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Odum Staff Spotlight: Cathy Zimmer

By Alana Edwards
Cathy Zimmer holding a large tape reel used to store data.
Cathy Zimmer used these tapes to store datasets at IRSS in the 1980s. Each one held only 0.15 GB of data.

Cathy Zimmer first visited the Odum Institute upon entering UNC-Chapel Hill’s Sociology PhD program in 1980. At the time, Odum was still called the “Institute for Research in Social Science” prior to its renaming 20 years ago. Reflecting on the hours she spent at IRSS during her doctoral program, Dr. Zimmer recalls that quantitative social science research looked quite different in the 1980s than it does today.

“We used punch cards to run programs on the IBM System/360 in the basement of Manning Hall, where IRSS was located back then,” says Cathy Zimmer. “It’s been interesting to watch computers and programs evolve at UNC over time.”

After receiving her doctorate from UNC Sociology, Dr. Zimmer served as a tenured Associate Professor of Sociology at North Carolina State University for 15 years. However, Carolina and the Odum Institute called her back home. 

In 2000, Dr. Ken Bollen became director of Odum and sought to establish the Institute as a leader for social science research support in the new millennium. Beyond renovating the Institute’s physical infrastructure, he sought to expand its services, including short courses and consulting offerings. In 2002, Dr. Bollen hired Dr. Zimmer and Dr. Wiesen to bolster research support at the Institute.

As an expert in quantitative social science research methodology, Dr. Zimmer provides consultation on how to best choose and apply analytical techniques. She also leads short courses on logistic regression, structural equation modeling (SEM), Mplus, SPSS and Stata. Throughout her time at Odum, Cathy Zimmer has helped researchers across a variety of disciplines realize their research goals.

She chose a career in social science because she wanted to use her quantitative expertise to foster inclusivity and positive social change through research. Dr. Zimmer works with the McNair Scholars Program, which provides guidance to underrepresented undergraduate students as they pursue graduate school. She enjoys providing mentorship and quantitative support to McNair Scholars developing their undergraduate research projects. Their high-quality work continues to impress her and others in the UNC community. Cathy Zimmer is particularly proud of a McNair Scholar she assisted whose project won second place out of 37 research papers at a recent conference.

Dr. Zimmer wants all members of the UNC-Chapel Hill community to feel comfortable utilizing the Odum Institute’s many services and resources throughout the research lifecycle. Upon entering their programs, graduate students often face math and statistics requirements that feel unfamiliar and intimidating. Dr. Zimmer says this initial frustration is a common experience. As a consultant, she strives to ease some of the anxiety around quantitative research and analysis by guiding researchers through the process at their own pace and making challenging concepts as accessible as possible. She sees the Odum Institute as a place where researchers of all experience levels can receive individualized expert help without fear of judgement to improve their research.

When working with researchers, I am happy to start at the beginning or meet them where they are,” Cathy Zimmer says.

Cathy Zimmer and family with colleagues from UNC-Chapel Hill’s Sociology PhD program.

Dr. Zimmer is available to provide consulting and support in the following areas:

  • Quantitative social research design
  • Quantitative analysis planning
  • Quantitative data management
  • Quantitative analysis techniques
  • Stata, SPSS and Mplus software

Dr. Zimmer’s office is 231C Davis Library. She encourages any UNC researchers interested in learning more about her consultations and short courses to email for assistance.

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