Elizabeth Sowers spent just about every weekend as a young girl hanging out at her dad’s office while he caught up on paperwork. A trucking company executive for more than 40 years, the elder Sowers was adamant that his children steer clear of the transportation industry and attend college rather than follow in his tracks.

His daughter listened and went on to college where she developed an interest in globalization. But all of those years spent wandering around the loading dock and watching trucks roll by had already made an impression. By the time she got to graduate school at the University of Cambridge in the United Kingdom, Elizabeth found her passion in studying the link between globalization and the emerging logistics industry that moves goods all over the world, throughout the production process, and into consumers’ hands for consumption.

“It was easy for me to see how trucks and other forms of transportation played an important role in our contemporary global economy,” she says.

The topic guided her research through her master’s at Cambridge and as a graduate student in sociology at UCI. With logistics employment rapidly rising in the shadow of lost manufacturing employment, she’s interested in learning whether or not the former are “good” jobs, characterized by stability, solid wages, and positive working conditions or not.  

“Previous research suggests that the industry is characterized by a small number of highly paid positions and a host of ‘bad’ jobs that are contingent, low paid, without benefits, and characterized by poor working conditions,” she says.

She’ll be presenting some of her findings this summer at the American Sociological Association meeting. She’s published other work in the Sociology Compass and Logistics Spectrum – a trade publication – and co-authored a book with sociology professor Nina Bandelj on a sociological perspective of the economy and state.  

“Elizabeth quickly surpassed all my expectations and played a vital role in developing the book manuscript,” says Bandelj. “She absolutely earned to be added as a co-author. I have thoroughly enjoyed working with such a smart, conscientious, and resourceful young scholar, who, to top it all off, is also a remarkable person.”

Elizabeth considers co-authoring the book one of her biggest accomplishments while at UCI, along with receiving competitive funding awards including the 2012 Haynes-Lindley Dissertation grant and this year’s Social Sciences Dean’s Endowed Fellowship. Her work has previously been funded by the Social Sciences Associate Dean’s Fellowship, School of Social Sciences Merit Fellowship and awards from the Center for the Study of Democracy and Department of Sociology. In 2008, she was named the Outstanding Teaching Assistant by the Department of Sociology in recognition of her work with undergraduates at UCI.

“Elizabeth is brilliant, but also completely modest and unassuming,” says David Smith, sociology professor and Sowers’ advisor. “She truly cares about studying issues that matter, working on research that might make a difference, and figuring out ways to communicate plainly and widely with students and the general public. I find that all very refreshing!”

Sowers plans to complete requirements for her doctorate in 2013 and pursue a career as a professor.

“I had wonderful professors as an undergraduate and graduate student, and I would love to play that role for other young scholars,” she says. “I believe strongly in being of service to others, and I feel I can do that through my teaching.”

Sadly, Sowers’ father passed away in 2009, leaving a marked void.

“My dad was a constant conversation partner and resource for me throughout my education and research process,” she says.

“His work experience and all of the insight he shared with me were invaluable, and I’ve come to see that carrying forth with the research he and I both loved is a way to honor him and all of his years of hard work.”

-Heather Wuebker, Social Sciences Communications

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