Thom Gable, Ph.D. in Psychology

Academic life was agreeable to Thomas M. Gable. The transition from college to graduate school was eased by friendships and the joy of working in a Georgia Tech research lab that suited him well. He graduates with a Ph.D. in Psychology, with a major in Engineering Psychology and a minor in Human Computer Interaction: Qualitative Research and Information Visualization.

Thom earned a B.S. in Psychology from the College of Wooster, in Wooster, Ohio. Within two weeks of his college graduation, he came to Georgia Tech. He worked for one year as a researcher in the lab of School of Psychology Professor Bruce Walker.

“The fit was great with my lab and my advisor,” Thom says. So when he was ready to do a Ph.D., he decided to stay put.  Along the way to the Ph.D., he received the M.S. in Psychology, in 2015.

“Georgia Tech had the best program for what I wanted,” Thom says. The School of Psychology’s graduate program “allowed me to work across disciplines, which doesn’t happen often in graduate school.”

Having enjoyed the academic lifestyle for a while, Thom has moved on. He now works for Microsoft, in Seattle, Wash., as a user experience (UX) researcher.

What is the most important thing you learned at Georgia Tech

Finding out what I wanted to do when I graduated.

Through taking classes that interested me, connecting with people whose jobs I thought sounded interesting, and reading outside of my academic classes, I was able to determine what field I wanted to go into and to develop a general plan of how to get there.

What surprised you most at Georgia Tech?

The friendships I gained through my lab, classes, and extracurricular activities really surprised me.

When I went to graduate school, I expected to be less involved in campus activities than when I was an undergrad. But I ended up being just as much, if not more, active in student life at Georgia Tech, which was surprising because the College of Wooster is so small and Georgia Tech is so big.

Even though as a Ph.D. student I often stayed off campus and had more of a personal life, I still created really great friendships in my lab and program, and even a few across the graduate student population.

Which professor(s) or class(es) made a big impact on you?

My advisor, Bruce Walker, made the largest impact on me. He took a huge gamble by offering a lost undergraduate student – me – a research associate position in his lab after showing me around and talking about his team’s research when I happened to be in town and reached out to him to learn more about his lab and his field.

The time in his lab, as well as his classes on Sensation and Perception for psychology majors and Human Computer Interaction, gave me more knowledge in the field of user experience (UX) and taught me more about leadership, working in teams, and psychology than I could ever have expected.

What is your most vivid memory of Georgia Tech?

My most vivid memories are those of my lab-mates and me in the lab working on projects or just spending a few minutes together toward the end of the day. Getting to know each other through projects, spending time together, and just shooting ideas off of each other allowed us all to develop close relationships.

What was the most important outcome of your participation in unique learning activities (research abroad, field work)?

I taught two psychology courses in the Barcelona Summer Program, a study-abroad program for undergraduates. Because of this gig, I got lot of good experience lecturing and interacting with Georgia Tech undergrads while also honing my skills and becoming extremely knowledgeable in the subjects I taught, both of which I use in my current position.

I also interned at X, Google’s “moonshot” research and development facility. The summer internship gave me experience in industry and allowed me to focus my future education on understanding this area better. It also helped me decide that UX was what I wanted to do after graduation.

What advice would you give to incoming graduate students at Georgia Tech?

  • Remember that graduate school is another part of your life, not your whole life. A Ph.D. is a marathon, not a sprint; give yourself time off each day and take days off once in a while.
  • Do something for yourself each day, whether it’s getting exercise, watching a show, reading a book for pleasure, or spending time with friends or family.
  • Take advantage of all the resources available to you through Georgia Tech, like the gym, the library, and other facilities; you’re paying for them after all!

Where are you headed after graduation?

I started a full time position at Microsoft, based in Seattle. I work in their mixed- realities division as a UX researcher. In this role, I investigate how people interact with the next generation of augmented reality and virtual reality technologies and make them better for users. My research and classes in engineering psychology and human-computer interaction gave me the knowledge I need to be successful in this role.