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Spotlight on Lynn Meissner: Bridging the Gap between Academia and the Real World

Modified: October 27, 2017

Lynn Meissner’s passion and energy for facilitating strong connections with people can be seen throughout her tenure at Northwestern. Currently in her fourth year of a Human Development and Social Policy PhD, she works with Jim Rosenbaum to study the transition from high school to higher education and the workforce. Their research focuses specifically on community colleges, occupational certificates, and associate’s degrees that lead to mid-skill careers.

Prior to coming to Chicago, Lynn studied Social Psychology at the University of California Santa Cruz. After completing her undergraduate education, she participated in an AmeriCorps program in Kansas City, Missouri, where she conducted research for a nonprofit that provided on-site social services for low-income housing residents.

“I was responsible for researching best practices and helping to standardize the programs they were offering,” Lynn explains. “But I found it really difficult to find any research, because I struggled to access academic journals. Even when I was able to download a specific article, I struggled to understand and evaluate it since I had not taken any advanced statistics classes.”

She decided to apply for graduate programs in order to build these skills. After living in a mid-sized city, Chicago felt too large, but Northwestern’s program offered a truly interdisciplinary approach to the work she wanted to do, so she made the move.

“The program is very unique,” she says. “It’s a combination of psychology, sociology, economics, and social policy—we take classes in all of these disciplines. The faculty work together to provide this interdisciplinary experience, which is very helpful for what I want to do.”

Outside of the classroom, Lynn has been involved with numerous campus organizations, including two years as the president of Graduate Women Across Northwestern (GWAN). In her first year at Northwestern, and new to the city, she sought out opportunities to make friends, which lead her to her first GWAN event. One board meeting later, she was offered the role of president.

“GWAN is really important because it provides a space for socializing across disciplines,” Lynn says. “My program is almost entirely female, but other women on campus are the only women in their labs or workspaces. GWAN facilitates opportunities for women on campus to foster strong social connections, which is very important in this environment.”

Lynn and her friend Emily Harburg also created Chicago Thoughtlucks, a monthly dinner series, as a way to create a space for people across Chicago to gather for meaningful conversation. Since the first dinner in November 2015, their Facebook group has grown to almost 600 members. Each session includes introductions and an icebreaker before breaking into more in-depth small group discussions. To finish the evening, the group comes together for dessert and take-away insights. 

“It started with mostly Northwestern students, but now there are people from all over the city that attend the events,” says Lynn. “This leads to a really rich discussion. You leave with other people’s perspectives.”

Lynn has considered several different career options after graduation. In general, she is interested in bridging the gap between research and practice. Some of her options include working at a think tank or research organization, independent consulting for program and policy evaluation, and maybe running for office. Regardless of where she ends up professionally, it is important to her to be exposed to different viewpoints.

“I love meeting new people, especially with opinions that differ from my own,” Lynn says. “Intellectually, I know that other people have different experiences, but I want to truly understand it. I can’t say that I know what I believe until I see the other side, and I think I could do a good job of bridging that gap, especially in today’s political climate.”