Colin Hammar: Finding New Solutions and Opportunities in Public Policy

PhD Sociology, CLA '21

Colin Hammar is an alum from the College of Liberal Arts. Since earning a PhD in Sociology, Colin has been working as the Associate Director of Temple’s Public Policy Lab, an interdisciplinary community that connects scholars with similar public policy goals across the disciplines.

Can you provide a brief timeline of the events that lead you to Temple for grad school?

After my two-year master’s program in Applied Sociology that was focused on community organizing and community leadership, I decided I wanted to continue my education in a sociology PhD program with a research focus. Temple’s program stood out because there were faculty that I was interested in working with and the program was well-rounded in a way that I liked. It offered a focus in gender and sexuality, which I had been looking for, plus living in Philadelphia appealed to me for several reasons. I applied, was accepted, and attended a campus visit which sealed the deal.

Can you tell us a bit about your graduate work at Temple, and how it built upon and/or transformed your previous studies?

In my first couple years at Temple I was focused on finding a combination of my interests that fit my goals in Sociology. I did some work on data analysis in my core classes, and from there I started writing some cultural analysis papers. I became interested in demography, which questions how we measure and count things, through a course on immigration, and decided to apply it to my concentration in LGBTQ+ studies. My dissertation project explored the measurement issues around what it means to be LGBTQ+ and how we can collect data that will tell us whether state nondiscrimination policies make workplaces and the labor market more equitable for LGBTQ+ workers. Also during my PhD, my dissertation advisor had been tasked with setting up the new Public Policy Lab, and as a graduate research assistant I was able to contribute to the building of this public policy research center.

What have you been up to since graduating from Temple?

When my dissertation was finished, there was this great synergy that allowed me to transition my graduate student role into a full-time gig working in the Public Policy Lab and then research administration at the college. I’m now the associate director of the Public Policy Lab, an interdisciplinary academic environment that brings together different policy communities such as law makers, policymakers, and community advocates. We run a fellowship program with a workshop series in which students can present their work to one another, and we also run a number of publications, the biggest of which is the Lab Report, an annual magazine that brings together academics, policy makers, and advocates to discuss a central topic. The idea is that through these different avenues whether they be talks, panels, publications, or fellowship programs, we’re getting people together to discuss issues and find new solutions and new research opportunities around public policy.

What advice might you have for prospective graduate students in your field?

A lot of the advice you get when you enter a PhD program is to know from the outset what you want to do and where you want to go, and to have your research agenda conceptualized before you start. While I think that can be helpful, I also think it’s important to stay open to new directions and opportunities. I was very interested in gender and sexuality, and I knew the direction I wanted to go for the most part – but it really was taking a class on immigration that took me in a new direction, at least methodologically, that I wasn’t expecting and which shaped the trajectory of my dissertation work. Staying open to unplanned experiences can set you up for serendipitous encounters and opportunities.