Labor Studies Alumni Spotlight: Todd Jiajin Lu, Sociology PhD Candidate & Teaching Fellow at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill

by Guadalupe Guzman

1. Can you tell us more about your current position?

I am currently a PhD candidate at the Department of Sociology at UNC Chapel Hill. My research delves into social movements, race, and organized labor using methods in computational social science. I research the impacts of Black Lives Matter on media coverage of police killings of Black Americans. I am also developing a dissertation project on the impacts of worker center-labor union collaboration on revitalizing organized labor. As a Teaching Fellow at UNC Chapel Hill, I also teach undergraduate courses. Most recently, I have taught courses about the introduction to sociology and introduction to race and ethnicity in America. I also help co-organize the Computational Social Science Working Group at UNC Chapel Hill.

2. What made you want to join the labor studies program?

I joined the labor studies program because in my first semester at UCLA as a freshman, the labor unions representing university employees were well entrenched in a contract campaign with the UC administration. One of the things that struck me was that the unions not only bargained for wage increases, but also for the common good such as tuition relief for undergraduate students, gender-neutral bathroom in university facilities, and protections for workers of color and immigrant workers. I wanted to learn more about the prospects of the labor movement in pushing for a progressive movement.

3. What about the Labor Studies Minor had the most impact on you?

Definitely the faculty and staff advisors I met. All the people who I have met are very passionate about teaching and genuinely helping students pursue opportunities in pathways outside of just the classroom. The Labor Studies Minor has plugged me into many opportunities I would otherwise not have been exposed to, such as opportunities to work with labor unions as a researcher or an organizer.

4. During your time at UCLA, were you involved in any campus activities on campus or within your community?

At UCLA, I was involved as an organizer and a researcher in several different campaigns. The Labor Studies Minor plugged me with faculty advisors who helped create a research internship for me with the UC-AFT labor union representing librarians and lecturers in the UC System. There, I analyzed employment relations of lecturers across all UC campuses and presented reports to union leaders and staffers during their contract negotiations with the UC administration. As an organizer, I also became involved in student protests against proposed tuition increases and in a student-led environment campaign pressuring the UC system to divest its endowment from investing in fossil fuel companies. And what do you know — UC did not raise tuition and did eventually divest their endowments from fossil fuel companies!

5. Do you have any advice for graduating seniors?

Don’t be shy. You are all brilliant students and have amazing potential. Try to push yourself outside of your comfort zone and get to build a professional network of supportive people that you look up to working in industries and job sectors that you want to be in. It is a pleasant surprise for most people to meet with graduating seniors and undergraduate students who are interested in the work they do! You will learn early on that people genuinely want you to succeed and will plug you into opportunities — internships, fellowships, research opportunities, etc. — if you get to know them better. You should develop your skills in your coursework but try to also be active in applying what you learn outside of class.