Human beings are complicated decision-makers. They use their brains to seek and weigh information and consider options, but they also follow their hearts and go with their guts. Social scientists use terms like embodiment and subjectivity to recognize this complexity. We bring these and related conceptual tools to the study of pathways. Our researchers are sensitive to how people’s prior experiences, stores of cultural knowledge, and identities — as women or men, Black, white, Asian, or Latino, “kids” or “grownups” for examples — influence how they make sense of opportunities at school and work. Many pathways researchers attend to the importance and nuances of motivation in shaping how people confront education and work opportunities. Following rich strands of work in social psychology and feminist theory, they also recognize that emotions are a big part of how people make sense of choices, situations, organizations and one another.

As a research community, we work to complicate simple models of consideration and choice grounded in instrumental logic with more nuanced understandings how people navigate school and work as embodied persons.


undergraduate cohort study

How do students’ aspirations and choices evolve over the course of their undergraduate careers?

We are following eighty students pursuing their undergraduate careers at a private research university with a comprehensive curriculum. We interview participants each term to learn about their academic predilections and choices. The goal is to understand how students’ identities and adult aspirations co-evolve with their academic experiences.

sequences, forecasts, and navigation
identity, motivation, and emotion

STEM pathways

How do students' STEM pathways emerge?

This project investigates how students move through science, technology, engineering, and mathematics (STEM) majors and careers.


  • Marissa Thompson
  • Phillip Hernandez
  • Monique Harrison
  • Shima Salehi
identity, motivation, and emotion


From bat mitzvah to the bar: Religious habitus, self-concept, and women’s educational outcomes

How religious commitment shapes educational progress across the early life course

American Sociological Review, 2022

Ilana M. Horwitz, Kaylee T. Matheny, Krystal Laryea, and Landon Schnabel

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Should I start at MATH 101? Content repetition as an academic strategy in elective curriculums

How do undergraduates make their first course decisions, and are these decisions fateful?

Sociology of Education, 2022

Monique H. Harrison, A. Philip Hernandez, and Mitchell L. Stevens

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Ambiguous credentials: How learners use and make sense of massively open online courses

What good is a MOOC?

Journal of Higher Education, 2021

Krystal Laryea, Kathy Mirzaei, Andreas Paepcke & Mitchell Stevens

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The confidence gap predicts the gender pay gap among STEM graduates

How is self-confidence related to the gender wage gap in STEM?

PNAS, 2020

Adina D. Sterling, Marissa E. Thompson, Shiya Wang, Abisola Kusimo, Shannon Gilmartin, and Sheri Sheppard

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