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Autumn McClellan has been part of the Carolina family for nine years, during which she earned her Master’s and PhD from the Sociology Department. She recently defended her dissertation – “Social Psychological Influences on Participation in Online Collective Actions” – and will be walking in her final graduation ceremony this May.


  1. What made you decide to pursue a graduate degree?

I’ve always been a teacher. I can remember being in Mrs. Yaroch’s third grade class, and after passing out a worksheet she would say, “If you have any questions, just raise your hand and myself or Autumn will come help you.” I would finish my worksheet quickly and begin helping my peers. It felt so rewarding to help others, especially when the adults weren’t able to explain something to a student and I could! As I neared the end of high school and starting thinking about my future career, I decided I would like to keep teaching but I wanted to work at a college. Although I had only ever seen colleges depicted in the media, I quickly picked up that they were a place where my kind of intelligence would be valued, and that college professors needed to have a PhD. So, I set my sights on getting a PhD almost 15 years ago, and I’m very proud to say that I have finally achieved that dream!

  1. What’s the thing you love most about Chapel Hill?

I’ve most enjoyed the hospitality of the community and free or low-cost access to world class resources. Since living in Chapel Hill, I now make eye contact with strangers as I walk past and might even say “Hello,” instead of looking at the ground or pretending I don’t see the person walking right toward me. Luckily, I can take that skill with me wherever I go, but I’ll never get $10 tickets to Memorial Hall performances again!

  1. If you had any advice for someone thinking about pursuing a graduate degree, what would it be?

Regardless of the reason you want a PhD, you will need to demonstrate your skills as a researcher. Spend considerable time thinking about what kind of research you want to contribute to, and look for faculty members who study what you are interested in. Then, meet with those faculty members to get an idea of how well you would work together. The best predictor of graduate student success is the strength of the relationship with their mentor.

  1. What is your dream career after you’ve completed your studies?

My dream career would focus on teaching, advising, and mentoring undergraduate students, especially low-income and first-generation students like myself. I’m particularly interested in working at an institution like Berea College (KY), which only admits low-income students and offers free tuition in exchange for working a campus job. If I don’t end up working at an institution like that, I could see myself trying to start my own based on their model.

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