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Applied Sociologists Land National Science Foundation Grant

Drs. Catherine Mobley (Clemson University) and Chloe E. Bird (Tufts Medical Center), both applied sociologists, are embarking on a new research project that has landed them a National Science Foundation (NSF) grant (Award # 2200695; $867,066; Division of Undergraduate Education/Directorate for Education and Human Research). Their project aims to demonstrate the need for a STEM social and behavioral science (STEM-SBS) workforce of trained professionals who, together, can drive policy-oriented work aimed at ameliorating complex social problems such as climate change, public health threats and technological vulnerabilities.

Mobley and Bird’s three-year study will specifically focus on professional identity development for social and behavioral science students stepping into STEM-SBS careers. Their study is one of the first to explore this important topic. The applied sociologists will collect data through interviews with undergraduate and graduate students as well as practicing sociologists to gather in-depth information on their professional identity development. Data for the study will also include interviews with key informants in the field. Major research questions the study plans to address include:

  • Why do sociology students and  professionals choose to pursue a sociology degree and career?
  • How do sociology students and practicing sociologists conceptualize their professional and science identities?
  • What factors contribute to or hinder retention, success, and identity development in sociology?
  • How do other social identities (e.g.,  race, ethnicity, gender, etc.) intersect with and influence the development and enactment of professional  and science identities?
  • How do competing demands and differential access to opportunities shape entry and retention of a diverse student population into sociology?

Significance to the Field of Sociology

While the NSF grant is an incredible accomplishment for Drs. Mobley and Bird as individuals, it is also an extraordinary accomplishment for the field of sociology. Sociologists have been working in STEM fields for decades, but that does not mean they are viewed as STEM professionals. The new study will put sociology on the map as a STEM profession, something that will undoubtedly influence the perception of sociology as a discipline, unlocking its power to have a positive influence on society.

Of the study, the researchers said:

This foundational work will provide critical insights for developing theory and methods for a mixed-methods longitudinal study on STEM-SBS disciplines and motivate further study by other researchers.

Drs. Chloe E. Bird and Catherine Mobley

We look forward to sharing more about the research on this platform as it unfolds. In the meantime, if anyone is researching a similar topic or would like to learn more about the project, reach out to Catherine at or Chloe at