Erin Lavender-Stott earned her doctorate in human development in the Virginia Tech Department of Human Development and Family Science in May 2018. Her principal professor was Katherine Allen.

Lavender-Stott is now an assistant professor in the human development and family science program within the Department of Counseling and Human Development at South Dakota State University. There her research is on gender and sexuality within the family context across the lifespan, with a particular focus on sexuality development, sexual minorities, and singlehood. Her dissertation—on the lived experiences and family lives of single sexual-minority women of the Baby Boom cohort—touched on all three areas.

How did you arrive at your current position? Did you always have a goal of working in academia?
Within the first year or so of college I knew I would work in academia. The opportunities I had at my undergraduate institution solidified my desire to work in academia, with its mix of teaching, research, and service. I never planned to stay at a land-grant institution, but South Dakota State University is primarily an undergraduate-focused institution, which I did want.

I am from the East Coast, so I never anticipated living in the Dakotas. But the people in my department and college were wonderful when I interviewed there (and still are), and the job matches my values regarding higher education.

What classes do you teach in your current position?
I teach adult development, gerontology, and family policy. My position is a mix of teaching, research, and service. Although teaching is a larger part of my time, I teach only two or three classes a semester, which does leave a reasonable amount of time for my writing.

What is the best part about your job?
I don’t think I have been in the position long enough to say what the best part is. I am able to do the work that I want to do, that I set out to do in my career. I have a good balance of teaching and research and work-life balance. I have been challenged in the classroom with a new and different student body. I have a wonderful department, department head, and college dean, which has been nice as a brand-new faculty member.

How did Virginia Tech prepare you for your career?
At Virginia Tech—both within the Department of Human Development and Family Science and the Graduate School—I was balancing a lot of service, research, and teaching as a graduate student. Part of that was the set-up of my assistantship and some of that was my own doing, especially the service aspects. I found a way to do it all, which made the transition, even with teaching more classes, surprisingly smooth. I also had experience publishing, presenting at conferences, and conducting peer reviews.

During my time at Virginia Tech, I taught four different classes across multiple semesters both in-person and online. Even though I am teaching courses I didn’t have the opportunity to teach at Tech, the fact that I was comfortable in the classroom and had many of my policies that work in place helped when preparing for the new semester at a new institution.

The Graduate School’s Graduate Teaching Assistant Workshop we were required to attend was surprisingly helpful in introducing federal policies related to teaching—such as FERPA and Title IX—that are not always discussed at other institutions. Between the department’s teaching seminar and Virginia Tech Academy for Graduate Teaching Assistant Excellence, or VTGrATE (in which I was a founding fellow), I had a strong and wide background in a variety of pedagogical theories and ideas, which has been helpful as I am teaching a different student body. Both of those areas have also provided me with a community of people I can turn to as I encounter new challenges in the classroom.

Some of the service work that I did while at Virginia Tech, including sitting on one of the Beyond Boundaries committees, allowed me to find and be able to verbalize my values in relation to higher education. That allowed me to have a better sense as to what institutions I would be happiest at within my career. Serving on curriculum committees has strengthened my teaching and allowed me to see the bigger picture of what students learn in various courses in their college career.

What advice do you have for current graduate students in Virginia Tech’s Department of Human Development and Family Science?
One thing I am very glad I did was the work and community building outside the department. I was connected in the department and it was always my home, but I built a wonderful community through the Graduate School as well. When something was stressful or frustrating in regards to teaching or research, I had people who could view things from outside the bubble and provide additional perspective.

I also found it interesting to know what was happening at the broader university level and how we did (or did not) fit into that mission and vision. I think it is important to view things (challenges, career trajectories, graduate school) from the personal perspective, the colleague or major professor perspective, the department perspective, as well as a larger birds-eye university level/higher-ed level perspective. What we are aware of or thinking about may be different than our major professor (due to different knowledge or lived experience) and the same at the department level or university level and we can learn from all of it.

Interview by Casey McGregor