GS:   Where are you from?
KS:  I was born in Hartselle, AL, but I moved to Murfreesboro, TN when I was a small child. I consider Murfreesboro to be my hometown.
GS:  What degree did you/will you receive and when?
KS: I was awarded my B.S (Magna Cum Laude) from MTSU in 2009. In the Spring of 2012, I received my M.A in Sociology here at UAB. I am currently working towards my PhD in Medical Sociology and expect to graduate in 2016.
GS: How long have you been at UAB?
KS: I moved to Birmingham in January of 2010. I have been here for three years now.
GS: What is your research? 
KS: As Sociologists, we often talk about the ways in which social factors, such as socioeconomic status, discrimination, housing, and education “get under the skin” of individuals to affect measurable, medical, outcomes. Research has indicated for some time now that the social determinants of health and disease are as important to one’s health as individual behaviors and health care services. My research focuses on the negative effects of discrimination and social stigma which include increased levels of anxiety and depression, increased production of cortisol, the receipt of substandard medical services, and an avoidance of treatment services. Specifically, I study stigma individuals with substance abuse disorders. I am currently developing my dissertation proposal which will investigate the impact of multiple stigmas among HIV+ substance users. I will be examining the association between multiple stigmas and HIV treatment retention and medication adherence.
GS: Why did you choose UAB for your graduate studies?
KS: UAB has the nation’s only PhD program that is solely focused on the training of Medical Sociologists. UAB’s strong Medical Sociology program and the research resources available here on campus, including the Center for Social Medicine and  the Center for Aids Research, made UAB the ideal choice for graduate school for me.
GS:  Have you received any awards or honors?
KS: In November of 2012, I received the Stanford Lyman Dissertation Scholarship for my proposed dissertation research. This honor provides a small cash award to offset the cost of my dissertation research. (For more information regarding the Stanford Lyman Scholarship Award, visit
GS: What has been your most rewarding experience at UAB?
KS: I think my most rewarding experience has been my involvement in UAB’s Graduate Student Association. My involvement in this group has allowed me to form valuable connections all across campus with other graduate students, faculty, and administrators. As the chair of the community service committee it has been amazing to watch the graduate student body come together to give back to the City of Birmingham. I strongly suggest every graduate student become involved in this organization.
GS: Who was your greatest influence here at UAB and why?
KS: This is perhaps the toughest question for me to answer. There have been numerous faculty here at UAB, both in the Department of Sociology and the School of Public Health, that have played an integral role in my development as a researcher. I have found some amazing collaborators here at UAB including Dr. Janet Turan, Dr. Shelia Cotten, and Dr. Belinda Needham. Each of these ladies have taught me a great deal about how to be an ethical, successful researcher.
GS:  What is your motivation in your academics/research?
KS: I have always been a very persistent and dedicated person when it comes to academics. I have always had a passion for learning and for problem solving. Particularly, as a social scientist I am very much motivated by the inequalities that are still very real and the effects that such inequalities have on a person’s quality of life.  Being aware of the negative impacts of social discrimination, I find it impossible not to be driven to do my part. On a more personal note, I am also a mother of a teenage son who is very supportive of my studies. Knowing that I am setting the best example possible for him is huge motivator. Being the first person in my family to earn a college degree, I know that my studies will alter my family tree from here on out and make a huge difference in what my son ultimately does with his future.
GS: What are your plans after graduating and for the future?
KS: My ultimate goal is to become an independent researcher in the field of substance abuse research. My goal is to affect a change in the field of substance abuse treatment by creating an intervention that takes into account the various social aspects to treatment utilization.Additionally, I am very excited about teaching. I am very passionate about Sociology and I thoroughly enjoy watching students eyes light up as they begin to grasp the impact that social forces have on one’s life. I desire to secure a position which will allow me to devote a substantial amount of my effort to teaching in action to my research.
Kristi’s Advice for Other Graduate Students:
Cut yourself a little slack. Graduate school can be tough. We often don’t talk about the stresses that are inherent in pursuing an advanced degree. We not only experience pressures from the outside, but we often put unreasonable expectations on ourselves. So you had a failed experiment, or your mentor took a job at another university, or it takes a little longer than you thought to finish. The reality is that we are all human; we all make mistakes. Graduate school will come with its ups and downs and we will sometimes fall short of that mark we set for ourselves. My advice when this happens: don’t be so hard on yourself. You are not alone. We have a tendency to compare our insides to everyone else’s outsides and feel like we are alone when really these things are a normal part of academic life.  We have all felt the pressures of academia and we know where you’re coming from. When I face these types of academic adversities I have to step back and take a minute to put things in perspective. I ask myself “how important is this really, compared to the grand scheme?” and usually I am able to take a step back and relax. Surviving graduate school is about tenacity and determination. It’s about learning how to survive these ups and downs and come out a stronger person and a better researcher.