New Faculty Spotlight: Jen-Hao Chen

By Tom McLaughlin

Jen-Hao Chen, an assistant professor in the Department of Sociology, Anthropology, and Criminal Justice, arrives at Rutgers University–Camden as a Henry Rutgers Chair, a post awarded to outstanding faculty entering the middle phase of their careers.

A resident of Hamilton Township in Mercer County, Chen formerly served as an assistant professor in the Department of Sociology and Criminology at Howard University and the Department of Health Sciences at University of Missouri–Columbia. He earned a bachelor’s degree in physics from National Central University and a doctorate in public policy and sociology from the University of Chicago.

Chen focuses his research on understanding how health is affected by social relationships and social status.

We checked in with Chen to learn a little bit about his research and teaching interests.

As I understand it, you are a medical sociologist. What does that entail?

I am a medical sociologist whose research focuses on how health is affected by two main factors: social relationships – how people connect to one another, and the different types of relationships that people have – and social status, dictated by their gender, race, and socioeconomic status.

What are you currently researching?

Right now, I am connecting these two lines of research together in a study that is looking at how one’s health, particularly healthy time use, can be affected by a partner’s education and socioeconomic status.

When you think about people’s nonworking time use, it can be broken into two categories: healthy time use, which is time spent promoting one’s health, such as doing exercise, sleeping or taking a nap, or preparing healthy foods; and time that does not promote one’s health, such as watching TV.

We all know that our own individual status and education affects one’s use of their time, but we don’t yet know what those correlations are based on the context of a relationship.

How do you decide what you wish to study?

I always think about how we live in the social world, which is why I think that social relationships and status are so important and can be influential to our health behaviors and outcomes. That motivates my research, as well as my teaching.

Chen hopes that his students gain a basic understanding of modern health sciences and the U.S. health system, which will be very useful in their future career as healthcare professionals.

What classes do you teach and what do you hope that students get out of taking your classes?

I teach “Introduction to Health Sciences,” a required course for health science majors. I hope that my students gain a basic foundation of modern health sciences, the U.S. health system, and the ways in which social participation, relationship, and status affect individual health. This foundation will be very useful in their future career as healthcare professionals.

How will this understanding benefit them in their future careers?

No matter what kinds of careers my students choose to enter, whether it’s being a physician, nurse, occupational therapist, or social worker, they will be a part of the U.S. healthcare system, and will need to be familiar with how it is structured and operates.

In addition, as our populations become more and more diverse, these students will work with clients and patients from different social backgrounds and positions, and understanding these factors will be critical to providing the best care possible. It’s much more than just providing the proper medication.

What do you think about the Rutgers–Camden campus so far?

I really love the smart room technology that is available in my classroom, which allows me to incorporate many different digital tools into my teaching. This technology is very easy to use and can offer a very powerful complement to my classroom instruction.

What do you love most about teaching at Rutgers–Camden?

I especially love Rutgers–Camden’s commitment to making education accessible to students from disadvantaged and underrepresented communities, as well as students who work fulltime and need to balance their studies with working fulltime and other responsibilities. I look forward to my role in providing a high-quality education to Rutgers–Camden students.

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