Student Spotlight June 2012
“Sarah is a dedicated, energetic, engaged and engaging student, who takes on more than she should and manages to accomplish all and more.”
Dr. Wendy Pfeffer, Faculty Advisor for the Graduate Student Union
Sarah Williams graduated summa cum laude from the Honors Program at Virginia Polytechnic Institute and State University (i.e., Virginia Tech) in 2007 with a Bachelors degree in Psychology. In July of 2007, she enrolled in the clinical psychology doctoral program at UofL and was awarded a Masters of Arts in psychology in December of 2010. She began her doctoral candidacy with her dissertation proposal, entitled Modeling Risk for the Development of Child Anxiety: The Role of Parent Emotion Socialization Practices, Children’s Emotional Competence, and Physiological Responsiveness. She anticipates completing her PhD in August of 2013.
Specific areas of research (how you chose this research, why it interested you):
Influenced by my studies as an undergraduate and guided by my various research experiences throughout graduate school, my interests have focused on developing a better model for understanding the development of childhood anxiety through a consideration of emotion. While a child’s skills in understanding and regulating their emotions have been linked with child anxiety, little work has extended these findings to explore the likely impact of the parent or biological influences within the child. Thus, my dissertation project builds upon the existing literature implicating parental and temperamental influences in risk for the development of anxiety during childhood. I have proposed a model hypothesizing several associations between parent emotion socialization and the emotional development of the child through emotion understanding, emotion regulation, and autonomic reactivity to predict child anxiety.
What made you go into this field of study?
I have always loved analyzing human behavior and I don’t think anyone would deny that the human mind is a truly fascinating organ. There is just so much that we don’t know about its connection with our behavior! It is truly exciting to me to be involved in a field whose discoveries can have such a powerful impact on our understanding of ourselves and directly influence the treatment of psychopathology.
How do you think this advanced degree will change your role in society?
I think my journey to a PhD has already changed my role in society. Leadership positions that I have held during my graduate career (e.g., I served two years as President of the A&S Graduate Student Union) have given me the confidence to have a voice on issues that are important to me. I have been highly involved in advocacy for graduate students in terms of the University budget through meetings with both Dean Hudson and President Ramsey. I have also reached out to the community through volunteer efforts and public discussions. All of my experiences, I believe, have allowed me to have an impact on both the University community and beyond. They have also helped me sharpen and strengthen my communication and leadership skills for future activism and advocacy.
What accomplishment, academic or otherwise, are you most proud of?
Without a doubt, I am most proud of my courage to pursue a higher education. I did not enroll in college directly following high school. It wasn’t until a few years following my graduation when I decided to return to school. Indeed, it was difficult to give up that full-time paycheck!
I’m also proud of my perseverance to progress toward an advance degree. It has been over ten years since I made the decision to enroll in college courses and I am deeply grateful for my strength and tenacity to make it this far.
Awards, honors, publications:
As an undergraduate researcher, I was honored to receive the Virginia Tech Undergraduate Award for Research Excellence, and findings from my undergraduate honors project were later published in the Journal of Aggression, Maltreatment, and Trauma. As a graduate student, I am published in both the Journal of Anxiety Disorders and the Journal of Clinical Child and Adolescent Psychology.
In 2008, I gave birth to my son, Parker. While it is debatable whether I’ve learned more from becoming a mom or spending 5 years in graduate school, I have truly enjoyed watching him grow and develop into quite a remarkable little individual. Similar to graduate school, having a child can be quite humbling and I have discovered that the apple, indeed, does not fall very far from the tree!
A talent you have always wanted: I come from a very musically inclined family. My dad not only makes banjos for a living, but he also plays the banjo and the fiddle. My mother plays the guitar. My sister sings and plays any instrument you place in front of her. Me? I can’t sing or play a single thing.
Favorite book: I Know This Much is True by Wally Lamb
Favorite quote: “Your work is to discover your world and then with all your heart give yourself to it.” – Siddhārtha Gautama Buddha
Role Model: Richard Dawkins
Pet Peeve: Fox News
If you weren’t in graduate school, what would you be doing now? I would definitely be working on a farm.