Sophie Kay: Ph.D. in Psychology

The research opportunities at Georgia Tech enticed Sophie A. Kay to Atlanta. She arrived in 2014, immediately after earning a B.A. in Psychology from The College of New Jersey. In particular, she wanted to work with Howard Weiss, professor in the School of Psychology and renowned researcher in industrial-organizational psychology.  

Because Weiss had a large grant with the Army Research Institute when Sophie joined the Ph.D. program, she was guaranteed summer funding for several years, as well as funding for extensive studies with full-time workers. “I am extremely grateful I didn’t have to worry about funding when I was a student,” Sophie says. “Many people in my field are not this fortunate.” 

Sophie comes from a highly educated family: Her father is a business professor, her mother is a simultaneous interpreter, and her stepfather is an engineer. “All three of my parents have high expectations for me,” Sophie says. “They were thrilled when I received a full-ride offer in the doctoral program at Georgia Tech.”

What is the most important thing you learned at Georgia Tech?

Doing a doctoral degree at Georgia Tech challenged me in about every way possible.

I was challenged academically by difficult statistics classes and learning how to code in R. Intellectually, I was pushed to create new research ideas and do projects no one else was doing.

Socially, moving to Atlanta far away from my family and friends pushed me outside of my comfort zone and forced me to make new friends.

Mentally and emotionally, doctoral programs don’t have that much structure; it’s often unclear if you’re doing well or not. I learned to handle the ambiguity and I learned about what self-care I need.

The most important thing I learned from these experiences is that I can do just about anything.

What are your proudest achievements at Georgia Tech?

In summer 2018, I received a $10,000 grant for my dissertation research. This past February, I was awarded the Exceptional Student Award and Best Graduate Instructor award by the School of Psychology. The department decided I was both the best student and teacher. How cool is that?

Which professor(s) or class(es) made a big impact on you?

As a doctoral student, your advisor is the single most impactful person. Your advisor can make or break your career, as well as your sanity.

Luckily for me, Howard is one of the sweetest advisors I could have asked for. He genuinely cares about his students as people and pushes us as thinkers and researchers. He challenges us to do research no one else is doing. Instead of being another brick on the wall, build a new wall.

What is your most vivid memory of Georgia Tech?

Dissertation Bootcamp! The Communication Center at runs “Dissertation Bootcamp” for Ph.D. students during finals week every fall, spring, and summer. I did this bootcamp with a good friend and labmate. Everyday for a week, we worked on a paper – in this case our preliminary exam, which was the foundation for our dissertation – from 9 AM until 5 PM.

It was exhausting, but I made a ton of progress. I learned a lot more about my writing habits and what I need to do to set myself up for success.

Writing is really difficult, but bootcamp made me feel empowered as a writer. It gave me the tools to figure out how I work best. This experience was pivotal for my success! I cannot recommend it enough for graduate students. PLUS, they provide free coffee and snacks to all students in attendance!

In what ways did Georgia Tech transform your life?

My years in Georgia Tech were truly pivotal. When I moved to Atlanta in 2014, I was just 21 years old. Now at 26, a full-fledged adult! I’ve been set up for success by earning a doctoral degree, have a network of colleagues and friends, and have the confidence that I can handle whatever challenges lie ahead.

What unique learning activities (research abroad, field work) did you undertake?

For four of my five years at Georgia Tech, I was part of the Office of Leadership Education and Development (LEAD). First, I was a team coach, then an individual leadership coach, and then a team facilitator for the Grand Challenges program. I co-taught GT 1000 with Dean of Students John Stein three times.

I joined LEAD to supplement my stipend, but I quickly realized that I had stumbled upon a wonderful opportunity. I learned about myself, leadership, and team dynamics. I learned about the different LEAD programs, got involved, and loved it. I wish I had the opportunity to be in a similar program when I was an undergraduate. I am grateful I could be a part of it as a graduate student.

What advice would you give to incoming graduate students at Georgia Tech?

Do not underestimate the importance of self-care while in graduate school!

Make time for things that make you happy and try your darn hardest not to feel guilty when you're not doing work.

Yes, we have a lot of work to do, but graduate school is just one part of your life. Make sure you eat right, exercise, and socialize. Doing one hour of exercise is most definitely worth even if it means doing one hour less of work. Plus, exercise is scientifically proven to be good for your brain. No excuses! Take care of your mind, body, and soul.

Where are you headed after graduation?

I will be moving to the Bay Area in California! In August, I’m starting a job at Facebook as a People Analytics Research Scientist. My program and research experiences at Georgia Tech were invaluably important to getting this position – from learning advanced statistics in my coursework, to using R in my research, to understanding how to conceptualize vague research questions into concrete variables and clear analyses.