Overcoming Doubt To Discover Her Passion

  • October 29th, 2020

Tori Stone (PhD, Spring ’18) is a women’s health researcher at Yale University. Quick to conversation, Tori’s honest about the hard work her accomplishments required, her unsure path to reach them and the advisers who aided her way.

An Unsure Future

UA alumna Tori Stone poses in her lab at Yale University.
UA alumna Tori Stone poses in her lab workspace at Yale University.

Tori’s route to Yale, made possible with a doctorate from The University of Alabama Graduate School, began at Indiana State University, long before she realized which direction she was steering. As a student-athlete on the track team, a bachelor’s in exercise science was an easy fit. Too easy, according to her adviser.

“I was not a good student in undergrad,” Tori admits. She was there for her sport, earning a degree along the way with no plans what to do with it. When her adviser suggested graduate school, she was shocked.

“I’ve never been academically inclined, so when he told me that exercise science is a transition degree and asked me what I wanted to do with it, I was lost. I pushed back, asking him ‘Why do you care?’ And his answer got me. ‘Because you’re like me.’ He laid out our common ground and invited me to his research team, coaching me to grad school along the way.”

Lacking the confidence in her academics that she carried onto the field, Tori didn’t feel she was graduate student material. “I told him, ‘I can’t do that,’ and he asked me why. I didn’t have an answer.”

The next stretch of Tori’s route was a master’s in applied physiology at the University of Nevada, Las Vegas, where she expanded her research toward women’s health and cardiovascular research. At times overwhelmed and intimidated, Tori found she had another encouraging adviser to provide direction. A GTA position, while valuable, quickly helped Tori determine research, not teaching, was her strength. Pressing into that, her adviser encouraged her to find a doctoral program where she could develop her own niche. And once again, Tori’s “I can’t” was met with “Yes, you can.”

“He didn’t recruit me; I recruited him.”

Still searching for an ultimate direction, Tori narrowed her selection to a handful of schools. After a UA campus tour and visit with Dr. Jonathan E. Wingo, professor and chair in the department of kinesiology, her search ended.

Tori Stone continues her research into women's health.
Tori Stone reads ultrasound data with a subject as she continues her research begun at The University of Alabama.

Tori had been following Dr. Wingo’s cardiovascular work for some time and knew he could help her define her passion. Settling into The University of Alabama Graduate School was easy; taking ownership of her research was exciting. As a graduate assistant, she was writing research in her first semester, an opportunity generally not afforded to new students at many institutions.

“His job was to develop me into a serious researcher, but he let me be myself and have a voice. Anything I asked about, it didn’t matter how busy he was, he gave everything his full attention.”

Developing Tori’s leadership and confidence, Dr. Wingo coached her toward postdoc work from the first day in the lab, pushing her toward new CV-building experiences including grant funding and paper writing. And with that guidance, Tori found her niche – the influence of reproductive hormones on female cardiovascular health and hormone balance regeneration.

As graduation neared, her adviser made the postdoc process an easy to-do list. By reframing how she thought about it, Tori found herself newly equipped with the confidence and knowledge to push her work further.

A good lead and strong advice

Now thriving in the John B. Pierce Laboratory at Yale University, Tori has made a comfortable switch to obstetrics and gynecology in her research and recently published her latest article. She repeats Dr. Wingo’s advice to herself often; “Don’t be distracted by the future and forget about the now.” It’s the voice of confidence that grounds her focus on her research and moves her forward.

To discover your own way forward or connect with a future mentor, contact the The University of Alabama Graduate School at graduate.ua.edu/prospective-students/.

The University of Alabama, the state’s oldest and largest public institution of higher education, is a student-centered research university that draws the best and brightest to an academic community committed to providing a premier undergraduate and graduate education. UA is dedicated to achieving excellence in scholarship, collaboration and intellectual engagement; providing public outreach and service to the state of Alabama and the nation; and nurturing a campus environment that fosters collegiality, respect and inclusivity.