“Finding My True Passion”, Dr. Justin Denney, Sociology

I was interested in sociology, I wasn’t sure what to do with it, and so that’s sort of my story in a nutshell—following my interests to today. But I knew that I was interested enough to pursue sociology beyond the undergraduate degree and so I decided to go to graduate school and, like a lot of sociology undergraduate majors, I was intrigued by the discipline because of issues that would fall more closely to criminology. It hooks in a lot of students. Crime is sort of a sexy topic. Why does it occur, why does it continue to occur, there’s a number of things you can talk about and think about in terms of criminology, so I think that’s what originally hooked in a lot of my interests, but in graduate school I found my true passion within sociology, and that is the study of social determinants of health and mortality. So once I had that moment where I thought, this is not only something that fascinates me now and has likely fascinated me my entire life—how these things we have been talking about influence health and mortality—but it’s something I would like to make a career out of studying, teaching, and talking about. So I had that realization very early on in graduate school and I think that probably was the moment that I realized that it was something that I could do that I was extremely interested in and wanted to talk more about and wanted to be that skeptic and talk to people about and do research that revealed sort of these underlying causes of our health and mortality, that we often speak of health and mortality as a very individualistic thing. The biomedical model is to treat the disease and treat the condition, and that’s extremely relevant to how well and to how long we live, but the work that I do tries to uncover those social elements that come before those physiological and biological processes that actually cause us to be in ill health and to die. It turns out that these social conditions precede all of that and that’s something that I’m extremely passionate about, and it addresses my interests in inequality, and it addresses my interests in these general sociological phenomenon.