PhD Candidate in the Department of Sociology
Wayne Rivera-Cuadrado is a PhD candidate in the Department of Sociology in the Weinberg College of Arts and Sciences. His research interests include social networks, trauma, violence, and the sociology of knowledge. He aims to utilize network science to study the spread of trauma and victimization, with the goal of furthering our understanding of secondary trauma across different settings. Wayne is a member of the Northwestern Neighborhood & Network Initiative (N3) within the Institute for Policy Research at Northwestern.
How would you describe your research and/or work to a non-academic audience?
My research focuses on the network experience of negative life events. The idea that people’s life trajectories, beliefs, expectations, and behaviors are influenced by their social networks is powerful in sociology. I’ve always been fascinated by how people navigate the world through others’ experiences. So, my work centers on those individuals most closely tied to survivors of violence, trauma, or illness. I explore the tools they use to negotiate novel network experiences (classification systems, cultural myths, etc.) and the collaborative work that emerges through victim/non-victim interactions.
What is a mistake you have learned from in your career?
Thinking too small. Half the fight is learning how far you can extend yourself and being courageous enough to locate and aim for unlikely goals. I’m blessed with wonderful friends (inside and outside of academia) who don’t mind pushing me to achieve more than I think I can.
Whom do you admire in your field and otherwise, and why?
I admire so many people in sociology, but the one that sticks out is Eduardo Bonilla-Silva. I've been a fan of his work since undergrad. Plus, seeing a fellow Afro Puerto Rican become president of the American Sociological Association just as I was starting at Northwestern was a pretty cool moment.
What do you find both rewarding and challenging about your research and/or work?
I love nearly everything about my work, from getting to hear others’ stories and interacting with people outside of my typical bubble to spending long hours thinking and writing. The challenging part of my research mainly lies in learning how to work with traumatic material and balancing between what is intellectually interesting and what is meaningful to people outside of academia.
What is the biggest potential impact or implication of your work?
Much of my work aims to understand and improve victims’ first encounters with informal “first responders,” as well as institutions like policing or medicine that serve as gatekeepers to resources. In doing so, I also hope to make visible the hidden consequences of violence or illness to networks rather than individuals.
Northwestern’s Department of Sociology has a reputation as a qualitative powerhouse, and the faculty happened to study a lot of topics I wanted to explore, particularly around knowledge and networks. Plus, Chicago is a fantastic city. I can’t think of a better place for ethnographic research. There are also a lot of appealing opportunities to do more than just science here through the Center for Civic Engagement and Institute for Policy Research.
How do you unwind after a long day?
My most productive hours are in the morning and night, so I typically unwind in the middle of the day, usually by visiting different Chicago neighborhoods, playing Go, or just listening to an audiobook while doing chores. I usually clear my head before writing in the evening by visiting the lake or going out with friends.
What advice would you give your younger self or someone considering a similar path?
Two related pieces of advice have helped me in academia and beyond: First, make learning what it is you don’t know an active part of your life. Recognize early on that, for every problem you face, there are people willing to help you or who have written books on the topic. Second, particularly when you’re coming from a background where academia can feel foreign, treating academic socialization as part of your job can be a critical survival strategy. The Professor Is In and Publish and Prosper were two of my first academic bibles.
Published: October 26, 2021
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