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I am currently a Lead Social Science Research Analyst at the Office of Planning, Research, and Evaluation (OPRE) in the Administration for Children and Families, US Department of Health and Human Services. In this role, I manage collaborations with ACF program partners to enhance evidence capacity at the agency. These projects aim to increase the quality, availability, and use of data to improve the effectiveness, efficiency, and equity of human services programs. I completed my PhD in Sociology and Social Policy at Harvard University.

Prior to joining OPRE full time, I was a National Poverty  Center Postdoctoral Fellow.  The National Poverty Fellows program is an academic/government partnership between the Institute for Research on Poverty at University of Wisconsin-Madison and HHS.


In my dissertation, I sought to better understand the postsecondary educational experiences of young women balancing the demands of family, work and school in search of a college credential. I used longitudinal data from The Resilience in Survivors of Katrina (RISK) Project, which began as a randomized experiment with performance-based scholarships for low-income parents in two New Orleans community colleges. The RISK Project's longitudinal mixed-methods design allowed for a rich analysis of these young women's educational trajectories over a five-year period. I integrated data from respondents’ longitudinal survey responses with narratives from in-depth interviews, highlighting important limitations to what we know about—and how students navigate—the increasingly complex landscape of 2-year colleges, for-profit institutions and technical certification programs.  The first article from this work was published in the October 2015 issue of Sociology of Education.  A methodology article from this work, written with Mary Waters, was published in 2021 in Sociological Methods and Research

Flexible Coding of In-Depth Interviews
A 21st Century Approach

Nicole M. Deterding and Mary C. Waters

2021. Sociological Methods and Research 50 (2): 708-739.


Qualitative coding procedures emanating from grounded theory were limited by technologies of the 1960s: colored pens, scissors, and index cards. Today, electronic documents can be flexibly stored, retrieved, and cross-referenced using qualitative data analysis (QDA) software. We argue the oft-cited grounded theory framework poorly fits many features of contemporary sociological interview studies, including large samples, coding by teams, and mixed-method analysis. The grounded theory approach also hampers transparency and does not facilitate re-analysis or secondary analysis of interview data. We begin by summarizing grounded theory’s assumptions about coding and analysis. We then analyze published articles from ASA flagship journals, demonstrating that current conventions for semi-structured interview studies depart from the grounded theory framework. Based on experience analyzing interview data, we suggest steps in data organization and analysis to better utilize QDA technology. Our goal is to support rigorous, transparent, and flexible analysis of in-depth interview data. We end by discussing strengths and limitations of our 21st century approach.

  • Recorded Webinar from the American Sociological Association Professional Development Webinar series, December 2019.  

Lessons from the Social Innovation Fund
Supporting Evaluation to Assess Program Effectiveness and Build a Body of Research Evidence

Lily Zandniapour and Nicole M. Deterding

2018. American Journal of Evaluation, 39 (1):27-41.


Tiered evidence initiatives are an important federal strategy to incentivize and accelerate the use of rigorous evidence in planning, implementing, and assessing social service investments. The Social Innovation Fund (SIF), a program of the Corporation for National and Community Service, adopted a public–private partnership approach to tiered evidence. What was learned from implementing this ambitious program? How can large funding initiatives promote evaluation capacity in smaller organizations and evidence building in a sector broadly, increasing knowledge about how to address important social problems? And what can evaluators and evaluation technical assistance providers not working within a tiered evidence framework learn from the SIF? We provide an overview of the SIF model and describe how the fund operationalized “evidence building.” Materials developed to support SIF grantees represent practical, best practice strategies for successfully completing rigorous, relevant evaluations. Key lessons from overseeing over 130 evaluations—and their utility for other local evaluators—are discussed.

The Emotional Cost of Distance
Geographic Social Network Dispersion and Post-traumatic Stress in Survivors of Hurricane Katrina

Katherine Ann Morris and Nicole M. Deterding

2016. Social Science and Medicine, 165 (1):56-65.

Social networks offer important emotional and instrumental support following natural disasters. However, displacement may geographically disperse network members, making it difficult to provide and receive support necessary for psychological recovery after trauma. We examine the association between distance to network members and post-traumatic stress using survey data, and identify potential mechanisms underlying this association using in-depth qualitative interviews. We use longitudinal, mixed-methods data from the Resilience in Survivors of Katrina (RISK) Project to capture the long-term effects of Hurricane Katrina on low-income mothers from New Orleans. Baseline surveys occurred approximately one year before the storm and follow-up surveys and in-depth interviews were conducted five years later. We use a sequential explanatory analytic design. With logistic regression, we estimate the association of geographic network dispersion with the likelihood of post-traumatic stress. With linear regressions, we estimate the association of network dispersion with the three post-traumatic stress sub-scales. Using maximal variation sampling, we use qualitative interview data to elaborate identified statistical associations. We find network dispersion is positively associated with the likelihood of post-traumatic stress, controlling for individual-level socio-demographic characteristics, exposure to hurricane-related trauma, perceived social support, and New Orleans residency. We identify two social-psychological mechanisms present in qualitative data: respondents with distant network members report a lack of deep belonging and a lack of mattering as they are unable to fulfill obligations to important distant ties. Results indicate the importance of physical proximity to emotionally-intimate network ties for long-term psychological recovery.

Educational Authority in the "Open Door" Marketplace
Labor Market Consequences of For-profit, Nonprofit, and Fictional Educational Credentials

Nicole M. Deterding and David S. Pedulla (Equal Authorship)

2016. Sociology of Education, 89 (3): 155-170


In recent years, private for-profit education has been the fastest growing segment of the U.S. postsecondary system. Traditional hiring models suggest that employers clearly and efficiently evaluate college credentials, but this changing institutional landscape raises an important question: How do employers assess credentials from emerging institutions? Building on theories of educational authority, we hypothesize that employers respond to an associate’s degree itself over the institution from which it came. Using data from a field experiment that sent applications to administrative job openings in three major labor markets, we found that employers responded similarly to applicants listing a degree from a fictional college and applicants listing a local for-profit or nonprofit institution. There is some evidence that educational authority is incomplete, but employers who prefer degree-holders do not appear to actively evaluate institutional quality. We conclude by discussing implications of our work for research on school to labor market links within the changing higher education marketplace.

Instrumental and Expressive Education
College Planning in the Face of Poverty

Nicole M. Deterding

2015. Sociology of Education, 88 (4): 284-301


Nearly all young people in the United States aspire to a college degree, but many fail to complete college in a timely manner. Does this lack of attainment reflect abandoned college plans? I analyze mixed-methods data from a five-year study of 700 low-income mothers at two Louisiana community colleges. Hurricane Katrina displaced respondents and interrupted their college educations; respondents had to decide whether, how, and why to return to school. Few women earned degrees during the study, but survey data indicate that the rate of reenrollment and intentions to complete were high. Interview data reveal the cultural logics supporting continued plans for a return to college. Instrumentally, respondents believed education would result in better employment. Expressively, the moral status afforded students supported respondents’ narratives of upward mobility despite the difficulties they faced. The logic of human capital investment dominates policy and academic discussions of education’s value, but I find the symbolic meaning of a college degree also shapes plans for college return and college decision making long into adulthood. Plans to return persist long beyond the objective probability of earning a degree, and despite respondents’ difficult experiences, due to the expressive value college plans add to these young women’s lives.

In Progress
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