Ashton Verdery

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Ashton Verdery

Ashton Verdery

Harry and Elissa Sichi Early Career Professor of Sociology, Demography, and Social Data Analytics and Associate Professor of Sociology and Demography

Successful professorial careers are a marathon, not a sprint, and that you must train yourself and prepare for it accordingly by developing and continuing to hone good, sustainable habits that allow you to sustain focus on a project, research agenda, or teaching curriculum.

As part of Ashton’s current work, he has been examining the scope of bereavement stemming from the COVID-19 pandemic in the United States and around the world. In the United States, his research estimates that more than nine million close family members have been bereaved by COVID-19 deaths, including about one hundred thousand children and teens who lost a parent to the pandemic. Ashton led a project that was the first to document these "COVID orphans" as the press calls them and has substantially changed public policy around bereavement by leading to new Executive Orders, Senate Appropriations, and other policy shifts aimed at helping these and other American children and teens who lose parents.

“I conduct research that generates new knowledge about the scope of pressing social challenges—e.g., how societies with rapidly increasing numbers of older people and decreasing numbers of younger people are faring and how such changes affect individual lives in terms of health, wealth, and happiness—and that can (and sometimes does) directly inform policy efforts to combat or mitigate social problems like increasing loneliness, climate change, and substance use.”

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Student Impact in the Classroom

“I engage my graduate students and postdoctoral scholars in my research projects and have published seventeen peer-reviewed manuscripts with eight Penn State graduate students and postdoctoral Fellows. I often refer to the research process and specific research I have conducted when teaching graduate classes; for instance, when I teach about using computational and "big data" methods, I will discuss my research developing new methods for using the social connections people have with one another to overcome problems faced by traditional sampling methods when studying hard to survey groups, allowing us to use statistical approaches to learn about the whole group of interest and not just those people we spoke to. For undergraduates, I use my research directly in the classroom as well. For instance, I teach a large undergraduate course, Population and Policy Issues, which covers the challenges associated with demographic change in the United States and around the world. In this class, I regularly draw on my research on demographic and family change in China, to discuss the challenges facing that nation (rapid loss of working age manpower, unprecedented increase in claimants on its social insurance programs, pressures on family members to care for aging relatives, a society where very few children have siblings) and the implications of this for global economy, geopolitical stability, and the environment. Similarly, I bring in my research on family bereavement in the United States to orient undergraduates to the ways that seemingly impersonal demographic statistics—like death rates—have deep meaning beyond the numbers, intimately affecting people’s lives—and, likely someday their own, as we as individuals and a society age.” –Ashton Verdery

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