People: Spotlight

Monica King
GGD Alumni

Monica King is a recent graduate with a PhD in Demography and Master in Statistics. She is now working at Penn’s School of Social Policy and Practice as director of the Administrative Data Research Facilities (ADRF) Network. When we spoke she was in the final stages of finishing her Dissertation. Below are answers to our some of our questions about her experience at Penn.

How did you discover Demography as a field of study?

I discovered the field of demography at Rice University, where I was studying sociology as an undergrad. Steve Murdoch, the former Director of the US Census Bureau, was my professor in an Introduction to Demography class. I found demography so interesting because it paired together my curiosity about people and my understanding of the world through numbers. I was impressed by the breadth of data that the Census Bureau had on people and businesses in the U.S. and how demographers can leverage all that information to inform policy and address issues of inequality. 

Tell us a little bit about why you chose Penn.

I was deciding between PhD programs in sociology and the Demography PhD at Penn. While it didn’t feel like an easy decision at the time, I’m so glad I chose to Penn. I liked that it is a very focused and lean program. The curriculum and milestones are designed so that most students can graduate in four years. At the same time, the program also gave me the flexibility to pursue other academic interests on my own such as learning to code in R and getting my Masters in Statistics through Wharton. 

I was also drawn to the faculty in demography, who are both amazing researchers and mentors. Michel Guillot, my dissertation committee chair, is currently on sabbatical in Paris. Despite the distance and time difference, Michel has made himself very accessible. We Skype almost every week!


"As a demographer, it's really interesting to put together your own experiences with the trends that you read about and the theories that you study." - Monica King


Can you talk about your experience publishing your dissertation research?

Yes! In my third year of the program, I was fortunate to publish one of my dissertation chapters in Social Science & Medicine. I almost didn’t want to submit there because I thought my paper on motor vehicle fatalities would not appeal to the broader audience that read the top-rated journals. But Michel encouraged me to aim higher and submit there. Sometimes when you're really close to the research, it's hard to see the value to the larger scientific community. I’m grateful to Michel for reminding me of how my research connected to something bigger.

In terms of the process, I worked through a daunting list of revisions with the guidance of Michel, Irma, and other faculty in the PSC. They helped me strategize about how to position my work and respond to reviewers. 

Can you talk about your experience on the job market?

I was looking at jobs outside of the traditional academic path. What struck me the most about the job market is that I had spent so much time thinking about my value proposition as a demographer and how it would translate to a non-academic job. But while interviewing I found that no one asked me why my PhD or demography is relevant – they just assumed that it would be valuable. Actually one of my interviewers was telling me how much he loved demographers because we are great story tellers. And if you think about it, one thing that sets us apart from other quantitative fields is that we are trained to gain a combination of analytical skills and the ability to tell a story with the data. And that’s what’s really valuable. Demographers know the context of the numbers, how it's changing, where it came from, and why it's important. We know the implications of our work and we can articulate it, and that’s a timeless skill.

Regardless of what career path students from this program take, I would definitely say there is a market for demographers in research, academic, and non-academic fields. 

Can you talk about your experience living and working in Philadelphia?

Philly is one of the main reasons I chose Penn for grad school. I wanted to live in a big city and be able to take advantage of big city amenities outside of grad school. I love the arts and food scene, and Philly makes it so easy to indulge in both. 

Another thing that makes Philly unique is that while it is a big city, it feels like you’re living in a small town at times because each neighborhood is so different and tight-knit. There’s going to be a real sense of community no matter what neighborhood you live in, and that’s something I really value about living here.

Philly, like many other big cities, is also going through huge demographic changes. For example, the city is retaining more young people than ever before. I happen to live in a neighborhood that epitomizes these changes, for better or worse. As a demographer, it's really interesting to put together your own experiences with the trends that you read about and the theories that you study.