Jennifer Reich is Professor of Sociology at the University of Colorado, Denver. Her research examines how individuals and families weigh information related to healthcare. In particular, she examined how parents come to reject vaccines for their children in Calling the Shots: Why Parents Reject Vaccines.

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As a Kid, What Did You Want to Be When You Grew Up?

I’ve always wanted to be a teacher, from the time I took attendance among my rows of stuffed animals in elementary school to the high school program that sent me to the neighboring elementary school to help kids read. I didn’t imagine I could be a professor, or even know how someone could become one, but here I am. I still love teaching—now with undergraduates, graduate students, and even junior colleagues. I just never imagined how much I would also love research.

What Was the Biggest Turning Point in Your Life?

When I was 22 years old and newly graduated from college, I met a friend in Greece to travel for the summer. Before cell phones and the internet, I learned how to be self-sufficient in new ways. A few twists and turns in the proverbial road led me through Turkey and eventually to Hungary where my father was born but had left in 1956 because of political upheaval. I ended up staying in Budapest for most of a year, learning my way through the city and the language. I gained a new understanding of my family and the odd immigrant traditions they had kept alive. I also learned that I was more resourceful than I knew and more capable than I had imagined.

 

What Are Three Facts About You That Are Completely Unrelated to the Subject of Your Talk?

    Who has time for hobbies? I got tired of not having a good answer to this question, so I found a couple:

    1. I re-learned to crochet after forgetting most of what my grandmother had tried to teach me. While I’m still not great, I can make a few things, usually in time for the arrival of friends’ new babies.
    2. After earning tenure, I realized that my future might involve working all the time at a desk or occasionally at a coffee shop. So I got up and got certified to teach Jazzercise, which keeps me grounded, connected to amazing people who I might not otherwise know, and dancing at least a couple days a week.
    3. Even still, my three kids and my research remain my favorite hobbies.

    Who Are Three People, Living or Dead, That Inspire You the Most?

    There are so many young people who are speaking up about injustice with confidence I cannot imagine having at their age. Some have national or global acclaim, like Greta Thunberg, the students from Marjory Stoneman Douglas High in Parkland, Fla., or Jazz Jennings. But I meet young people in Denver every day who are doing amazing things. Collectively, they make me feel so much better about the future.

    What’s Your Favorite TED or TEDx Talk?

    The first TEDx talk that had a big impact on me was given by sociologist Georgiann Davis at the University of Nevada Las Vegas. I didn’t know Georgian well then, but I was struck by her bravery in disclosing personal information about her own experiences with intersex, her relationships, her research, and her ability to weave humor with her powerful voice. “This Girl Has Balls” was informative but also made me realize how being honest and vulnerable can transform audiences.

    What’s a Piece of Advice That You Live By or That You Give Other People Constantly?

    Success is the best revenge. 

    What’s the Biggest Challenge You Face in Your Day-To-Day Work?

    I love my job in part because it has so many interesting and different parts, such as research, teaching, outreach and community engagement, program development, and mentoring. It’s a challenge to figure out how to move between these different parts and how to balance all of them when each comes with their own deadlines, demands, and people who need something from me.

    As I get older and more experienced, I am getting better at communicating more clearly, keeping better lists, and letting go of the days where I didn’t get to everything so I can rest up for the next day. 

    Name One Thing We Aren’t Spending Enough Time Thinking About as a Society. What Would Be a Good First Step?

    Most of our amazing community resources came from times of optimism when we could work together to build infrastructures to benefit us all for generations to come. National parks. Social security. Sanitation departments. Museums. I hope we can, again, become a country or community who protects collective resources and imagines how to create new ones for the future. 

    If You Could Achieve One Goal in the Next Year What Would It Be?

    Just one?

    What Action Can the TedxMileHigh Community Take to Support Your Big Idea? 

    We can all do more to offer less unsolicited advice and more to encourage each other to be better in the ways we each define for ourselves. 

    We have become a society of people who seem committed to making perfect the enemy of good or good enough. We hold each other to high standards and too often express judgment instead of compassion.