Research & Action Report Spring/Summer 2005

The Wellesley Centers for Women (WCW) has three postdoctoral research positions sponsored by the National Institute of Child Health and Human Development (NICHD). In the summer of 2004 researchers were selected and matched with a mentor. During their two-year tenure at WCW, the fellows receive training in a variety of skills ranging from methodology to preparing a manuscript for publication and writing grant proposals. The program is designed to prepare the junior researchers to become senior scholars in the study of childhood and adolescence, with special emphasis on how race and ethnicity, gender, and social class interact with risk and resilience factors in human development. Fellows can collaborate with their mentors on externally funded research projects and can initiate independent research conducted under the guidance of their mentor. Sumru Erkut is working with Michelle Bragg, Linda Williams is teamed with Diane Purvin, and Nancy Marshall is partnered with Jasmine Waddell.


Michelle Bragg, Ph.D.

What was the focus of your work prior to coming to WCW?

I earned my doctorate in Public Policy from George Mason University. My dissertation research focused on social fathers—men who help parent other than their own children. I became interested in this topic while working as a Congressional Fellow on Capitol Hill. Information about the Fathers Count legislation came across my desk, and it piqued my interest. I delved into the fatherhood literature and my research progressed from there. Also, I worked for the Center of Innovation and Reform in the Office of the City Administrator with the Government of the District of Columbia.

What will be the focus of your work here at WCW?

My work here will be to build upon my dissertation research, which was a quantitative examination of social fathers, specifically African-American social fathers. I want to better contextualize the experiences of these men and the children in their lives by using qualitative methods, hearing directly from social fathers. Although men play key roles in families, most of the survey data about men comes from women’s reports. Only recently have efforts been made to secure family-based information directly from men. I believe the use of mixed methods—qualitative and quantitative methods—provides richer, more nuanced data. This data will hopefully be instructive to policy makers and result in policies that better fit the conditions and contexts of modern families. Additionally, I plan to focus on child development and resilience issues, particularly in relation to nontraditional families, including those with social fathers. At WCW I can consult with scholars who have expertise in these critical policy areas. For example, my mentor, Sumru Erkut, is well respected in these fields and also conducts fatherhood research. This synergy is immensely helpful to me, as is the alignment of my work with WCW’s interest in researching underrepresented children and adolescents and understanding variations in findings by race and ethnicity.

Where do you see your research heading in the future?

My research will always emphasize culture and policy. I see my research on fathers, child development, and resilience as preparation for conducting comprehensive, large-scale research on families—African-American families in particular. I also have an interest in expanding my father and familybased research to include Afro-Latinos in the US and Latin America.


Diane Purvin, Ph.D.

What was the focus of your work prior to coming to WCW?

I completed my dissertation in Social Policy at Brandeis University, where I also worked as an ethnographer and data manager for the Boston site of a multi-city study of welfare and child well-being among low-income African-American, Latino, and Euro-American families. My observations of significant levels of domestic violence and abuse among many study respondents led me to develop a dissertation project that investigated the extent and impact of abuse experiences on participants’ lives over time. Through analysis of longitudinal data collected from 59 families by a diverse staff of 14 interviewers, I attempted to understand the meaning of abuse experiences over time, within the context of the lives of women in diverse communities, and under a range of economic and policy constraints.

What will be the focus of your work here at WCW?

My dissertation research demonstrated that women’s vulnerability and resilience to abuse is context-dependent. Effective policy and intervention requires better understanding of the conditions of economic and social vulnerability that promote or inhibit entrapment in abuse. At WCW, my work will focus on further specifying some of the factors that appear to influence women’s trajectories into and out of abusive relationships, particularly those that pertain to early family and adolescent experiences. In addition to providing training in developmental issues and research methods that will help me build on and expand my research in this area, the NICHD postdoctoral program at WCW focuses on the interactions of race, ethnicity, social class, and gender which are critical to understanding complex social problems such as abuse. I am excited to be working with Linda Williams who has extensive research experience in issues of abuse within the family, a commitment to incorporating developmental and life course approaches to their study, and an interest in integrating qualitative and quantitative methods.

Where do you see your research heading in the future?

Research to date suggests that the abuse that low-income women experience in families and relationships can have a significant impact on long-term outcomes, including whether they escape from or remain trapped in poverty. My long-term career goal is to implement a research agenda that will contribute to improved knowledge about the processes through which these effects accrue and lead to more effective social policies and interventions.


Jasmine Waddell, D.Phil.

What was the focus of your work prior to coming to WCW?

My research training while a graduate and doctoral student at Oxford University in England was in European and South African social policy analysis. My doctoral dissertation was a qualitative study of the implementation of the Child Support Grant, the post-apartheid child maintenance grant, in rural and urban communities in the Eastern and Western Cape provinces of South Africa. I also worked with the new Centre for the Analysis of South African Social Policy on this issue.

What will be the focus of your work here at WCW?

At WCW I plan to focus on skills development, such as quantitative research methodologies, to the end of becoming a mixed methodology researcher. WCW’s long history of using both qualitative and quantitative methodologies, which provide a broader and more nuanced understanding of the research areas, will provide a solid platform from which I will hone my skills. The methodological rigor and creativity of WCW will serve me very well in this pursuit. In addition, I plan to work closely with my preceptor, Nancy Marshall, who has a broad perspective on issues of child welfare, to conduct comparative research on child poverty interventions in the United States and South Africa, with a specific focus on implementation and impact.

Where do you see your research heading in the future?

I anticipate building upon the skills I have sharpened during my time at WCW to become an astute mixed methodology researcher specializing in child policy, social exclusion/inclusion, and poverty alleviation in the Global South. My hope is to develop paradigms and frameworks for policy design and implementation which can be applied to under-developed nations. My objective is to bridge the gap between research and policy in the field of social development.