Talk to Carrie Spearin about her academic career and it quickly becomes clear that she’s equally passionate about teaching and research. At Brown, where she’s taught as visiting assistant professor in the Department of Sociology for the last seven years, Spearin makes a point to connect with all of the undergraduates she comes in contact with. In her research methods course, a lecture-style class that often has more than 120 students enrolled, she tries to interact with each student individually.
“I try really hard to make that connection, to know everyone’s name or to take time to go around and try to talk to every single person in the class. Some of the students probably hate it, but I want them to feel like they’re not just lost in the lecture,” Spearin says.
In addition to teaching, Spearin also serves as a department adviser and runs the Department Undergraduate Group — roles that allow her other opportunities to get to know her students.
Coincidentally, Spearin didn’t begin her career in sociology with teaching in mind. After graduating from Providence College, she worked as an assistant study director at the Center for Survey Research at the University of Massachusetts–Boston. There, Spearin ran surveys from the ground up on a number of topics, including welfare and universal health care, while going to school at night to earn her master’s in applied sociology from UMass. One day, in a bind, the department asked her to teach a fall semester course on research methods. Spearin quickly realized that she enjoyed passing along to her students everything that she loved about sociology research.
“This is a very logical but creative process: How are you going to get this information from people in a reliable and valid way? I don’t think people put a lot of thought into that, but it takes a scientific yet creative approach.”
Spearin continued her work in the field at the Rhode Island Department of Health while earning her Ph.D. in sociology at Brown. One day, in the midst of completing her degree, she was again asked at the last minute to teach research methods. It was an offer she readily accepted, and she’s been at Brown ever since.
Spearin has worn many hats during her time at the University. She’s conducted research for the Leadership Alliance, the ADVANCE at Brown program, and the Population Studies and Training Center. In addition to her research methods class, Spearin has taught courses on sociology and the family; sex, gender and society; and human sexuality. She currently serves as associate director of the Department of Sociology’s undergraduate programs.
This fall, as part of her new position as lecturer in sociology, Spearin will also take on the role of associate director of the department’s new master’s program in social analysis and research.
The program will take an applied approach to research that fits in well with Spearin’s own experience. It’s a focus she believes will serve students well when they are looking for a way to use their skills beyond Brown.
“A lot of employers, especially in the field of market research, are craving sociologists, which highlights how important sociology is as a field,” she says. “In the last few years our students have been going in so many different directions because it’s a marketable skill. They can think through a research process but also understand this larger theoretical connection between micro and macro.”
It’s an approach Spearin has been taking in her own undergraduate course for years, giving students hands-on projects like creating student surveys and marketing campaigns using demographic data. Many of her students use that work as both senior thesis projects and resume builders.
“Being able to mix the creative with skilled methodology is key,” Spearin says.
When she’s not teaching and advising, Spearin is doing her own research on a variety of topics. Past and current projects have included looking at the time use of mothers with disabilities, the effects of child disability on the family, and the effects of children on the type of unions their parents form.
Like her previous position, Spearin’s new faculty role continues to be focused on teaching and advising. While she’ll still do the research that she loves, she said much of her attention will be on the classroom.
“It gives me freedom to make that personal connection with students.”