Dr. Ken Wallston has served the Vanderbilt University and Medical Center communities for 46 years. As a psychologist, Dr. Wallston has pushed the boundaries of social/health psychology and has paved the way for many young investigators to strengthen their foothold on the world of research. Dr.Wallston worked and expanded minds at Vanderbilt from September 1971 to August 2017. When he retires from the regular faculty, he will continue on as professor emeritus. He plans to continue his involvement at Vanderbilt as a consultant on the many projects that he is still involved in. The reception in honor of Dr. Wallston is scheduled for August 31, 2017. Please see below or click here for the formal invitation and RSVP.
Being based in the School of Nursing with secondary appointments in the College of Arts and Science and at Peabody College gave Dr. Wallston access to colleagues and collaborators all over the University, including those in the School of Medicine. Although he collaborated with a few physician colleagues during the first 35 years of his time at Vanderbilt, it wasn’t until Dr. Russell Rothman came to Vanderbilt in 2002 that Dr. Wallston became involved “big time” in health services research. In addition to his collaborative research with Dr. Rothman, he has collaborated with Drs Sunil Kripalani, Kerri Cavanaugh, Christianne Roumie, Matt Weinger, Ted Speroff, Gurjeet Birdee, Lindsay Mayberry, and Consuelo Wilkins among others, serving as the senior behavioral scientist on their research grants. In addition, he has served on a number of mentoring committees for young health services researchers. Mentoring the next generation of research scientists is one of the activities that Dr. Wallston is most proud of. He is also proud of the fact that in 2007 he was recognized as a Joe B. Wyatt Distinguished University Professor for his many research collaborations with nurses, physicians, psychologists and other disciplines throughout the University community.
Dr. Wallston’s academic story began at Cornell University. As a young college student, he had not heard much of psychology before until he took his first introductory course during his sophomore year. Intrigued by this relatively new science, he declared psychology his major and focused on it for the rest of his time at Cornell. In fact, Dr. Wallston ended up taking so many psychology courses during the course of his years at Cornell that his advisor had to convince the college to let him graduate since he had not taken enough liberal arts classes for their liking. He then attended the University of Connecticut to pursue a doctorate in clinical psychology, but after one semester switched into social psychology. After receiving his PhD, Dr. Wallston became a research associate of Dr. Howard Leventhal at the University of Wisconsin-Madison to conduct research, and was also an assistant professor in the School of Nursing at Wisconsin with the responsibility to help the faculty in Nursing learn how to do research. Dr. Leventhal was a pioneer in health psychology, and through his mentorship Ken got an introduction into this new field and the interdisciplinary field known as behavioral medicine. Dr. Wallston spent three years in Madison working on nursing and psychology research before moving to Vanderbilt. The timing for that move was perfect; it was time for Dr. Wallston to leave his positions at Wisconsin, and Vanderbilt School of Nursing was in need of a psychologist who could teach psychology as applied to nursing.
Dr. Wallston is married to Dr. Jonatha Gibaud, a retired clinical psychologist who received her PhD from Peabody College before its merger with Vanderbilt. Since 2013, they have lived full-time in their home in western North Carolina, about 30 miles south of Asheville, where both their two children, Joel (47) and Margot (41), live. When he is not working on his computer or participating on conference calls with his many colleagues back in Nashville, Dr. Wallston spends his free time sitting on his deck with their dog Popover, enjoying the views of the foothills of the Blue Ridge Mountains, keeping an eye on cows in their back yard and the horses in their front pastures.
When asked about what advice he would give to researchers following in his footsteps, Dr. Wallston said “Keep an open mind. While it is important early in your career to carve out a research area in which you will specialize and become known, it is also important not to be too quick to say “No” when others ask you to become a member of their research team. You never know when that might lead you down a path that is better than the one you were following. As someone associated with the construct of “locus of control,” I'm a big believer in fate, luck and chance." Dr. Wallston's autobiography is subtitled, “The Prince of Serendipity."