Catherine Garcia: Gerontologist, Medical Sociologist, Research Methodologist

Catherine Garcia: Gerontologist, Medical Sociologist, Research Methodologist

This week we are bringing back our popular and long overdue interview series! We recently spoke with Catherine García, an incoming assistant professor of Sociology at the University of Nebraska – Lincoln. She is a trained gerontologist, medical sociologist, and a social science research methodologist. Her areas of research are in minority aging, social determinants of health, aging and the life course, biodemography, neighborhoods, and intersectionality. We got to ask Catherine lots of questions varying from her research work to teaching and the future of her discipline. Check out our full conversation below:

Thinking back, what inspired you to want to pursue sociology for your bachelor’s and master’s degrees?

“I actually started my undergraduate studies as a Political Science and English major because I wanted to have what I perceived was the skillset needed to get into a top law school program. I wanted to become a public defender for minors because I understood the concept of the school-to-prison pipeline early on in my life (even though I didn’t have the knowledge base to articulate it) and the reverberating repercussions that it would have across the life course, from employment to health, to retirement. In my second year as an undergraduate, I enrolled in a Social Problems course offered in Sociology and that class was the inspiration behind me pursuing sociology for my bachelor’s and master’s degrees. In Social Problems, I learned the structural basis for individual-level problems through a concept called the sociological imagination. That class is what helped me “click” everything that I, my family, my friends, and the people in my community have experienced was rooted in racism, sexism, classism, and many other -isms that have constrained our life chances, access to resources, and opportunities. I always knew deep inside that our life experiences weren’t random and that there was an objective element to it like the conditions of poverty, which include insufficient access to food, health services, education, and the high rates of disease. After taking Social Problems, I had to learn more about the social context of social problems, so I went on to take more courses in Sociology and eventually I changed majors once I had enough courses to declare it.”

What led you to your research focus on Latina/o/x health outcomes?

“As a Diasporican (a stateside Puerto Rican), I wanted to understand more deeply the social conditions that promoted the poor health among Puerto Ricans in the mainland U.S. and on the archipelago. As I started to delve deeper into the literature and analyzing different secondary data sources, I started to see how some groups of Latina/o/xs had adverse health outcomes, while others had favorable health outcomes. This led me to ask questions about life-course processes that would lead to these differential health outcomes.”

Can you explain a bit about Gerontology?

“Gerontology is the study of aging and older adults, including the study of the social, cultural, psychological, cognitive, and biological aspects of the aging process. It is a very multidisciplinary field involving biology, psychology, sociology, and policy.”

What is your favorite part of the research process?

“My favorite part of the research process is delving into the data and analyzing it because this is where the data, for me, comes alive. I can visualize the data to see significant patterns and processes of what’s going on with any given population.”

Any findings you can share so far from your work studying diabetes in older Latina/o/xs?

“Here are some of the key findings from some of the research I’ve done:

Older island-born Puerto Ricans have the highest prevalence of diabetes relative to other Latinx subgroups by nativity and national/cultural origin and are more likely to have undiagnosed diabetes.

Younger cohorts of older Latinxs have a higher prevalence of diabetes. For example, Latinxs born in 1960-1965 are more likely to report having diabetes compared to Latinxs born in 1954-1959.

Older Latinxs that live in neighborhoods characterized as predominantly Latinx, foreign-born, linguistically isolated, socioeconomically disadvantaged, and urban were more likely to have diabetes compared to neighborhoods that are characterized as affluent (e.g., predominantly white and high socioeconomic status), controlling for individual-level characteristics.”

Do you have a piece of advice you would give to Ph.D. students who are just starting their program?

“Based on my experience, I would tell Ph.D. students starting their program:

Organization is key to making sure you stay on track with coursework and TA or RA duties.

Find a supportive community because grad school can be isolating.

Take care of yourself! Your physical and mental health matter.”

You also have experience teaching students about research methods. What is your favorite part about teaching?

“My favorite part about teaching is being able to share my passion for statistics, data visualization, and storytelling to students, and hoping that it infects them with that same passion as well.”

You use Bloom’s Taxonomy to design courses that are engaging, can you share more about that?

“Bloom’s Taxonomy is a framework that has been used by instructors for decades to create an effective, inclusive, and engaging classroom that incorporates different processes of learning from basic knowledge to higher-order thought. As I design my courses, I think about what students bring in to the classroom in terms of their backgrounds, their experiences, and skillsets to understand what they know and what they do not know so I can create effective lesson plans that are relevant, empowering, and give students the chance to express their learning and ideas. I want my students to engage in higher-order thought and they can do that once they see a clear path towards it.”

What direction do you see for the future of your discipline? What do you hope to accomplish next?

“The future of gerontology needs to be intersectional. What I mean by that is that the field needs to recognize the complex ways in which an individual’s experience over the life course emerges from the cumulative impact of intersecting social disadvantages and inequalities. Moreover, racism needs to be at the forefront of understanding why some groups age and die sooner than others.

What I hope to accomplish next is to highlight the importance of heterogeneity and intersectionality as a social determinant of health among older Latinxs in understanding trajectories of chronic disease. This is the focus of a grant application that I’m working on.”

At Conseris, we talk a lot about science communication and how research findings can best be shared with the public. Do you have experience with this? Favorite ways you have seen research findings presented?

“This is something I wish graduate school programs would focus on more as opposed to keeping conversations within the ivory tower. Personally, I have been using Twitter to communicate with the public about the research that I and others are doing because it seems like the best medium to reach wider audiences without a paywall. I constantly think about how the work that I do and that of my colleagues are supported by taxpayer dollars and we need to do a better job in communicating our findings with the public.”

Is there anything else you would like to mention or promote?

“Black lives matter. Cite Black women. Read and buy work from Black creators, artists, and authors.”

We would like to thank Catherine for taking the time to chat with us about the inspiring and important work she is doing. You can keep in touch with her and learn more about her work on Twitter and on her website.

Some responses edited for length and/or clarity.

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