Q&A with CHEPS Research Associate

SaffordSamuel Safford has worked as a research assistant with the Center for Health Economics and Policy Studies (CHEPS) since 2019 and earned a master’s degree in economics in May 2020. This year, they were accepted into the Ph.D. program in sociology at Michigan State University.

Can you describe a little bit about yourself and what led you to pursue a Ph.D. in sociology?

I majored in economics in undergrad and fell in love with analyzing real-world social problems through the context of human behavior and interactions. My own personal experiences and those of my peers growing up drove me to question the unseen consequences of inequality and social stigmas. I knew that I wanted to learn how to combat the systemic issues that society has struggled with for generations, and all my courses in the social sciences offered ways to begin to find answers.

When did you decide to pursue a Ph.D., and what did that process entail?

I decided to pursue graduate studies to set myself up to pursue a career in research. While SDSU’s economics master’s program is one of the best for preparing students to apply to Ph.D.s in the field, I found myself drawn to the research questions and methodology found in sociology and demography. As a queer person, I knew that I wanted to study issues that my fellow queer individuals face and was lucky to be able to transition fields and be accepted at a Ph.D. program with faculty who research similar topics.

When did you receive your Ph.D. program acceptance?

I had just returned from a walk with my dad and knew that I had to finish some work before a meeting. When I opened my email to check for the Zoom link, my offer of admission was in my inbox. I was ecstatic, and immediately called my mentor Dr. Joseph Sabia, who’s been instrumental in my growth as a researcher and was one of my letter of recommendation writers. I ended up going to my meeting a bit late, and couldn’t stop telling all of my coworkers, friends, and family.

What advice do you have for fellow students, regardless of their field, looking to attend graduate school or earn a Ph.D. after graduation?

Make friends with your peers. Go to office hours. Network with faculty in your field, especially with those whose research interests align with your own, even if it’s only tangentially. Graduate school is difficult, and honestly, it’s nearly impossible to get through without a solid group of supporters and cheerleaders. Those relationships will end up paying off in the long run in the form of life-long friendships and amazing collaborators and co-authors.

What is it that you are most looking forward to as you kick start this next chapter?

While I am definitely a Californian through and through, I’m excited to explore new places and meet new people. Michigan is a gorgeous state, and Michigan State University is an amazing school with a huge network of faculty across departments who conduct research on important issues that we face in our day-to-day lives.

How did SDSU prepare you for success not only at the university but after graduation?

SDSU’s commitment to transforming into a premier research university is paying off in dividends. Not only due to the funding that it attracts, but also due to the amazing new generation of faculty that have joined us because of it. The College of Arts and Letters has been especially supportive as Dr. Sabia has built the Center for Health Economics & Policy Studies (CHEPS) from the ground up, and without him and CHEPS, I definitely wouldn’t be heading off to a Ph.D.! Or at least not as well prepared as I am now.

What experience at SDSU has changed your life the most?

The most valuable experience I had as a graduate student at SDSU was participating in the CHEPS seminar series. Every semester we had a lineup of amazing faculty from all over the country who studied topics in a variety of sub-disciplines across economics and public policy. The chance to meet with and watch each speaker present new research weekly is something that a lot of graduate students in Ph.D. programs don’t get to enjoy. My interactions with a number of speakers were pivotal in the decision-making process to pursue further graduate studies.