For most of her life, Bianca Gonzalez-Sobrino loved learning about groups of people and why they do the things they do. Now a Ph.D. candidate in the Department of Sociology, Gonzalez-Sobrino is conducing her own research on people and their behavior thanks to support from the CLAS Graduate Fellows Fund and a fellowship from the Graduate School. She hopes to eventually become a professor and continue giving back to the academic community.
What got you interested in sociology in the first place?
I remember being at my science fair when I was little, and everyone else’s projects were on things like volcanoes, but I was interested in people and behavior. My project was about people’s perceptions of food color and if that would impact people eating those foods somehow. That was 15 years ago, and I’m still interested sociology!
In college, I had initially thought about going to law school. But as I kept taking sociology classes, I fell in love with the discipline and being that person that’s always looking and people watching! I loved studying what makes us do what we do as people, as social actors, as groups, and as countries. It convinced me to go to graduate school and become a sociologist.
Why did you choose to come to UConn to get your Ph.D.?
I got my bachelor’s degree in sociology at the University of Puerto Rico, and then I went to Mississippi State University to get my master’s, where I met my advisor Associate Professor of Sociology Matthew Hughey. I applied to multiple universities, including UConn, because Matthew Hughey had come here; because of UConn’s proximity to Hartford, which has a huge Puerto Rican population; and because I saw an opportunity for my work here. It’s also an incredibly well rated university, and it has amazing scholars in the sociology department! I got accepted and offered a fellowship, and I said, “I can’t say no!” So here I am.
I think the quality of the undergraduate students here is amazing. The way they put themselves out there and aren’t afraid to talk about difficult topics is incredible. I think that’s very special. The undergraduate student body is really important for the work that we do as graduate students too because they motivate us! The professors and students have given me a lot, and I hope that my work and teaching eventually will give back to them.
What research are you working on?
I have a fellowship from the Graduate School, which means I get to do my own research all the time. I’m looking at ethnic competition and how that’s portrayed in the media, so my area of expertise is race and ethnicity, culture, and media. I focus mostly on Puerto Ricans in my research, and I seek to understand what space in American society they fit in. I’ve published another project where I looked at the New York Times and the narratives used for Puerto Ricans. We found that the New York Times frames Puerto Ricans as immigrants, but at the same time as belonging. There’s this paradox that we call the Puerto Rican Paradox; they fit, yet they don’t fit at the same time. That’s my overall project.
How has receiving scholarships had an impact on your academic career?
Fellowships and scholarships from the CLAS Graduate Fellows Fund have given me the opportunity really to dive into my research, which a lot of graduate students don’t get to do because they have a lot of other work to do like teaching, and that’s very intensive, time-consuming work. I’ve been very fortunate to receive this fellowship and all the other awards that I’ve received for my research. It has given me the chance to become a better researcher and to give back to the university through my work. I’ve been published in three journals already, I have two book chapters, and I’m editing a special issue in a very well-known journal Ethnic and Racial Studies, and typically graduate students don’t get to do this.
What are your career goals?
My dream is to teach at a Research I (RI) university. I’ve always loved interacting with undergraduates, and I think teaching is a very valuable part of the professorate. I also love research. An RI university will let me have both. UConn feels like home, so I would love to work in a place like UConn.
If you were going to give incoming students some advice, what would it be?
It’s very taboo for graduate students to talk about how graduate school is hard and you feel overwhelmed and like you don’t belong. They call it the Imposter Syndrome. My message to new graduate students is that we all go through that and it is difficult, but it’s meant to be that way. Everyone is different; so don’t feel bad if you don’t do the exact same thing that your colleague does. We all find our way and our own pace.
How has your experience been shaped by studying in both Puerto Rico and America?
I’ve always had connections to the continental U.S because my brother and dad moved to Florida when I was young. That’s the story of a lot of Puerto Ricans, they call it the ‘coming and going.’ Transnational migration, if you will. I was raised in Puerto Rico and I went to school there so I had never had that interaction with the American higher-education system before I moved here. It was a little bit of a challenge. I was very scared at first because I had never written a full-length paper in English. It’s scary, but there are people who want to help you. That person for me was Matthew Hughey.
What has been unique about your UConn experience?
This is very personal! My first day at UConn, I had a meeting in Homer Babbidge Library with Matthew and his advisees and I walked in and met my wife. She’s also a sociologist. Our connection was instant! We just got married in June. Since we met here our first day, UConn has become a very special place in our life.
By: Sydney Lauro ’17 (CLAS)