Alumni Spotlight: Raven Weaver

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Raven Weaver
Raven Weaver

Raven Weaver earned her doctorate in human development, with a focus on adult development and aging, in 2017 at Virginia Tech, where she also completed a master’s degree in 2012. Her major professor was Karen Roberto, a University Distinguished Professor of Human Development in the College of Liberal Arts and Human Sciences and director of the Institute for Society, Culture, and Environment. In 2017, Weaver accepted a tenure-track assistant professor position at Washington State University in Pullman, Washington. There her research focuses on the use of long-term services and supports among older adults, with a specific interest among low-income and rural-dwelling older adults.

How did you arrive at your current position? Did you always have a goal of working in academia?
I came around to the idea of pursuing a career in academia late in the game. When I arrived at Virginia Tech, I thought I wanted to work in policy to inform aging-related policies and programs. I was able to take courses that aligned with my interests and had the opportunity to be an intern at the Virginia Department of Medical Assistance Services in Richmond during the fall of my fourth year. It was an amazing opportunity in which I learned about the ins and outs of policymaking, program implementation, and evaluation. I also realized that it wasn’t a great fit for me.

So, I shifted course toward working in academia, where my teaching would emphasize the role of aging policy and my research would align with policies and programs that influence health and well-being in late life. That is, I strive to demonstrate the policy implications of programs with research that informs policy changes to benefit older adults.

What teaching and research are you doing in your current position?
I am an assistant professor in the human development department of Washington State University. I am the only gerontologist in the department on the Pullman campus; I collaborate with the gerontologist on the Vancouver campus. So far, I have taught Adult Development and Aging, Gerontology, and Families in Poverty, with class sizes ranging from 15 students to 130 students! One of the best parts about teaching is co-creating a positive learning environment with my students to open their minds about the endless opportunities in the field of gerontology.

I am a faculty affiliate of the graduate program in prevention science, which is an interdisciplinary field that applies basic research on individuals, families, and their communities to the development, evaluation, and dissemination of scientifically based programs to promote the physical, social, and psychological well-being of individuals and their families. In the fall of 2019, I will be developing and co-teaching the graduate class: — Adult Development and Aging, which is an exciting opportunity to apply prevention science concepts across the lifespan.

I have been building my research lab since arriving. Currently, I work with four undergraduate students who contribute to various research projects. Two of these students were particularly interested in my work about anticipating future care arrangements, so we applied this concept to anticipating end-of-life care. We are designing a study to assess attitudes and comfort about end-of-life issues and to measure the effectiveness of a brief intervention designed to promote personal control through planning for the end of life.

What is the best part about your job?
I am so grateful to be here at Washington State University! I cannot think of anything I dislike about my job; I pinch myself to make sure this is real life! My colleagues in the department are fantastic — so supportive, encouraging, and friendly. My transition from graduate student to assistant professor was aided by the support of enthusiastic colleagues who welcomed me warmly into their department.

How did Virginia Tech prepare you for your career?
Looking back, I realize how important it was to have diverse research opportunities. For my first three years, my research assistantship was with two different mentors, which allowed me to see different approaches to research. I also had opportunities to conduct research with other faculty through the research team requirement. Each of these opportunities taught me a lot about the types of research I am most passionate about and how I would approach similar situations. These experiences allowed me to develop breadth and depth.

Find a mentor or advisor who is a good match! It is important for that person to support your goals and career path. I was fortunate to be mentored by Dr. Karen Roberto, and I cannot thank her enough for the advice and guidance she provided throughout my five years and that continue to guide my research and teaching. It is equally important to have a network of mentors who can help you achieve specific aspects of your career goals. I was fortunate to have a strong network of faculty — especially in the Center for Gerontology — who offered guidance and support.

What advice do you have for current graduate students in the Department of Human Development and Family Sciences at Virginia Tech?
Take advantage of as many research and teaching opportunities presented to you as possible, so you gain breadth, depth, and confidence. Talk to people who have been in your shoes — most people are willing to give advice and share their experiences. Attend job talks and research presentations when the opportunity presents, so you’re ready when it’s your time to deliver one. Take as many methods classes as you can! It is so important to have a strong foundation (quantitative, qualitative, and mixed-method), and I wish I had taken more classes!

Interview by Casey McGregor