Doctoral Student Spotlight: Ben Miller
Louisville native, Ben Miller, received his MSW degree from Spalding University and started the UofL Kent School Doctoral program in Fall 2018. In this insightful interview with Ben, he discusses his research interests, future career goals, and more.
Ben, why did you decide to pursue the social work profession?
To begin, I think it’s important to acknowledge the privilege I have because I’m a white male. With that in view, I also have certain marginalized identities which have made me vulnerable to stigmatization. In my estimation, experiencing stigma underpinned my passion for social justice and helped me develop an affinity and empathy for the plight of folks who face their own unique social challenges. And, after years of taking on different career trajectories, I, thankfully, found my niche in the profession of social work, where I learned I could translate my passion for social justice into evidence-informed practice. To me, that was a major driving factor behind pursuing the social work profession – collaborating with folks to focus on solutions and taking concrete steps together to build a more just and equitable society.
Why did you choose the Kent School?
The Kent school was the perfect choice for me for several reasons: First, the Kent School is the only institution of higher learning offering a PhD in social work located in Metro Louisville, which is where I live. Its location to my home allowed me to pursue a doctoral degree in social work while continuing to act as an informal caregiver for several members of my immediate family who rely on my assistance on a daily basis. Second, the University of Louisville’s Research I status as well as Kent School of Social Work’s stellar reputation both nationally and locally for its social work program, with accolades being given it as the top social work program in the state of Kentucky, was a definite appeal. And, third, The Kent School offered an affordable tuition rate as well as assistantships and scholarships which helped me devote more of my time to my studies and less time worrying about how I was going to pay for a doctoral education.
What area of social work are you pursuing?
I am pursuing research in the area of social work related to sexual and gender minority (SGM) studies. Currently, my area of research focus concerns weight-based victimization (WBV) among sexual minority men, with a particular emphasis on the phenomenon among gay identified men. There have been very few empirical studies conducted about the topic, with research gaps pointing to the need for more information about the nature and extent of WBV among sexual minority men.
Where did you complete your practicum and are you currently working?
I completed my master’s social work practicum at Jewish Hospital in Louisville, KY under the supervision of Rabbi Dr. Nadia Siritsky, MSSW. There I met with patients residing on various units and engaged in informal counseling. I also gained experience regarding more macro level social work when I participated in nursing council and ethics committee meetings. Occasionally, I shadowed hospital social workers which exposed me to the types of duties they commonly engage in at that particular medical facility.
Currently, I am employed through the University of Louisville as a research assistant working on a research project under the direction of a distinguished university scholar and professor.
Can you tell us briefly about your research, dissertation and who is on your committee?
As previously mentioned, my area of dissertation research concerns the phenomenon of weight-based victimization (WBV) among sexual minority men, with a special emphasis on its manifestation among gay identified men within the mainstream gay male community. Briefly, WBV is a pervasive type of stigmatization throughout society and has many documented negative social and health impacts on those targeted. And, while not exclusive to the mainstream gay male community, the little research there is on the topic suggests that WBV is more intensely manifest there, placing sexual minority men at an increased risk for disproportionately experiencing the negative impacts associated with this type of stigmatization. In light of that, more research might yield valuable insight about this inequity and help inform future research directions and evidence-based interventions.
Serving on my dissertation committee are: Dr. Anita Barbee, PhD (Chair), Dr. Becky Antle, PhD, Dr. Cynthia Conley, PhD, and Dean David Jenkins, PhD.
What professional interests would you like to pursue in the future after graduation?
I would like to obtain employment as an associate professor at a research I university where I can teach as well as continue researching about weight-based victimization (WBV) among sexual and gender minority populations (SGM). Specifically, I would love the opportunity to research about and collaboratively formulate evidence-based interventions with community members meant to counter the inequity of WBV among SGM.
Do you have any advice for students considering a doctoral education in social work?
Most definitely. First, get to know your cohort members and stay in contact with them. They can be the greatest system of support available to you as a doctoral student. They understand what you’re going through because they’re there alongside you on the same journey. Sometimes processing through things with your cohort members can be a great stress reliever and help gain renewed confidence in the face of, sometimes, intense stress. Knowing you can reach out to someone who is educationally going through what you are is, truly, priceless. Second, manage your time well. Don’t put off working on weekends (emphasis added). Definitely don’t put off tomorrow what you can do just as well as the day after tomorrow. A doctoral education will challenge your ability to meet deadlines, take in harsh, but constructive, criticism, and push your critical thinking skills to new levels. And, while working consistently and hard is essential, be sure also to balance out with rest and whatever you need to do to keep yourself recharged in the face of continual demands on your mental resources. Third, and perhaps most importantly, don’t underestimate your ability to persevere under intense pressure and comprehend difficult material. If you don’t understand something, don’t be afraid to say so and keep inquiring and studying until you do. Over and above that, keep in mind that doctoral school will cause you to grow personally even if you thought you were done doing that long ago. Sometimes, the growth might feel uncomfortable when grappling with new material and environments, but persist and you will emerge smarter and more resilient than ever before.