Back for Her Ph.D., Alumna Finds Promise in a New Field

October 17, 2022

Cognitive Neuroscience master’s grad finds appeal in the research and career possibilities of Speech-Language-Hearing Sciences.

Kennedy Stomberg, Photo credit: Alex Irklievski
Kennedy Stomberg (M.A. ’20, Cognitive Neuroscience), now a Speech-Language-Hearing Sciences Ph.D. student, plans to study how language works in the brain. (Photo credit: Alex Irklievski)

Two years after receiving a master’s degree in Cognitive Neuroscience, alumna Kennedy Stomberg (M.S. ’20, Cognitive Neuroscience) has returned to the Graduate Center for a Ph.D. in Speech-Language-Hearing Sciences. She plans to study the way language works in the brain. A mentoring program she established for fellow visually impaired students sparked her interest in working with college students, and she considers the Ph.D. as a stepping stone to her ultimate goal of teaching at a university.  

She spoke to the Graduate Center about her path and plans, and shared advice for aspiring Ph.D. students. 

The Graduate Center: What was your focus when you were earning your master’s degree?

Stomberg: My master’s thesis was on episodic memory, specifically in looking at the ways we remember event boundaries — where one event ends and the next event begins — and how time impacts our memories for those boundaries. The way the Cognitive Neuroscience program works, you don’t really defend your thesis but you do have a second reader, in addition to your adviser, who looks at your thesis. My second reader, who is actually now my current adviser, Professor Valerie Shafer (Speech-Language-Hearing Sciences; Linguistics; Cognitive Neuroscience), wanted me to talk a little bit more about what people were using to talk about what they were recalling, and how might that change things. That was very interesting to me. And then as part of the Cognitive Neuroscience master’s program, we take electives, and I happened to take a couple of electives in Speech-Language-Hearing Sciences, and so became more interested in the brain and language specifically, and then eventually came to realize I could pursue that and go into this field rather than continuing into neuroscience, which I’m obviously still interested in. 

Learn More About the Ph.D. Program in Speech-Language-Hearing Sciences

GC: What prompted that shift?

Stomberg: Doctoral programs in neuroscience are very, very competitive right now. And speech-language-hearing sciences has a little bit more job security. I found out there’s kind of a shortage of faculty in that field, and so people who want to go and teach and be professors after their Ph.D. are really needed. So all of those factors kind of motivated me to switch.

GC: What appeals to you about becoming a professor?

Stomberg: I’ve done some tutoring and enjoyed that, but also, towards the end of 2020, along with a couple of other people, I started a mentorship program for blind students and professionals interested in STEM fields. Through that program, I worked with a couple of college students, working on strategies for being successful in STEM fields. It’s something that I have found very fulfilling, and I love the idea of continuing to work with college students and making a difference in that way. 

GC: Amazing. What inspired you to help build that program?

Stomberg: I think partially because it’s something that I wish that I’d had. In college, I felt lonely in some ways in terms of figuring out how to solve problems, because as far as I knew there weren’t any other people who were blind doing what I was doing. And so I love getting to be that for other people, so that they don’t have to struggle in the way that I did. People who are blind have often been discouraged from doing any sort of science or math, because some things are inherently visual, and I love being a voice that tells people: You may have to do things differently, but that doesn’t mean you can’t do them.

GC: How did guidance from the Writing Center support your application process?   

Stomberg: When I was applying to Ph.D. programs, I was really struggling with my personal statement, and the Writing Center was great. There are a lot of expectations that nobody really tells you about when you write something like that, and the Writing Center let me know what those expectations were. I ended up working with two different consultants at various different times, and they were both fantastic and gave me really helpful feedback.

Learn More About the Writing Center

GC: What advice would you offer to students just beginning their journey to an advanced degree?

Stomberg: I would say that if you’re making this decision, make sure that applying for graduate school makes sense for you. It’s a big process to apply, and, frankly, kind of an expensive one, and when you go to graduate school it’s also a lot of work. You have to believe in yourself. Because I’m switching to a new field, some people know a lot more than I do, and there are times when it’s very easy to be like, “Oh, I don’t know, what if they were wrong about deciding to accept me.” But admissions committees don’t mess up on something like that. It’s important to believe in yourself during the process — and once you’ve gotten there as well.

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