Laura L. Miller

Senior Social Scientist

Photo of Jeff Hagen

RAND senior social scientist Laura Miller has always sought opportunities to meet service members in their “natural habitats.” During her 18-year career, she has conducted interviews, surveys, focus groups, and observations at more than 30 military bases in the United States, as well as in operations in Kuwait, Qatar, South Korea, Germany, Somalia, Haiti, Macedonia, Bosnia, and Afghanistan.

“Meeting military personnel where they live and work gives you an appreciation for the physical and social challenges they confront, as well as the camaraderie and personal bonds they form while working together, often in austere conditions. It’s hard to imagine or appreciate all that from afar.”

Laura earned master’s and doctorate degrees in sociology at Northwestern. She became interested in the military while working as a graduate student with the late Dr. Charles Moskos, then the nation’s preeminent military sociologist. Her dissertation focused on gender integration in the U.S. Army. Following a two-year postdoctoral fellowship at Harvard, Laura spent five years as an assistant professor of sociology at UCLA. Then, in 2002, she joined RAND. As she explains, “Although I enjoyed teaching, I really wanted to devote my time to conducting research and providing findings and recommendations to decisionmakers. After interviewing people who share some of their most important life concerns with me, I feel obliged to try to make a difference.” However, as a faculty member of the Pardee RAND Graduate School, Laura has continued to mentor students.

During her career, Laura has addressed such issues as military culture and organization, civil-military relations, social integration in the military, and the effects of deployments on service members and their families. Her latest study focuses on Air Force civilian health and well-being. That work is being sponsored by the Air Force Materiel Command, nearly 75 percent of whose personnel are civilians. In recognition of her ongoing research contributions to the Air Force, Laura received a 2010 Research Excellence Award from PAF.

Laura has also served on a number of advisory boards and congressionally mandated task forces and commissions. For example, in 2008–2009, she added a sociological perspective to Army efforts to examine increasing suicide rates among soldiers. In 2009 and 2010, she participated in OSD and Air Force reviews conducted after an Army officer carried out a mass shooting at Fort Hood, Texas. The broad mandate of these studies was to evaluate DoD’s ability to detect, prevent, and respond to a wide range of violent threats from inside the military community.

“Science still has a long way to go before it can predict who is likely to become violent toward themselves or others,” she says. “In the meantime, we can focus on supporting personnel in distress and providing commanders with the best tools available to help them identify and remove internal threats.”