This article was edited by SPRITE+ Research Associate Dmitry Dereshev, with written responses and edits from Assistant Professor Joseph Hamm.
Today the spotlight is on Joseph Hamm – Assistant Professor in the School of Criminal Justice and Environmental Science and Policy Program at Michigan State University (MSU), and a SPRITE+ Expert Fellow. Some of Joseph's latest publications include:
How would you describe your job to a 12-year-old?
I study trust. I help scientists and people in authority understand what trust is to help them better monitor, build, and restore the trust that people feel in them. Most of my work focuses on surveys of the general public where I ask them how they feel about parts of government, but I also work with the government to help them understand how their actions are likely to impact trust.
Could you describe what you do during a typical workday?
My favourite parts of the job are writing or talking about trust research with faculty, students, and people in government roles. My writing usually takes the form of academic articles. I teach a graduate course and I am building an undergraduate course on trust. I also run an interdisciplinary research lab that is currently made up of 6 graduate students from 3 different departments at MSU who are working on trust in contexts like the state courts, higher education, and the military. Together, those efforts take up the majority of my time, but I also work with a number of governance organizations to help them more effectively and efficiently do their job.
Could you describe a challenging/interesting project that you’ve recently worked on?
A student of mine and I are trying to understand how moving dispute resolution processes online change how people think about courts. We started the project before the pandemic but now the courts are all moving very quickly to do as much as possible online. There are models and some research they are able to build on, but my student and I are working to help them monitor their efforts and especially to understand how they can best do their jobs.
What training/experience did you have at the start of your career?
I started my PhD (at the University of Nebraska-Lincoln) working on jury decision-making but was assigned to a project looking at trust and public engagement around municipal budgeting in Lincoln, Nebraska. One of the things we wanted to understand was how the process impacted (or did not impact) trust. I fell in love with the construct and have been doing this work ever since.
How did you get into your current role?
Like many people, I started on my path in graduate school, in large part without knowing quite where I was going. My program was a joint PhD in Psychology and Master of Legal Studies, which focused on social psychology applied to the legal system, but my assistantship placed me at the University of Nebraska Public Policy Center and I also completed an NSF traineeship in Resilience Theory and Adaptive Management in stressed watersheds. That combination of psychology, law, policy, and natural resources was an unusual one, but it set me up perfectly for my current position.
What do you wish you'd known when you started your career?
The importance of engaging actively with a good mentor. I have always had great mentors around me, but I wasted a lot of time being passive.
What would you recommend to people who want to follow in your footsteps?
Find an element of your interests that you love and build your career around it. You will not always love all of the pieces of your work, but if you can always get back to a core that is familiar, it makes a world of difference.
What troubles did you have progressing through your career?
When I started at MSU, I targeted a specific funding agency that I wanted to be known and funded by early in my career. It took 6 years, 10 proposals, serving as a reviewer on 3 panels, and a bunch of conversations with program officers, but I've finally landed one.
How would you describe your research in relation to SPRITE+?
The digital world is changing rapidly and with it the vulnerabilities that we all feel to each other. Governance organizations are expected to make decisions that address that vulnerability, but they cannot do that well unless they understand how people see them. Trust research provides a lens through which to evaluate those vulnerability assessments and a way to address them.
How do you hope to benefit from working with SPRITE+ network?
SPRITE+ has been great for making me think about the questions I care about in new ways. The program’s focus on connecting people working in similar areas also has great potential to help me build out my network, especially in the UK.
Which of the SPRITE+ Challenge Themes can you relate to from the job role that you do? How does it impact your role?
Digital vulnerabilities. Trust is all about being willing to accept vulnerability and increasing trust is about understanding and then appropriately managing the vulnerabilities people feel. Integrating assessments of vulnerability into how we traditionally think about trust and its antecedents is a primary focus of my current work.