Ph.D. Candidate Q&A: Theresa Pfister


Theresa is a Ph.D. candidate in Educational Psychology - Applied Developmental Science from Friendship, Wisconsin, studying how to facilitate, create and maintain positive adult-student relationships. Before coming to UVA, Theresa was a teacher-trainer with the Peace Corps in Ethiopia, a 4th grade teacher in Bed-Stuy, Brooklyn, and a College Advisor at SEO Scholars in NYC.

Q: How did you first become interested in your field of study?

A: Through my years as a teacher and college advisor, I saw again and again how positive adult relationships could make a real impact, whether it was having a role model with a similar background, getting inside info on what to expect and how to prepare for college and career, or just having someone to listen – really listen. It has made me realize just how important leveraging these relationships are and how they can change the course of a life. I'm interested in all kinds of relationships, but especially teacher-student, mentor-mentee, or close-peer. 

Q: What are your primary research interests?

A: I want to study relationships, particularly in adolescence. I want to know how best to facilitate, build, and maintain them, and exactly what is possible when you have an empowering connection between people.

Q: What made you decide to attend UVA for your Ph.D.?

A: Because of my practitioner experience, my heart is in schools with my kids. EP-ADS in Curry is applied, and we really care about connecting the work that we do here in the lab with the work that our students and communities are doing every day. 

Q: What are your ultimate career goals?

A: I would love to be Brene Brown! But in all seriousness, I want the work I do to be accessible and applicable to everyone, and I want to find a pathway that allows me to make that happen.

Q: What advice would you give to students applying to Ph.D. programs?

A: Remember who you are and what your strengths, passions, and experiences are. Don't ignore parts of yourself in order to fit into a particular program. Search hard for the one that fits you best – one that will appreciate the uniqueness of what you bring!