Battling U.S. violence from Europe

The Coronavirus pandemic may have halted many research efforts, but for the Graduate School’s 2019-2020 Dissertation Fellowship recipient, Anastasiia Timmer, her findings pressed forward.

As the Coronavirus pandemic progresses, remote learning has become the “new norm” for many students. This has presented unique challenges for those in hands-on learning or dedicated to research, as lab hours are limited or have ceased. Working remotely from Amsterdam for the time being, Graduate School Dissertation Fellowship recipient and sociology doctoral student, Anastasiia Timmer, did not let these new challenges or the federal European travel ban on foreign nationals deter her from completing her dissertation and other research projects, even though she has not been able to return to Miami. Anastasiia’s research interests lie at the intersection of criminology and medical sociology. She studies causes of violence and crime among vulnerable groups and how crime involvement, criminal justice contact, and various related stressors such as victimization affect mental health.

Taking advantage of her fellowship, Anastasiia has found ways to continue from abroad her dissertation on the causes of adolescent violence and crime. Anastasiia’s dissertation addresses how different individual, school, and neighborhood-level factors shape youth involvement in crime in the United States. She focuses on individuals between the ages of twelve to eighteen, as this is a vulnerable and impressionable stage in life. “Although there isn’t a vast selection of literature that focuses on looking at youth as “thinking actors,” it is important to address how decision-making of young people is linked to their criminal behavior while simultaneously positioning their decisions in important life domains such as schools, families, and neighborhoods,” Anastasiia explained. To be able to address these important topics, during quarantine, Anastasiia has dedicated her efforts to finalizing a unique dataset she had created by combining data from middle and high school students in several areas of the United States, the U.S. Census, and the National Center for Education Statistics.

During the final year of her Ph.D., Anastasiia was also awarded the highly competitive Doctoral Dissertation Improvement Grant, from the National Science Foundation. This award recognizes high-quality dissertations that are tremendously valuable for tackling pressing world issues, such as violence. “With the numerous school shootings that have been sadly presented in the media in recent years, along with interpersonal violence and other criminal acts in contemporary society, there have been calls to design more effective juvenile justice policies and programs.” Anastasiia believes that there is an urgent need to move away from the “scare tactic” of harsh punishments towards a “sociological imagination” strategy, which involves a more inclusive communication with youth and a better collaboration between researchers, educators, policymakers, and other stakeholders. Notably, Anastasiia, together with her colleagues, published some of her research findings using data on youth in a top-tier criminology journal Justice Quarterly. The article shows how the ability to think reflectively and deliberately can be easily compromised because of the abundance of emotions, stress, and other issues during adolescence, which in turn can lead to more criminal behaviors.

As her fellowship draws to a close, Anastasiia shares that she truly enjoyed her time and studies at the University of Miami. From watching her proposed project turn into reality, to being nominated for the Graduate School’s Student Exemplar award and becoming a co-winner of the Department of Sociology's Outstanding Graduate Student Award, Anastasiia is grateful for the opportunities she has found within the University. She emphasized the strong mentorship she has received and the supportive graduate student community she has been part of during her Ph.D. career. “I learned so much from my mentors and fellow graduate students, and not only about research. I learned about the importance of being able to always speak up, to not be afraid to share my standpoint, and to always fight for what’s right”. As she prepares to move forward with her career, she has chosen to continue her journey in academia. Anastasiia has accepted a tenure-track position starting in the Fall semester at California State University, Northridge, as an Assistant Professor in Criminology and Justice Studies. Anastasiia closes out by saying, “With the support of my advisor, my family and friends, and this fellowship, I can confidently continue to expand my research, teaching, and service to the community.”

Applications for the Graduate School’s 2020-2021 Dissertation Fellowship are open now, apply here.