Teacher-Scholar Legacies: Robin Simon

By Catherine Harnois, Professor and Chair of the Department of Sociology

Professor Robin Simon was recruited to Wake Forest University’s Department of Sociology for her expertise in medical sociology in the spring of 2009. Since earning a Ph.D. at Indiana University in 1992, she had been a faculty member in sociology departments at Research-1 Universities (University of Iowa and Florida State University) and was intrigued by the prospect of moving to a liberal arts college. She was especially drawn to Wake Forest’s teacher-scholar model – which not only encourages but supports and rewards excellence in both teaching and scholarship – as well as its small class sizes. When Simon arrived on campus that fall, she was delighted to be part of a vibrant intellectual community of sociologists with outstanding undergraduates. Indeed, when asked what she enjoyed most about her time at Wake Forest University, she noted “the daily interactions with departmental colleagues and our very smart, thoughtful, and socially engaged students.”  

Students heap great praise on Simon, both for her mastery of sociological knowledge, theory, and methods, as well as for her empathy and engagement. Simon has been described by her students as “an extremely enthusiastic professor who is attentive to each of her students” and as someone who “cares about not only teaching all of her students the academic material but also cares to instruct us on how to develop and use a framework to think critically on our own.” Another student reports, “Dr. Simon is one of the best professors I’ve had at Wake. She understands that we are humans outside the classroom, and she is there for us when we need extra help or guidance.”

Simon has, for decades, researched the ways in which macro-level social structures of work, family, and gender shape people’s identities, emotions, and mental health over the life course. Her scholarship has tackled some of the most pressing issues of our time, including the ways in which gender socialization and gendered work and familial roles structure the inner lives of men and women; the health consequences of marriage and parenthood; and the ways in which state-level family policies (or lack thereof) shape parents’ emotional well-being.  In so doing, her work challenges some of the most important cultural assumptions of our time – including the assumption that parents are happier than non-parents, that women are more emotional than men, and that females experience greater psychological distress than males. 

“Simon has been described by her students as 'an extremely enthusiastic professor who is attentive to each of her students' and as someone who 'cares about not only teaching all of her students the academic material but also cares to instruct us on how to develop and use a framework to think critically on our own.'” Catherine Harnois, Professor and Chair of the Department of Sociology

The significance of Simon’s contributions to the study of sociology is evidenced by her receipt of multiple national awards from the American Sociological Association (ASA), the Society for the Study of Social Problems, and the Southern Sociological Society. Her work has regularly appeared in the discipline’s most prestigious journals, such as American Journal of Sociology, Social Forces, and Journal of Health and Social Behavior. Her contributions to the discipline of sociology are also reflected in the numerous leadership positions she has held. She has, for example, served as the Chair of the ASA sections on both Emotion and Mental Health, and she has been awarded lifetime achievement awards in both subfields as well as for contributions to the sociological understanding of gender and society. She has also served on the editorial boards of the American Journal of Sociology, American Sociological Review, Journal of Health and Social Behavior, Society and Mental Health, and Social Psychology Quarterly, and she is an elected member of the Sociological Research Association. The impact of her research is considerable and she is an internationally recognized leader in the field.  

Although she formally retired from WFU at the start of 2021, Simon continues to be active in her professional associations; is in the process of completing a book manuscript on gender, emotions, and mental health; and still mentors students and junior faculty at Wake Forest and other universities.

“Dr. Simon is one of the best professors I’ve had at Wake. She understands that we are humans outside the classroom, and she is there for us when we need extra help or guidance.” Student of Robin Simon