Health & Wellness

Undergrad Research Trailblazer: USU Alum Recalls Path to Dream Career

Utah State University professor Joyce Kinkead remembers meeting first-year Honors student Stephanie Chambers — now Stephanie Chambers Thomas, M.D. — around the year 2000, as Kinkead was pursuing ambitious plans to ramp up the university’s undergraduate research efforts.

“Stephanie approached me and said she’d like to help,’” says Kinkead, USU’s 2013 Carnegie Professor who, at that time, served as vice provost for undergraduate research. “It was obvious she was already savvy about research, even as a freshman.”

Kinkead seized upon Thomas’ enthusiasm and hired her as a Marie Eccles Caine Fellow to assist with the planning of USU’s undergraduate research program.

“Stephanie already had a lab assistant job and, having completed pre-college summer research at the University of Utah, she had amazing insights,” Kinkead recalls. “Together, we plotted the creation of Undergraduate Research Day on Utah’s Capitol Hill, along with other events, programs and plans to promote undergrad research.”

Jan. 30 marks the 14th year of this year’s Capitol Hill event, which brings Utah legislators face-to-face with budding researchers from USU and the University of Utah, the state’s public research universities.

“I had really good research experiences at USU,” says Thomas, who graduated from Utah State in 2005 with a bachelor’s degree in biology. “And working with Dr. Kinkead was an amazing learning experience. I was impressed with her dedication to students and I learned so much about research funding and how universities work.”

The Providence, Utah, native, who graduated from the University of Utah School of Medicine in 2010, recently completed a residency in family medicine at Idaho State University. She joined Intermountain Healthcare’s South Cache Valley Clinic in Dec. 2013 as a Family Medicine with Obstetrics physician.

“My medical practice is just yards from my alma mater, Spring Creek Middle School,” she says. “It’s rewarding to return to work with individuals and families in my home community.” 

As a USU undergrad, Thomas spent three years in the lab of biology faculty mentor Brett Adams learning about cell signaling and researching cardiac regulatory protein activity. She also spent two years working in the lab of chemistry and biochemistry faculty member Joanie Hevel, where Thomas continued her research in cell signaling.

In 2004, Thomas was honored as a Goldwater Scholar by the Barry M. Goldwater Scholarship and Excellence in Education Foundation, one of the nation’s top science and mathematics recognition programs for undergraduates.

“I wrote my Honors thesis on cardiac regulatory proteins and presented my findings at the National Conference on Undergraduate Research,” she says. “This was the work that led to me receiving the Goldwater Scholarship.”

In addition to her academic pursuits at USU, Thomas was a strong supporter of women pursuing post-graduate and professional degrees. She advocated for women in her peer advisory role within the Department of Biology as well as her post as president of USU’s Women in Science and Medicine group.

“So many women tell me they want to be a doctor, but also want to be a mother,” Thomas says. “They think these goals are mutually exclusive. So, they whittle down their dreams. There’s a need to show women it’s possible to balance their dream careers with motherhood and family.”

Thomas is married to fellow USU alum Jonathan Thomas, a Cache Valley attorney, who earned degrees from Utah State in 1995 and 1996. She says she chose medicine — and family medicine, in particular — because she likes the interface between biology and the human dynamic.

“Each person’s experience with their health is unique, but affects the family unit as a whole,” Thomas says. “It’s very rewarding to work with multiple members of a family and see their health improve individually and as a family unit.”

Undergraduate research, she says, laid a solid foundation for her pursuit of a medical degree and a career.

“Utah State has been ahead of its time in engaging undergraduates in research,” Thomas says. “By participating in research, you learn how to communicate with a team, organize and test potential solutions to problems and even develop such skills as keeping good records. These are all things I learned and practiced as an undergraduate researcher and use every day in my medical practice.”

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Writer and Contact: Mary-Ann Muffoletto, 435-797-3517,

Dr. Stephanie Chambers Thomas, USU alum

USU alum Stephanie Chambers Thomas, M.D., a 2004 Goldwater Scholar, recently joined Intermountain Healthcare's South Cache Valley Clinic as a Family Medicine with Obstetrics physician.

Stephanie Chambers Thomas as an undergraduate researcher at USU

Thomas in a USU lab during her undergraduate years. The Providence, Utah, native says undergrad research helped her develop skills she uses every day as a practicing physician.


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