Asking the Right Questions: Jane VanHeuleven and the Sociology of Health, Wellness, and Healing

Jane Vanheuvelen headshot
Assistant Professor Jane VanHeuvelen

Assistant Professor Jane VanHeuvelen studies “how healthcare providers navigate their daily work, and in what ways their work experiences may be impacted by their physical and social environment.” She is excited to continue her research in health, illness, and healing as well as to work with and learn from her students, teaching them to stretch their “sociological imagination.”

What role(s) do you have at the University of Minnesota? What brought you here?

I am currently an assistant professor in the Department of Sociology. I started at the University in the fall of 2019 as a contract assistant professor. Since starting at the UMN, I have become a member of the Life Course Center and the Minnesota Population Center. 

How did you become interested in what you study and teach?

As an undergraduate at Brandeis University, I knew I was interested in health and healthcare but did not know in what way. In my first semester, I happened to enroll in a sociology class because it had an interesting title related to health. I was immediately drawn to the types of questions this class asked and the frameworks sociology provided for answering them.

I was also very fortunate to have dedicated and supportive professors, including Peter Conrad and Sara Shostak. My professors not only introduced me to the field but also helped me think about the kinds of research questions I might be interested in and how to go about finding answers. Furthermore, they helped me to think about the possibility of pursuing graduate training in sociology and what a career in the field might look like. 

As a graduate student, in addition to developing my skills and interests as a researcher, I had the opportunity to develop my teaching skills. I quickly found (and continue to find) that research and teaching serve to strengthen each other. For instance, teaching really challenges me to think about what the most important takeaway of an article, concept, or theory is and how to present that clearly. 

This process also helps when engaging in or presenting research. Furthermore, teaching also offers the chance to hear from students who include multiple perspectives on a single concept or reading, providing a unique opportunity to revisit my own understandings or interpretations. 

What courses are you currently teaching or looking forward to teaching soon? What's special about them?

In fall 2022, I taught SOC 3701: Social Theory and SOC 4246: Sociology of Health & Illness. This spring I will be teaching SOC 1001: Introduction to Sociology and SOC 4147: Sociology of Mental Health & Illness.

I have been extremely impressed with the students in my classes! I believe that student participation, engagement, and insights are really what make courses special and exciting.  

What are some of the big takeaways students will get from your courses?

Across all of my courses, one of the things I hope students will take away is the ability to think about things from a sociological perspective, to develop their “sociological imagination,” which includes thinking about individual experiences in relation to broader social structures or historical time periods. 

What are you most excited about right now?

While I appreciate all of the seasons in Minnesota, I am very excited about spring and the chance to further explore local and state parks! 

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