Sonia Molloy graduated from Virginia Tech in May 2017 with a doctoral degree in human development with a focus on family studies. She wrote her dissertation on a qualitative study of fathers of infants living in Appalachian Virginia, and her advisor was April Few-Demo. After graduation, she accepted a tenure-track assistant professor position with Penn State York. There her research interests include fathering, feminism and masculinity, intersectionality, and parenting prevention science. 

How did you arrive at your current position? Did you always have a goal of working in academia?
My primary goal when choosing to pursue a PhD in human development and family science was to work in academia, with a dream of working for Penn State. This goal was inspired by my own career path of working in the human service field for many years with a bachelor’s in HDFS. I wanted to extend upon my knowledge so as to influence the next generation of human service workers and policy makers.

As I was applying for tenure-track positions my final year of graduate school, a position opened up at Penn State. I applied for the position at Penn State York and was invited for a campus interview. This position was perfect for me as they were looking for a candidate who had expertise in both early childhood and family studies. In my interview with Penn State York, I found it was the perfect place for me, as Penn State has many resources for pursuing my research agenda while emphasizing a focus on student engagement.

What classes do you teach?
The Penn State York campus serves a student population of commuter students who seek to complete a four-year degree at the York campus as well as students who plan to complete two years at the York campus and then finish their last two years at the main Penn State campus in University Park. At our campus, we offer both the associate degree and bachelor’s degree in human development and family science.

In addition to independent studies, I teach three courses a semester, including Introduction to Human Development and Family Studies, which is also a general education course. I have also taught Overview of Curricular Practices in Early Childhood Care and Education; Observation or Experience with Children, Youth, and Families; Adult-Child Relationships; Advanced Infant Development; and Research Project.

What about your research?
My current active projects include a study of father engagement in family services programs targeting parents of infants in Appalachia and a study of masculinities and romantic relationships with emerging adult men in the military.

In addition, we have several undergraduates who are active in our Social Science Research Lab, and I took two research assistants to the National Council on Family Relations conference as authors on a poster presentation.

What is the best part about your job?
The best part of my job is being able to have quality interactions with the HDFS students as well as R1 institutional support for my research agenda. We have multiple opportunities available for research funding and support. In addition, the student enrollment in our courses is low—anywhere from 4 to 25 students per class—which allows for more individualized training in HDFS.

How did Virginia Tech prepare you for your career?
My teaching apprenticeship and assistantship provided me with the opportunity to teach multiple courses at Virginia Tech, which in turn prepared me for the different levels of courses I currently teach as a tenure-track professor.

In addition, I received remarkable training in research while at Virginia Tech through assistantships, research collaborations with faculty members, and the guidance of my committee chair and committee members. The support I received from my advisor and my committee during my dissertation process was vital to my success at Virginia Tech and future research success. My advisor and committee provided me with the top training in qualitative research, which I now rely on as a researcher.

The university also gave me the opportunity to have a network of peers that I value as collaborators and peer supports.

What advice do you have for current graduate students in Virginia Tech’s Department of Human Development and Family Science?
My advice for current graduate students is to learn from the prestigious faculty at Virginia Tech. The professors each have a different expertise they can mentor you in, so I recommend you form an academic relationship with several of them. Your committee is there to support you as well as push you beyond your expectations to be a stellar researcher. My mentor challenged me at every level while always being there as a support; she still is today.

My other piece of advice is to stay focused and work hard. Completing your doctorate most likely will be the most challenging task you will take on in your life. With hard work, dedication, and support from your fellow graduate students and mentors, you will make it to the finish line. 

Interview by Casey McGregor