Dr. Susan A. McDaniel came to the University of Lethbridge in mid-2009 to become Prentice Research Chair, Director of the Prentice Institute in Global Population and Economy, and Professor of Sociology (with tenure). She is a sociologist/ social demographer with active interests in social policy. Her research is on life course, demographic aging, generational relations, family change and the social impacts of technology. She is a Fellow of the Royal Society of Canada (the highest honour Canada bestows for academic achievement and excellence) and the recipient of many research and teaching awards. In 2002, she was awarded the University Cup by the University of Alberta for a long-standing record of excellence in both research and teaching. She is the author of eight books and research monographs (with 4 more in progress), over 180 research articles and book chapters, is a frequent keynote speaker at national and international conferences. She is an advisor to governments in Canada, the UK and the EU on social statistics, social policies, and science/technology and innovation policies and official data collection. She has been Professor of Sociology at the Universities of Alberta, and Waterloo, and Windsor, and was 2007-09, Senior Scholar, Institute of Public and International Affairs, and Professor of Family and Consumer Studies, University of Utah. At the University of Alberta, she was awarded the lifetime honorific title, Distinguished University Professor.
She is Principal Investigator of a study of Inequalities in Canada and the U.S. in relation to later life health risks, and Co-Investigator on two research projects funded by the Social Sciences and Humanities Research Council of Canada on Social Engagement in Mid-Life (PI is Stephanie Gaudet, Université d’Ottawa), and on Intergenerational Poverty (PI is Amber Gazso, York University) and leads on the Executive Group the Strategic Knowledge Cluster on Population Change and Life Course, also funded by SSHRC ($2.1milCAN), as well as on research funded by Human Resources and Social Development Canada on Life Course as Policy Lens (with Paul Bernard, Université de Montréal).
Dr. McDaniel has served as Editor of The Canadian Journal of Sociology, and the international journal, Current Sociology. She was Vice-President Publications of the International Sociological Association, and President of both the Canadian Sociology and Anthropology Association and the Canadian Population Society. She was elected Director of the Social Sciences Division of the Royal Society of Canada. She serves on the Editorial Boards of ten journals, including The British Journal of Sociology.
She has served on the National Statistics Council for 16 years, advising the federal government of Canada on the collection and analysis of all public data. And she serves as Vice-Chair of the Scientific Advisory Committee of the Canadian Council of Academies.
My first social science course in university was not in sociology but demography. I was then a maths major. I was quickly captivated by what I now know is the sociological imagination – the intersection and interaction of history, wider social forces and structures, with individual biography. Each is shaped by the other. In demography, the intersection is decidedly counter-intuitive. Let me illustrate with an example: Couples in the post World War II period did not rub their hands together saying, “Oh boy, let’s have larger numbers of children, so that down the line, policy-makers will be worried when they all get older at once.” It is clearly ridiculous at the individual or micro-level, yet the individual decisions of couples then collectively make a huge difference to our population age structure today and going forward. It is this counter-intuitive relation of individual actions to collective challenges and behaviours that fascinated me then and still does.
My research is in population change, life course, and family change across the globe. Clearly, this is a hot topic of strong public interest not only in Canada but around the world. I have been regularly in demand in policy circles and by the public and media. There is significant hunger for better understanding of population issues and changes.
I have been the recipient of many, many honours, the most recent being the first social scientist at the University of Lethbridge to be awarded a Tier 1 Canada Research Chair. Being elected a Fellow of the Royal Society of Canada in 1994 was a significant honour, particularly being inducted into the Royal Society at Rideau Hall by the Governor General of Canada. Another huge honour was being awarded the University Cup at the University of Alberta, the highest honour that University offers for significant contributions over a sustained period to both teaching and research. Perhaps the biggest honour I have ever received, and one I continue to receive, is the knowledge that my research has made, and is making, a difference to policy around the world. When I first made that discovery, it was a bit of a shock. We in research tend to think we work along talking with our peers (it is peer-review after all that gets our work into circulation in journals). And policy-making occurs behind the curtains, so an article, a talk, or a policy consultation based on research can have an effect not immediately visible. It is immensely gratifying to discover that one’s research has made and is making a difference in the world.
Students have always been fundamental to my research in several ways. I am a firm believer and practitioner of research walking and talking. It usually does that in a classroom where I share my research with eager students. Students have also asked crucial questions in classes and in discussions about course material, that push my research in new and exciting directions. My graduate students, many of whom are illustrious academics now, have been colleagues in the research venture. They not only are ‘trained’ as granting agencies characterize the process, but engage with the tough questions of research and in that way, the educational process goes both ways. I have learned greatly from students.
Research is so desperately needed in this crazy world, possibly social science research even more so, although in policy circles, it is not seen as valuable. Most of the most intractable problems facing humanity in the 21st century are human or social problems. We need more real knowledge and understanding of these social problems. So, my dream funding would elevate social sciences funding first to be comparable with medical/health funding and with funding for the sciences. I would then invest more, much more, in big picture research questions such as how many people can the earth support, how can we feed and provide quality of life to people now deprived, and how can we reduce conflict, war, abuse and deprivation?
Press releases from the Prentice Institute may be viewed here.