Meet a Social Scientist: Dawn Carr from the Department of Sociology

Why did you decide to become an academic?

Initially, I didn’t want to become an academic. I was raised by an academic (my father) and was intimidated by the idea of fitting the mold of what I saw of academia at that time in history. That said, as I was completing my master’s degree, I decided there was just so much more that I wanted to learn and decided to stay in graduate school to pursue the PhD not really knowing what I would do with it. All I knew was that I was really excited about doing research and learning as much as I could, and I figured I would find my way with my mentor who I deeply trusted would help me figure out the next steps. Once I started publishing research papers as a PhD student, I found manuscript writing to be an incredibly interesting challenge. I was not a particularly good writer at first, but by learning how to publish, I started to find my voice and was motivated to use research to improve the lives of older adults in the US.

What do you find most fulfilling about your job?

I find so many things about my job fulfilling, but I particularly enjoy activities that allow me to serve others in ways that help me grow and learn. I love working with students – teaching undergraduates things that they can use to lead a better life, and graduate students to blaze a successful path towards a career that is fulfilling for them (whatever that might be). I love teaching students how to write because I struggled with writing and I feel like my own experiences helped me learn how to break down the process for others. I also really love having opportunities to share my research with those who can use it in a way that might shape policies and products that help older people, or change how older adults view their own opportunities and potential. Finally, I really feel fulfilled when I solve problems that help the larger whole become more successful. I have numerous colleagues across the US and across FSU campus, and I deeply enjoy building strong teams of scholars, practitioners, and educators.

What are you working on or teaching right now that has your excited professionally?

I’m embarrassed to admit that I’m working on 17 peer review papers with students and colleagues, way too many, and I don’t recommend anyone work on so many different things at once. I also have several grants/grant teams I am heavily engaged with. My problem is that I find LOTS of things exciting about my professional activities. But when I think about some of my most exciting work, it’s the research that pushes me to learn new things that go beyond my comfort zone. For instance, I’m working on a few projects at the moment that are helping me better understand race disparities in the way that COVID influenced the lives of older adults in the US. The consequences of the pandemic are highlighting the ways that some of our social structures are designed to work better for certain groups than others, I’m seeking to better understand ways to modify those structures. I also have been working on projects that evaluate how the pathways into retirement have changed, showing that retirement is being redefined as a growing proportion of older adults need and prefer to work beyond traditional retirement years. This is a challenge given that many workers prefer and need meaningful part-time career opportunities, but the options available are primarily low quality jobs.

Dr. Dawn Carr is an Associate Professor of Sociology at Florida State University. Her research interests include productive engagement, health, and retirement transitions in later life. You can learn more about Dr. Carr here.

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