Biochemist, teacher, volleyball coach, researcher, advisor. Stephanie Wells has had a lot of titles.

After teaching and coaching high schoolers full-time in Georgia and then working in the pharmaceutical industry, Wells moved with her husband to Chattanooga. He was relocating for a job offer and she took the move as an opportunity to pursue a second graduate degree.

Currently, Wells is finishing up her master’s in psychological science and recently joined the Hub, the College of Arts and Sciences success center, as an academic advisor for psychology majors.

Wells had to completely redesign her thesis research when COVID-19 made her original lab work impossible. But the pandemic life inspired a new study to explore student experiences of setting academic and self-care goals.

 

Pivot seemed to be the word of 2020. How did you have to pivot your thesis research during the pandemic?

I had this cool study designed and then COVID happened, and we couldn’t do any of the research in the lab.

It was right in the middle of COVID, and I was bummed because the workout studios were closing. I was trapped in my house and not eating as healthy. I wondered if other people were having these same kinds of issues with their self-care habits.

I looked at the literature and many people don’t study self-care that much. They’re into studying academic goals and things like that. I thought it would be interesting to see if people actually set self-care goals and do them in the same way as setting academic goals. When I’m writing a to-do list, it’s usually things that I have to do that are academic or work-related. I don’t usually put ‘take 20 minutes on the couch to watch Netflix’ or ‘go for a walk.’ Those are just the things that, if I feel like I have the time to do them, I’ll do them. So I want to look at setting self-care goals.

 

What led you to psychology?

I did a concentration—similar to a certificate and just below a minor—in psychology, because I wanted to take a lot of psychology courses when I was an undergrad. My favorite course that I took was the behavioral pharmacology course. It’s like how drugs interact with the brain. It was fascinating. I got to take social psychology and some other courses.

So then when I got a job at a school in Atlanta, they said, ‘Hey, we have a lot of demand for AP advance placement psychology. Since you have a background, would you be able to teach a section?’

I jumped at the chance. That was a fun class in general because it’s a senior elective course, and everybody showed up looking to have a good time and learn.

Teaching it for three years is what made me realize I wanted to go back into psychology.

 

What advice would you give your freshman self?

Be sure of who you are, what you like and who you want to be.

As a freshman, I was still so concerned with pleasing my parents, keeping up with my peers and making a good impression with my professors. I was just so worried about what other people thought of me that sometimes I would make decisions to please other people instead of myself.

My best advice would be to be true to yourself. It’s okay to be flexible, but you have to take the time to consider what you actually want.

 

What are your most rewarding experience(s) at UTC?

Just getting into the graduate program I felt like it was a big thing for me. It was kind of scary to apply for another master’s program. So taking the leap of enrolling in the classes and starting the program, it’s kind of big.

I would also say building a relationship with my mentor, Dr. Jill Shelton (research masters program coordinator). We have such a good professional relationship and a personal relationship. I was excited to tell her when I was pregnant. I feel like we’re going to stay friends after this. I had never been so close to a faculty member before, and she is so knowledgeable. Building relationships with the faculty was a really big thing for me. I had never done anything like that in grad school, definitely not as an undergrad.

 

Do you have a favorite spot on campus?

Campus in general is so beautiful. It’s a nice balance of a historic-looking campus but in the city.

Now working with the Hub in the Lupton Hall, I can walk out and see Chamberlain Field. I really like it there. I like the center of campus with all the buildings surrounding it.

 

What advice would you give prospective graduate students?

Be open and flexible. Explore your options.

I had a career path that I thought I was going to be on. And sometimes people get in this mindset of, ‘I need to go to X graduate program and at Y school.’ It can be discouraging if your path leads you elsewhere.

So be open to different locations and different schools. You do tend to work with the faculty closely, even more so than undergrad. So try to explore what would be a good fit for you and help you grow personally and academically.

 

 

 

 


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Sarah ’14, ’16 earned an MA in English rhetoric and composition at UTC where she now works as staff writer; she enjoys hiking with her husband and two boys and spending time with her backyard menagerie of goats, chickens and ducks.

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