Mary Waters (1979)

Professor of Sociology, Harvard University

I came to graduate school to get a PhD so I could get a job as a professor, but I soon learned that most of the students who were finishing their PhDs could not find jobs and were very bitter about it. Barrows Hall was deserted; the faculty almost all seemed either sad or angry, and they were profoundly alienated from the discipline they were supposedly teaching us about. The grad students were left alone mostly to socialize each other, with some rather bizarre results. I decided to get an extra masters degree in demography so that I would at least be able to get a job as a consultant. In the demography department I found the kind of pre-professional training in research I was looking for. Ironically, it also led me to appreciate the huge void that was the sociology department. The culture of the sociology department supported an intellectual freedom to chart your own course in a bold direction. This was both exhilarating and frightening. I went to demography whenever I wanted straightforward direction, I went to sociology when I wanted to think big thoughts. The fusion of the two has defined my academic work.

There were some bright spots in what I now remember as an unusually stressful time in my life. Stan Lieberson, Ken Bock, Neil Smelser and Michael Burawoy taught me a lot.. Carol Hatch provided the kind of useful feedback on ideas and the encouragement that many of us craved from the faculty. Mostly though I learned from, and had fun with, my fellow graduate students, most especially Chris Williams, Judy Auerbach, Jim Jasper, Bob Freeland, Mike Messner, Laurie Wermuth, Terry Strathman, and Kwok-Kian Woon. Their accomplishments define the positive Berkeley experience for me.

I did get a job as a professor when I finished my PhD in 1986 in the Harvard Sociology Department and I have been here ever since. My research is in the areas of immigration and race and ethnicity.

Dissertation Title: 
The Process and Content of Ethnic Identification: A Study of white Ethnics in Suburbia
Dissertation Book Title: 
Ethnic options : choosing identities in America