maria Krysan, under whom she worked for the Chicago Area Study (CAS) for two years as an undergraduate. Because of their influence, Sarah says that she was able to have many informative experiences that later made her very competitive when applying for graduate school. For instance, she got an internship with Joint Program of Survey Methodology, through which she learned much about survey methods and statistics.
Advice for students and recent graduates
If she has any regrets about her time at UIC, Sarah says, they are only that she wishes she had followed even more of the advice offered by her mentors. She also says she wishes that she had taken more classes outside the department while at UIC, in topics like economics.
Lasting lessons in impacting inequality
For Sarah, the time Shawn Neidorf and Maria Krysan spent with her taught her that if someone asks for help, you should help them! Part of our job is to be of service to others, she says. She also points out that this experience comes full circle for her, because mentoring is a wonderful, personal way to address inequality—not coincidentally relating to her overarching research goal.
Dr. Spell started doing improv comedy about a year ago. She says that it’s a fabulous way to hone her presentation skills…no matter what topic arises!
Interviewed by Halimah Salah and Kirsten Andersen