A Year Later: 3 Gerontology PhDs Talk About Their Professional Lives After Graduation

One year ago, the Gerontology Institute blog brought together three newly minted UMass Boston PhDs to talk about their dissertation experiences. They discussed everything from original dissertation designs to the eventual defense of their work.

The blog recently reached out again to all three – Wendy Wang, Jane Tavares and Ian Livingstone – to ask them about their professional experience in the year following graduation. What happened after they received their degrees and how do they view their careers now? Here’s what they had to say in response to our questions:

Q: What are you doing now and how did you come to that work?

Wendy Wang: I am working full time as a post-doctoral researcher in the gerontology department at UMass Boston with Dr. Elizabeth Dugan. I used to work as Dr. Dugan’s research assistant on projects such as the Healthy Aging Data Report, dementia-friendly Massachusetts, and a scan of transportation services available to older adults in Massachusetts. At the time of my graduation, I was lucky enough that Dr. Dugan offered me a post-doc position to continue working with her on these projects.

Jane Tavares: I have remained connected to the UMB Gerontology Program and, based on my prior research experience, was approached about job opportunities at UMB. I am currently a research fellow in the Gerontology Institute, working for the LeadingAge LTSS Center. I am also teaching courses as an adjunct in the Management of Aging Services program in the Gerontology Department.

Ian Livingstone: I am working as a Research Public Health Analyst at RTI International assisting in the development and maintenance of quality measure in post-acute and long-term care settings. I started as a research analyst contractor after my second year of coursework and have been with the company since. Since defending my dissertation and graduating I have transitioned to a full-time role where I split my time between the quality measure work and an ASPE (Office of the Assistant Secretary for Planning and Evaluation) funded project examining the financial impact of minimum wage increases on the nursing home industry. Continue reading

Institute Research Team Gets Funding for Healthy Aging Reports Covering Rhode Island, Connecticut

Healthy Aging NH

UMass Boston gerontology PhD student Haowei Wang shared New Hampshire Healthy Aging data with N.H. state Rep. James MacKay at a legislative breakfast in April.

A UMass Boston research team that recently published comprehensive reports on the health of older adults living in Massachusetts and New Hampshire has received new funding to produce similar studies covering two additional New England states.

The team at the McCormack Graduate School’s Gerontology Institute received grants of $448,000 from the Tufts Health Plan Foundation to support healthy aging data reports for Rhode Island and Connecticut. Tufts had funded the earlier healthy aging state reports as well.

Research for the new reports began this month and is expected to be complete by April 2021. The team will be updating a previous Rhode Island report it published in 2016. The Connecticut research will become the basis of that state’s first healthy aging data report. Continue reading

Academic Life: The Education of a First-Year Gerontology PhD Student

This is the final post in a series of stories about the academic experiences of a first-year UMass Boston gerontology PhD student.

By Caitlin Connelly

It happened in the blink of an eye.

My first year as a gerontology PhD student at UMass Boston is finished and it really did go by faster than I could have imagined. Those two semesters have been a great experience, but they were also filled with their fair share of highs and lows.

A few low periods revolved around panic over the amount of work that had to be crammed into what seemed like an impossibly short amount of time. But they were offset by many high points, like the opportunity to attend the Gerontological Society of America conference – something I have wanted to do for years! I went to presentations by scholars from around the globe and realized that they were talking about the theories and using statistics that I had been learning in my classes. It was such a neat opportunity that confirmed my choice to pursue further education in the field of gerontology. Continue reading

Gerontology PhD Candidate Natalie Pitheckoff Examines Bonds Between Older Adults and Animals

Natalie Pitheckoff with her rabbits

Natalie Pitheckoff with her rabbits, left to right, Gizmo, Sir Ziggy and Madame Bushwick

Call it the Domino effect.

Natalie Pitheckoff, a gerontology PhD candidate at UMass Boston, has spent years observing and studying the impact of pets on older adults, particularly those with Alzheimer’s or other dementias. Her proposed PhD dissertation  involves analyzing the policies and practices of nursing homes when it comes to human-animal interactions.

Pitheckoff was recently awarded a dissertation grant to support her work from the UCLA Law School’s Animal Law and Policy Small Grants Program. The program is funded by Bob Barker, the retired television game show host and long-time animal rights supporter. Continue reading

Institute Talk: A Conversation About Retirement Insecurity with Katherine Newman

Katherine Newman, the interim chancellor of the University of Massachusetts Boston, has devoted much of her career to documenting conditions facing poor and working-class Americans. Her new book, Downhill From Here, Retirement Insecurity in the Age of Inequality, examines the perilous state of retirement in the United States. Gerontology Institute Director Len Fishman recently talked with Newman about the dangers facing the pension system, Social Security and other forms of economic support for Americans as they grow older. The following is an edited version of their conversation.

 Len Fishman: Your book reads in part like a post-mortem of the defined benefit pension system. Defined benefits provide a fixed pre-established benefit for employees at retirement, usually based on length of service and salary. They hit their high-water mark in 1980 and then plummeted. What happened?

Katherine Newman: Union density began to decline sharply at the same point. The defined benefit pension system is very much a creature of the collective bargaining power of unions. That’s why defined benefit systems tended to exist mainly where there were unionized workers. And as union density slipped — in part because of deregulation and industry competition – the strength behind the defined benefits began to shrink. Today, a very small minority of Americans have what we would call true pensions – 401(k) plans are definitely not pensions in terms of security and employer responsibility for investment. Continue reading

UMass Boston Gerontology PhD Alum Elizabeth Chen Named State Secretary of Elder Affairs

Elizabeth Chen came to the field of public health later in life. She’s been making up for lost time ever since.

Chen, who had been the chief executive of two companies and a leader in higher education, came to the University of Massachusetts Boston in 2012 as a gerontology PhD student at the McCormack Graduate School. She received her degree in 2016, completing the program faster than any student in UMass Boston history.

Now Chen is about to lead the Massachusetts Executive Office of Elder Affairs. Last week, Gov. Charlie Baker named Chen to succeed Alice Bonner as the next Elder Affairs secretary. She officially starts her new job June 3.

“We welcome the expertise and knowledge that Dr. Chen will bring to Elder Affairs as the new secretary and look forward to the hard work she will do to build on the progress achieved under [Bonner] that made Massachusetts an age friendly state,” Baker said. Continue reading

Gerontology Institute Research Team Completes Report on Healthy Aging in New Hampshire

Mass. Heatlhy Aging Team

The Healthy Aging team, left to right: Wendy Wang PhD, Bon Kim, Nina Silverstein PhD, Jay Lee PhD, Sae Hwang Han, Shiva Prisad, Frank Porell PhD, Haowei Wang, Beth Dugan PhD. Team members not in photo: Natalie Pitheckoff and Evan Chunga.

A research team from the University of Massachusetts Boston has delivered a comprehensive new report on the health of older people in New Hampshire, along with detailed profiles of 244 communities in their state.

The first-ever New Hampshire Healthy Aging Data Report was prepared by researchers at the McCormack Graduate School’s Gerontology Institute, led by associate professor Beth Dugan. The report, funded by the Tufts Health Plan Foundation, was released April 2 at a legislative breakfast at the New Hampshire statehouse.

“We are all aging,” said Dugan. “Identifying and understanding the gaps in healthy aging will allow communities to continue to adapt, improving quality of life for all New Hampshire residents.” Continue reading

Gerontology Institute Adds 12 New Fellows Offering Wide Range of Academic Expertise

The McCormack Graduate School’s Gerontology Institute has welcomed 10 new fellows, all from the UMass Boston campus, who bring additional expertise in nursing and health sciences, public policy, sociology and economics to the organization.

“This move formalizes our collaboration with these individuals, which has been going on for a while,” said institute Director Len Fishman. “The overall growth in fellows reflects our growing research portfolio and the multidisciplinary nature of gerontology.”

The institute’s newest fellows also come from UMass Boston’s College of Nursing and Health Sciences, College of Liberal Arts, the Center for Women in Politics and Public Policy within the McCormack Graduate School and the Institute for Community Inclusion. Continue reading

In the Depths of Winter, a First-Year Gerontology PhD Student Starts Planning For Summer

This is another in an occasional series of stories about the academic experiences of a first-year UMass Boston gerontology PhD student.

By Caitlin Connelly

One semester down, many more to go. Looking ahead, I need to make an important decision about the best way to spend my summer. This is a question that students are faced with throughout their academic career.

There are many options rattling around in my mind and the choice between them feels hazy. Like most students, I have lots of interests and concerns that pull me in different directions. Do I follow my wanderlust and spend time traveling or do I help plant my roots here in Boston? I would like to gain research experience but how do I go about doing that? Should I spend time productively or give myself a little break after a strenuous academic year? How do I continue paying my bills? Are workshops and conferences worth the investment of money and time?

I reached out to some faculty and more experienced students to ask them for advice about how to determine a path I should take. Continue reading

Through UMass Gerontology program, Advocate for Rhode Island Seniors Finds Her Voice

By Taryn Hojlo

Where can I get help?

Older adults and caretakers sometimes struggle with that question, unsure how to find aging services and other kinds of assistance they need. Deborah Burton realized there was a thriving demand for those services but information about them in her home state of Rhode Island did not exist in any centralized resource that was easy to find and use.

Burton, a 2013 graduate of UMass Boston Gerontology’s Management of Aging Services program, was a long-term care ombudsman and founder of Senior Choice Consulting. In her professional roles, she developed extensive knowledge of the resources available to her state’s senior community. Burton often met with clients who no longer lived in their homes but could have remained there if they had been connected with the appropriate services. “That really weighed on my heart,” she said.

“I was hearing over and over again that the state needed a comprehensive website to get this information out there. I had all this information, and in good conscience I couldn’t sit on it and let people suffer,” said Burton.

So Burton developed her own website, a place to publicize every statewide and national resource that she knew about online. Together with Englund Studios, Deborah designed a site that offered straightforward guidance on an easy-to-use, open access platform. By October 2016, RIElderInfo.com went live and has been gaining popularity among both the public and professionals in the field. Continue reading