Steven Zane is a doctoral candidate in criminology at Northeastern University. With a background in law, his research revolves around the intersection of the juvenile and criminal justice systems. During his time at Northeastern, he worked on the Cambridge-Somerville Youth Study (CSYS) and was named the Joan McCord Research Fellow, an award honoring the late professor who was a pioneer in the CSYS. Steven also received Northeastern’s Outstanding Graduate Award for Research in the Humanities, Social and Behavioral Sciences for his ability to conduct high-level research and make contributions to the scholarly literature in his field. He will be taking his academic pursuits to Florida State next year where he has been appointed assistant professor of criminology and criminal justice. Read the Q&A below to learn more about Steven’s time at Northeastern, his research, and his future plans.
What is your academic background and what are some of the factors that led you to come to Northeastern to pursue your PhD?
I studied philosophy and economics at the University of Puget Sound in Tacoma, Washington, then switched coasts to attend Boston College law school. While in law school I realized (or recalled from my undergraduate days) how much I enjoyed research and writing in my role as managing editor for a law review. So I knew that I wanted to pursue a research career, but had not quite decided how to go about doing so. I briefly practiced law at a litigation firm in Boston and decided to pursue a Ph.D. in Criminology and Criminal Justice at Northeastern, partly because my favorite topic in law school was criminal law.
“One of the most important experiences here has been working on the 70-year follow-up of the Cambridge-Somerville Youth Study (CSYS) with my academic advisor and dissertation chair, Professor Brandon C. Welsh.”
What is your research focused on? What findings have been able to pull from your research so far?
My research centers around four main, inter-related subject areas: juvenile justice system and juvenile transfer to adult court, racial disparities in juvenile and criminal justice processing, crime prevention and evidence-based social policy, and criminal law and punishment. My dissertation examines cumulative disadvantage and contextual variation in racial and ethnic disparities across multiple stages of juvenile justice system processing and multiple jurisdictions. Some of my findings elsewhere include that juveniles who are transferred to criminal court are not less likely to reoffend, and that the mechanism by which juveniles are transferred to criminal court (judicial, prosecutorial, or legislative) may influence sentencing outcomes.
What have been some particular highlights during your time at Northeastern?
One of the most important experiences here has been working on the 70-year follow-up of the Cambridge-Somerville Youth Study (CSYS) with my academic advisor and dissertation chair, Professor Brandon C. Welsh. The CSYS is the first delinquency prevention experiment, begun in 1939 by a medical doctor and Harvard professor named Richard C. Cabot. The program randomly assigned boys to a treatment condition that involved mentoring over a period of five years in childhood and early adolescence, and a 30-year follow-up by Joan McCord famously found that the program had harmed participants. Professor Welsh is now the study director and is conducting a follow-up of the entire life course of the treatment and control group men. It has been an incredible experience for a young researcher to participate in the project. It has also been an honor to be named the inaugural Joan McCord Doctoral Fellow for my work on the project.
What advice can you offer to someone who is considering pursuing a PhD at Northeastern?
Research is the name of the game, so it is important to pursue topics that genuinely interest you rather than topics that seem popular or strategic at any given time. Being passionate about what you do is more important than current trends or fads. And if you love what you do, it doesn’t feel like work! The next step is finding a faculty mentor to teach you the ropes. As with anything, you learn through experience, and this is what your mentor can provide. Professor Welsh was a large part of my decision to come to Northeastern, because we share some research interests and a passion for the work—and I knew that I could learn a lot by working with him.
We hear that you have an exciting opportunity at Florida State beginning in Fall 2018. What can you tell us about your position in Tallahassee and your future plans?
Yes, I am very excited about the opportunity to be joining FSU as an assistant professor in the College of Criminology and Criminal Justice. Based on my impressions visiting and interviewing, I think it will be a great fit because, like Northeastern, they have a culture that values the importance of research. I plan to continue the research started with my dissertation work, investigating racial and ethnic disparities in juvenile justice processing, and my work on the CSYS will continue with Professor Welsh. I will also be teaching substantive criminal law for my first semester, which I have taught for several years.