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Mignon Duffy, Sociology




“Sociology attracts students who want to make a difference in the world.”
Sociology Prof. Mignon Duffy thinks sociology is the perfect major for students who want to combine an interest in social justice with a curious, scientific approach.

“We attract passionate, engaged students who want to make a difference in the world,” she says. “In sociology, they learn the tools to do that.” Duffy says that all the faculty in her department are motivated by a strong commitment to social justice and are also rigorous in scientific methods. “We want to see the evidence,” she says.

Get her talking, and Duffy can’t say enough good things about her students and the department’s alumni.

A current undergraduate, for example, has completed a directed study about the barriers faced by teen girls in accessing contraception. Duffy has arranged an internship with the Lowell Community Health Center for this student to work directly with local teens, as well as with community leaders on this issue.

“The fact that I can make that happen for a student is really cool,” she says.

“Sociology sets you up for a range of advanced degrees and provides a good perspective for various career choices,” says Duffy. “When advising students, I say, ‘Think of your vocation, to do what you love. We’ll find a job that fits.” The demand for research is increasing, especially program evaluation for government agencies and nonprofits. Graduates have gone on to earn advanced degrees in business, law, policy or social work.

“One of our graduates is running an anti-drug coalition, another has interests in corporate sales,” says Duffy. “The connection is an understanding of social groups and their interactions.”

Duffy chose UMass Lowell for her academic home because, she says, “This campus really engages with the world around us – there is no ivory tower here.” She thinks the campus is the right size, big enough for access to opportunities and small enough that everyone knows who you are.

“The student body is diverse and I appreciate that students here take their education seriously,” she says. “I’m passionate about teaching and inspiring others. I love the moment when students realize that they don’t just have to slog through the material, that the learning itself is exciting. Their eyes light up.”

Duffy’s own research is about paid care work, broadly defined – the health care, child care, teaching and elder care jobs that meet the fundamental needs of society. In 2009-2010, collaborative research with colleagues from UMass Boston and UMass Amherst resulted in a policy report. The following year Duffy published her book, Making Care Count: A Century of Gender, Race and Paid Care. 

Duffy directs the Emerging Scholars Program to provide students with year-long fellowship opportunities, working with professors on ongoing research. She is also a Senior Associate at the Center for Women and Work.