Cara Margherio, PhD: Improving Equity in STEM Fields

Editorial Note:

This profile of Dr. Cara Margherio is brought to you through a joint collaboration between Applied Worldwide and Sociologists for Women in Society (SWS). Thank you to SWS and all those who made valuable contributions to the Profiles in Applied & Clinical Sociology series.

This profile is presented as part of a larger project with the intentions of: 1) providing students with examples of applied sociology, 2) providing market value to sociological skills and services, and 3) promoting the work of individual sociological practitioners and organizations. Visit for more on Sociologists for Women in Society.

Cara Margherio, PhD:

Cara Margherio, PhD is the Assistant Director of the Center for Evaluation & Research for STEM Equity (CERSE) at the University of Washington where she uses mixed methods to understand the social mechanisms which may change, or facilitate, the production of inequities within higher education and serves as an evaluator on projects designed to improve equity and inclusion within academic STEM fields. Dr. Margherio’s impressive sociological training began at the University of Pittsburgh where she earned a Bachelor of Philosophy in Sociology, Bachelor of Science in Psychology, and a certificate in Women’s Studies. Following her undergraduate studies, Dr. Margherio went on the earn her PhD in Sociology, an MA in Sociology, and a graduate certificate in Social Statistics at the University of Washington. It was during her graduate studies at the University of Washington that Dr. Margherio began working at CERSE. When we asked her how she established herself as an applied sociologist, she mentioned the invaluable role of her mentors, networks, and professional societies.

When we asked what kind of services Dr. Margherio offers through the CERSE, she told us:

As an evaluator, I work with individuals, groups, and professional societies that are implementing programs to improve equity and inclusion within STEM higher education. I help these programs measure the impacts they are having and identify changes they can make to improve. Depending on the project, we may also use the evaluation data that I collect for research purposes, for publications, and to develop educational workshops for broader audiences.

Dr. Margherio also mentioned future employment opportunities through CERSE for aspiring applied sociologists, offering the following insight for anyone interested in finding work at CERSE:

When hiring new staff, we look for individuals that have at least some applied research or evaluation experience. This may mean being able to talk about the practical implications of your dissertation or thesis research, experience with translating research into workshops or trainings, or formal (or informal) evaluation training. Most importantly though, we look for individuals with a strong grounding in social science methodologies, critical thinking skills, and a growth mindset.

Read the full interview with Dr. Margherio on her applied sociological work below! You can also connect with her on Twitter.

Using Sociology in Practice

How do you use sociological research methods in practice? 

Although I am a mixed methods sociologist, my passion is qualitative methods. I conduct focus groups, interviews, and participant observations within the different projects I work on. I also design, administer, and analyze a lot of surveys. My training in sociological research methods allows me to design rigorous data collection protocols and ensure the validity of my results.

How do you use sociological theory in practice? 

Working with programs designed to improve equity, it’s been very helpful to have a solid grounding in the different sociological theories that address inequities. My research interests span organizational change, social movements, the sociology of education, and intersectionality.

Lessons for Future Practitioners

What types of courses should undergraduate students take in preparation for a career similar to yours? 

Statistics, Qualitative Methods, Sociology of Education, and coursework around gender, race/ethnicity, disability, sexuality, and other aspects of social identities.

What types of courses should graduate students take in preparation for a career similar to yours? 

Statistics, Qualitative Methods, Mixed Methods, Critical Methodologies; Critical Race Theory and Feminist Theory; Organizational Change; Program Evaluation

What types of experiences should undergraduate students seek in preparation for a career similar to yours? 

Seek out opportunities to apply and strengthen your methods training, through working with faculty or staff on applied research projects or evaluations.

What types of experiences should graduate students seek in preparation for a career similar to yours?

Seek out opportunities for applied work, either as a research assistant to faculty or short-term opportunities with community organizations. Become involved in equity organizations and conferences (e.g., NCORE, CoNECD) and in the American Evaluation Association (AEA)—AEA offers a lot of educational and training opportunities!

What texts or authors can people reference to learn more about the work you do as an applied or clinical sociologist? 

I have several publications from my work on the BRAINS Program that show how evaluation data can be used for research purposes. I’ve also worked with several NSF ADVANCE-funded programs, which are designed to improve diversity and equity among STEM faculty. The ADVANCE community has produced a lot of publications over the years that illustrate the type of work you can do as an applied sociologist; one place to start finding this work is at the ARC Network: