Jennifer L. Nelson


I am assistant professor at the University of Illinois Urbana-Champaign in the Department of Education Policy, Organization, and Leadership, and the School of Labor and Employment Relations (by courtesy). Previously, I was an IES Postdoctoral Fellow at Vanderbilt University. I received my PhD in Sociology from Emory University. I study work and organizations from a sociological perspective — i.e., with a focus on structures of social inequality (by race, class, gender) and the organizational practices that generate them. I use ethnography and other field research methods to understand how these structures and practices in turn shape worker behavior, attitudes, and social interactions.

To date, my research focuses on teachers’ work processes and outcomes, especially interracial relations, coworker support, job satisfaction, and turnover. My dissertation project is a multi-site study that uncovers the role of principal practices in creating or hindering teachers’ social networks, and thereby also teachers’ access to workplace resources. My other research examines urban teachers’ job reward bundles as predictors of turnover, early childhood teachers’ identity strategies for safeguarding dignity at work, the role of organizational justice in predicting teacher trust, and determinants of state-level adoption of alternative teacher certification laws. At Vanderbilt, I worked with Jason Grissom on projects concerning gender pay gaps among principals and principal attitudes about their evaluation systems. Now at University of Illinois, I am continuing a vignette study of teachers that tests causality from some of my dissertation findings. My most recent project continues with my interest in organizational leadership and workplace social dynamics, examining these issues in a higher education setting where cascading organizational changes were taking place.

Prior to graduate school, I taught in a public, urban high school for three years, and have written for one state-wide and three campus newspapers.