M. Evan Thomas earned his Ph.D. in May 2020 from the Virginia Tech Department of Human Development and Family Science, where he specialized in marriage and family therapy. His advisor was Erika Grafsky.

Thomas, who is from the Appalachia region of Georgia, focused his research on Appalachian mental health, the opioid epidemic in Appalachia, and qualitative research aimed at creating a deeper understanding of Appalachian culture. His dissertation was a qualitative study about the experiences of Appalachian church leaders discussing substance misuse with their community members.

How has your doctoral program helped you?
I would say that the biggest highlight included working with Nancy Brossoie on a three-year grant from the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration. The grant focused on training health care providers to screen for substance misuse utilizing an evidence-based practice, SBIRT (Screening Brief Intervention Referral to Treatment). Dr. Brossoie was a phenomenal mentor, and she enabled me to gain experience with large datasets and grant work. Additionally, I was able to focus on how to adapt SBIRT to better fit the Appalachian culture of Southwest Virginia.

How did you arrive at your current position, and what are your more immediate goals?
I am starting my second year in a tenure-track faculty position in the Department of Marriage and Family Therapy at Converse College. For this second year, I am taking on the role of department chair, and my goal is to increase the visibility of the Converse program at the national level. We have a great program, and it is the only program in South Carolina that is accredited by the Commission on Accreditation for Marriage and Family Therapy Education.

Another immediate goal is to work toward getting my dissertation published; the manuscript is currently under review.

What is your current position like?
My position as a marriage and family therapy faculty member includes a diversity of tasks. Converse is a master’s level program, and I am fortunate in that I teach only master’s-level courses. Current courses that I instruct include MFT Research, Introduction to MFT, Clinical Supervision/Practicum, and other theory-focused courses on MFT.

What is the best part about your job?
My favorite part about my current position includes mentoring and teaching future marriage and family therapists. I love watching their progress in their therapeutic journey. I also enjoy recruiting future students and overseeing the admissions process for the program. Lastly, I love that I work at a program that is located in Appalachia and close to my hometown. There are few accredited programs in Appalachia, and it is even rarer for academics to find jobs near their hometown and family.

How did Virginia Tech prepare you for your career?
The biggest preparation that Virginia Tech provided me included the ability to teach at the graduate level. Virginia Tech is one of the only graduate programs that doesn’t make you pick between a teaching assistantship and a research assistantship. You are able to do both, and this really set me apart from other applicants when I was applying to jobs.

What advice do you have for current graduate students in the Department of Human Development and Family Science?
The best advice I can give to current students — and most of them have heard this — is to stick with your own identity. Know how to brand yourself and make sure your brand is unique to you. For example, I marketed myself as an emerging expert on Appalachia mental health. This ability has allowed me to accept a tenure-track position a year before I was expected to graduate, which is rare in our field.

Interview by Krista Hein