Kevin Dougherty and Michael Ryan
Season 6 - Episode 639
Graduate students play an important role in Baylor research and teaching, and the mentorship they receive from Baylor professors is significant in preparing them for excellence in both. In this Baylor Connections, a professor and graduate student-Kevin Dougherty, professor of sociology, and Michael Ryan, a sociology Ph.D. student-share their experiences from this distinct time in a student’s life.
Derek Smith:Hello and welcome to Baylor Connections, a conversation series with the people shaping our future. Each week we go in depth with Baylor leaders, professors, and more discussing important topics in higher education, research, and student life. I'm Derek Smith, and today we are visiting with Kevin Dougherty and Michael Ryan in Baylor's Department of Sociology, talking about the relationship between professors and graduate students. Kevin Dougherty serves as professor of sociology at Baylor, an award-winning scholar and researcher. His work has contributed to understanding of religious affiliation and participation, diversity in congregations, congregational growth and decline and more. He also serves as graduate program director in the Department of Sociology and mentors graduate students on their path to becoming future professionals. One of those students is Michael Ryan, a doctoral candidate who earned his bachelor's degree from Mount St. Mary's University, and a master's from the New School for Social Research. A political science and sociology undergraduate major who later taught in a rural community in China, Ryan focuses on the intersection of religious life, political life, identity, and family. He hopes to teach in a liberal arts institution after receiving his PhD. Well, I can see why you all are a good fit for one another, at least complimentary in a lot of ways with your research topics. But Kevin, Michael, thanks so much for joining us today on the program. It's great to have you both here.
Kevin Dougherty:Pleasure to be with you, Derek.
Michael Ryan:Yes. Very happy to be here.
Derek Smith:Well, I'm excited. It'll be fun to have a professor and student, and I know that probably even simplifies as we're talking about that relationship between a professor and a PhD student, but excited to dive into that. Let's lean in first, and Kevin, I'll start with you. What's something that you've been working on either individually or together with Michael that you're particularly excited about right now?
Kevin Dougherty:Well, I've got a five-year project that we're two years into studying congregational efforts to promote racial justice, and we're following a group of 26 congregations as they have initiatives that try to remedy some deep hurts in our nation historically and in present times, and that has been a really exciting project for me to be a part of.
Derek Smith:Absolutely. What about you, Michael?
Michael Ryan:Exciting probably not the right word, because when you sit with your dissertation long enough, you start to really fall in love with the topic, but also begin to feel a little distance from it. But something I've worked on, and I'm very excited about is looking at the role that children's religious experiences play in their political views later in life. So using longitudinal data, we can look at how children, whether or not they believe they've witnessed a miracle, whether or not they attend church, how often they attend church, their religious beliefs as children, how that then influences what they believe politically as young adults. So that's something I'm really excited about.
Derek Smith:That's fascinating. Yeah. We'll have to look forward to hearing more about that as you get further into it. Well, we can see even a little bit, like I said, the overlap between what you do. But Kevin, I want to ask you, when someone from another department asks about your research and scholarly focus, how do you describe it to them?
Kevin Dougherty:Well, I'm primarily a sociologist of religion and my focus is religious organizations, and that includes congregations, denominations, religious schools, colleges, and universities. I'm interested in how people gather to learn and practice their faith, and then the impact of those gatherings on how they live their lives outside the doors of their faith communities.
Derek Smith:We've had you on this program before talking about some of that research. You're talking about teaching students, but we haven't touched on the graduate school aspect and you are the graduate program director as well. So as we dive into this, tell me about Michael. What role does he play for you in your teaching and your research? And maybe just help us get to know him better. What do you enjoy about working with him?
Kevin Dougherty:Yeah, Michael is terrific and he's one of just a rich group of graduate students that animate our department and help us to raise our level of productivity. Michael is a person that has keen interests in the way the world works and the role of religion in that, but also at the same time has a deep commitment to transmitting knowledge to students and he's just magic in the classroom. So I feel like a kindred spirit with Michael because I care deeply about the practice of teaching, but I'm also very passionate about my research and I see in him those same types of things, passionate about research on some of the same topics that animate me, and then just a real deep love and commitment to the students that fill his undergraduate classes.
Derek Smith:You've demonstrated your excellence in teaching and research in a number of ways, as have many of your colleagues, but I'm curious, how does it impact you if you sit in, if you watch, if you listen and hear someone like Michael from that younger generation, how does that affect you or maybe even impact the way you do things?
Kevin Dougherty:Well, I take notes and I am steal what I can,
Derek Smith:Sure. Yeah.
Kevin Dougherty:From the innovations of people like Michael. Michael and I have had the experience to interact with each other in a number of ways. We've co-authored two articles together. We've presented our research at academic conferences, and then I've also had the chance to see him at work in the classroom. And it really is a beautiful picture to see how he interacts with his students. I mean, he's warm and interactive and he's got great rapport, this good match between real difficult sociological content and concepts and then the applications. And he's always inviting his students to be active participants in the learning process. So in his classes, you're not sitting and listening. You're engaged in the process of creating learning for you and for those around you. And as an observer in that, I couldn't help but get swept up in the same experience. And so such a joy to watch him be able to teach and to think about what his career might look like after he finishes PhD and starts as a professor in a college setting of his own.
Derek Smith:That's high praise Michael. I don't know. Maybe we should take that pull quote from what he just said, put it on your LinkedIn page or your CV. I don't know. That's some good stuff there from Kevin.
Michael Ryan:I agree. And if anyone's listening who happens to be on a hiring committee, you can have Dr. Dougherty's number. I will send it to you.
Derek Smith:There we go. We won't put it on the show, but no, that's great. Well Michael, he mentioned you teach, you work with him on research, you present, you are becoming a professional. You're really acting as a full-time professional in a lot of ways even as you pursue this. What have those experiences been like and how have they shaped you?
Michael Ryan:Oh, they've shaped me so much. I think that the thing about Dr. Dougherty is that we teach in a very different style, but it comes from the same place in terms of really caring that our students don't just understand, but that they feel that they're a member of a community in our classroom and that they feel like they're a member of a community in the broader Baylor bubble, if you will. And I think that specifically we had a class, a religion and character on campus where it was both undergraduates and graduate students in the class at the same time. So I got to both see how Dr. Dougherty engages with graduate students, how he engage with undergraduates, and then as a graduate student being that sort of bridge between the two. And we did research together as a class in different groups. So we were both mentoring undergraduates while also learning ourselves how to properly research, put together papers, those sorts of things. So in terms of the mentorship and the mentorship, really across the Baylor sociology program, it's really just great about how communal everyone is, how collegial everyone is, and how everyone really tries to make sure that everyone's included and everyone has the opportunity to develop those skills, not just research skills, which are very important, but also teaching skills, life skills and mentoring skills so that when we go out into the world, we can mentor undergraduate students much in the same way we've been mentored at Baylor.
Derek Smith:That's a great description, Michael. And I'm curious, going back even a little bit further, it's easy for me to fall into sports analogies, but sometimes a young up and coming coach might see someone like a coach Drew and think, oh, I'd like to work for him someday, or Coach Nikki and decide that they want to apply for a grad position or a coaching position. Is it like that when you are looking for a PhD program and how did you find Kevin and think, well, maybe this is the right fit?
Michael Ryan:Oh, I would say it certainly is. I think that analogy is apt. I found Baylor in part because if you want to study anything involving religion in America, Baylor is one of the top schools to do that. Kevin was actually the first person I reached out to because he's also the graduate program director. And I was warned, not warned, I was given a tip by a fellow graduate student that if people at that school do not answer your email, that probably says something about the culture on that campus. So the fact that I emailed him within four hours, Kevin emailed me back with all the questions answered, material for looking into the application process at Baylor, really said how strong the commitment was to graduate students at a place like Baylor University.
Derek Smith:That's great. And how much about Kevin's research did you know as you began the process? Because I don't know exactly how it works, but you're looking at Baylor, but then you're also trying to find that mentor, that complimentary fit, right?
Michael Ryan:Yes, definitely. One of the things I really liked about Kevin's research is it's very diverse. He's done research on congregations, research involving education, recently done research on religious tattoos. If there's something about religion, Dr. Dougherty's probably read about it somewhere. So as someone who personally has a very diverse set of interests, Dr. Dougherty's the perfect person for me to work with because he also has that diverse set of interests. And the two papers we've co-authored on education are the sort of thing that I would've been very interested in at any graduate school, but I wouldn't have had the opportunity to do that if I had not come to Baylor because the other faculty probably would not have been as interested in those things as I was.
Derek Smith:Visiting with Michael Ryan, a PhD student in sociology, and Kevin Dougherty, professor of sociology at Baylor. And Kevin, I want to ask you, you've painted this picture a bit already, but I think oftentimes we'd look at the idea of Baylor as a Christian research university and R1 one institution that prioritizes both teaching and research. We've seen that in a lot of ways. I know you can't speak for all of your colleagues, but across the university, what role do graduate students play in invigorating that intersection of research and teaching?
Kevin Dougherty:Well, a big part of the reason that Baylor University is now recognized as a research one very high level of activity research university is because of our graduate education. The number of doctoral recipients that we have, the number of grant dollars that we bring in, the number of articles we publish, the way those articles get cited, all of those are parts of the calculus that makes up who qualifies as an R1 university. And so our investment and approach to graduate education and the expansion of that at Baylor is a big part of the reason that we're R1 today. And quite frankly, Baylor wouldn't be the research university it is today without our graduate students like Michael Ryan. They have entered and bring our program a boost of research activity. So as he's finding his way and in the research world, the research that we do together motivates and expands my research activity. I've published with 23 graduate students, and so the opportunity to be engaged with graduate students and helping them learn how to ask and answer interesting research questions has raised the level of productivity in our department, expanded our interest and increased the reputation of Baylor as more published work with the Baylor name goes out.
Derek Smith:When you talk to a lot of faculty, they talk about, I enjoy working with this age group, and oftentimes they're talking about 18 to 22 or 18 to 23 year olds. And that's certainly something you've experienced in a lot of ways. But I'm curious for someone like Michael or other grad students who are on the cusp of embarking on the journey that you embarked on when you were done with your PhD, becoming professionals and a little bit older than their undergrad contemporaries, what do you enjoy about that age group or just that kind of station in life, if you will?
Kevin Dougherty:Yeah. Well, I really love the opportunity to help train and shape a new generation of scholars, people that care deeply about the world and want a set of skills, theoretically and methodologically to understand the world that we live in and maybe hopefully make it a better place for ourselves and the generations to come. And so Michael comes in with interest in the intersection of religion and politics and education, and they naturally line up with what I'm doing. So it's not difficult for me to get excited about the work that we do together because it's a chance for us to further each other's interests. And we're really committed in our graduate program to helping our students not only become top level researchers, but we want them to flourish in every realm of their professional lives in teaching, in service, in community outreach. And so our program is designed not just to give information about what it means to be a doctoral recipient in sociology content wise, but how are you going to use those skills and that knowledge to not only break new ground in intellectual work, but that to make the places that you're in better for all. And in Michael's classroom and in his efforts to do community building, we already see that from him while he's here at Baylor.
Derek Smith:That's great. So Mike, do you feel like you're being invested in not just as professional, but kind of as a person too?
Michael Ryan:Oh, definitely. And that was one of the reasons I did select Baylor as a school was because Baylor puts a very heavy emphasis not just on us as researchers, but us as people. There's a very strong emphasis on building community within our department and also within the broader Baylor community. And importantly, like Dr. Dougherty said, there are lots of resources for things like teaching and increasing your methodological skills that are outside of the department, but within Baylor that we're very encouraged to take advantage of whether there's the teach program, there's the data fellowship for the data humanities. There are a couple different opportunities that I've personally taken advantage of that have made me both a better researcher and importantly a better teacher because I can know everything the world has to offer. But if I can't transmit that to students or fellow graduate students, how much use is that really?
Derek Smith:That's great. So you're kind of sharpening a lot of professional skills. Then also, I'm curious, when you talk about the personal side, there are about 15,000 or so, 18 to 22 year olds. So there's a natural community and there's a lot of graduate students at Baylor, but how important is that intentionality when you're a few years older than your undergraduate contemporaries, in some cases graduate students are married or in a different stage of life and have a lot of different inputs and pressures?
Michael Ryan:No, that's definitely. The intentionality is key. We tell, and Dr. Dougherty can speak to this, every incoming cohort of sociology PhD students, the importance of building community both within the department and then also within the broader Baylor community because you are right, Baylor is a place that is focused primarily on undergraduate students, but that doesn't mean you can't have a fully flourished graduate student life as well. And I do think that Baylor has taken great strides to make this place a home for all of us.
Derek Smith:That's great. Visiting with Kevin Dougherty and Michael Ryan. Hey, Michael, is there anything such like that's a typical week for you? Take us inside that a little bit, if you would.
Michael Ryan:Typical is a strong word, but I teach every Monday, Wednesday, Friday, sociology of race and ethnicity. I encourage anyone listening to come down to my class and get a little taste of the sociology experience. I do research on a regular basis. I do grading on a regular basis. And importantly, and this is what I really love, is meeting over the coffee, meeting at the fridge, meeting over some lunch with fellow graduate students to talk about our research and really dive into problems that they're facing, how we can solve those problems, both people we co-author with, and also just people that are members of our community that we want to help thrive. So that's really the best part of my week, is engaging with fellow graduate students and fellow faculty members and really trying to tackle some of the problems that we do face both as a society and just face in trying to make sure that our research reaches the widest audience possible.
Derek Smith:Question for either one of you. What you just described, Michael, how independent is that? Obviously a lot of it you're kind of self-motivated, doing on your own, but also Kevin, you're intentionally mentoring him. So how can we picture how independent, how collaborative that all is?
Kevin Dougherty:Well, we really strive to champion students' interests. So in the work that Michael and I have done together, it wasn't me telling him, Hey, you're going to do this project with me. It was as we got to know each other, we realized we had common interests. And so it was a natural outgrowth of the relationship that we were developing and just learning about one another. I'm not the only faculty member that has invested heavily in Michael and that he works closely with. And so he's had a number of people be able to contribute to his development and different projects with different people, different people playing different roles, but all of them collectively to helping shape him to be a productive scholar, an outstanding teacher and prepare him for a bright future as a professional sociologist.
Michael Ryan:Yeah, I think the only thing I would add is you do have to be a self-starter to be successful in graduate school, but you never, at least at Baylor, you never walk alone. So if I need help, people will answer my call, they'll answer my email. If I knock on their door, they'll welcome me in and we can talk about whatever issues I'm going on or I can pitch a project to somebody. But you do still have to be a self-starter. So for instance, for the two papers that I'm on with Dr. Dougherty, it was one of those things where I came up with an interesting research idea that was half-baked. He added the finishing touches, a little seasoning, if you will, if we're continuing the cooking analogy.
Derek Smith:I like it. Yeah.
Michael Ryan:And I think that's really the big thing about being a graduate student is that you know enough to get started, but often you don't know what you don't know. And that is part of why we're in graduate school in the first place and getting mentored in the first place, is that you need to be professionalized both as a professor and as a researcher. And Dr. Dougherty can point me to things that I would've never found by myself. And he can also point me to relationships with people in other departments that I wouldn't personally know and really build sort of a community of learners outside of not just sociology, but higher education as well, the psychology department as well, and really build a more holistic intellectual framework.
Derek Smith:Imagine a lot of that mentorship you talk about just kind of in those more informal moments than anything, right? Is that fair to say?
Kevin Dougherty:Absolutely. I mean, so there's what happens in the classroom and is a structured part of our program, and that's a small part. That's a small part of the undergraduate education, that's a small part of the graduate education. So much more is being in a community and just the daily interactions and the ebb and flow of doing life together that all works together to create this meaningful context to grow as a scholar and a teacher and to think about what you want your future to look like and prepare yourself for it.
Derek Smith:Michael, are there some areas, as we head into the final few minutes of the show, are there's some areas that when you think of yourself as a researcher or a teacher as well, that you think, boy, these are a couple areas that whether it's Kevin or other faculty in sociology have really helped you expand your horizons or just grow?
Michael Ryan:Oh, certainly. I think there are quite a number of research interests I wouldn't have if I had not attended Baylor. For instance, I personally am Catholic. I find evangelical folks incredibly interesting in terms of how their religion shapes their lived experience, and that's just not something I would've experienced if I did not come down here. In terms of being a teacher in particular, Dr. Dougherty is very good at sort of combining his teaching with his research in ways that are very interesting, and that's something that I look forward to doing in the future when I am at my own institution in the future. And one other thing is really sort of growing as a mentor to undergraduate students because I am in a weird position, all graduate students are where we're professionals quote, unquote, but we're also still students, and we're also usually very close in age to the folks we are teaching and mentoring. So really seeing how folks keep both an appropriate distance while still being caring and committed to our undergraduate students is something that I think I've learned a lot from watching the other faculty members in our department.
Derek Smith:Kevin, what would you like others to know, colleagues or just others in general about just what it means to get to work with, the opportunity to mentor graduate students?
Kevin Dougherty:Well, I think it's just a priceless gift. It's one thing to celebrate our own successes when we have an article published or we get a grant, but there's just another level of the celebration when you see an emerging scholar get their first publication, or land their first grant, or win the teaching award and see them get recognition for developing the gifts that God's given them and then using them to the very best of their ability to make a positive difference in the lives of others and through their research. And so it's just such a joyful experience for me to get to watch Michael grow as a scholar and to think about where the future will take him and then to celebrate with him as his future unfolds.
Derek Smith:Now, Michael, we don't know exactly where your future's going to take you, but where are you in the process of getting your PhD and what are you looking forward to some of those big next steps in your career?
Michael Ryan:God willing, I will be getting my PhD at the end of this school year, fingers crossed. And the hope is to go teach at a lovely liberal arts college, preferably religiously affiliated, because one of the reasons I did pick Baylor is that it's a place that takes both religion and scholarship seriously. And I would like to continue that wherever I do happen to end up next.
Derek Smith:Well, that's great. Hey, you can, maybe not on your Vita, but on your LinkedIn page, you can link to this interview. You can let people get a sense of what you're all about. But I appreciate you taking the time today.
Michael Ryan:Oh, of course. And thank you for the opportunity.
Derek Smith:You as well, Kevin. Appreciate you sharing. It's kind of fun to have the student and mentor here together, that side of the conversation.
Kevin Dougherty:Fun indeed. Glad to be here, Derek.
Derek Smith:Really appreciate it. Dr. Kevin Dougherty, professor of sociology at Baylor and Michael Ryan, a doctoral candidate in sociology, our guests today on Baylor Connections. I'm Derek Smith. A reminder, you can hear this and other programs online at baylor.edu/connections, and you can subscribe to the program on iTunes. Thanks for joining us here on Baylor Connections.