When Kevin “Kip” Thomas enrolled in the PhD in Public Policy program at George Mason University’s School of Public Policy—now the Schar School of Policy and Government—he was a decorated Navy Lieutenant Commander stationed at the Pentagon and serving on the military staff of the Secretary of the Navy.
These days, 10 years after earning his doctoral degree in 2008, Thomas is the Director and Principal Investigator at the Laboratory for Human Neurobiology at the Boston University School of Medicine, one of the largest labs of human testing on the east coast. He’s also director of the School’s Master of Science in Healthcare Emergency Management Program and co-director of the Master’s in Science in Bioimaging Program.
Thomas is not alone among his PhD cohorts to achieve significant success. Among his classmates were fellow Navy officers Bruce Lindsey, now a Navy Vice Admiral and the Deputy Commander of the U.S. Fleet Forces Command and keynote speaker at the Schar School’s Degree Celebration on May 16, and John Zangardi, now Chief Information Officer of the Department of Homeland Security. Also in the class was Sarah Maxwell, an associate professor of public policy at the University of Texas-Dallas and recently named Assistant Provost.
If Thomas’ career path seems wildly divergent—and Thomas agrees it is—it’s the result of the PhD program.
“It made me a scientist,” he said.
Some of his duties at the Pentagon included work on antiterrorism and issues related to homeland defense. At one point he realized that “the healthcare space was not engaged well for emergency management.” With an MBA from Mason already in hand, he enrolled in the public policy PhD program to, as he said, “understand people’s preferences…the ideas of psychological and economic constructs” that create useful policies.
“It made sense to understand how people deal with preferences and where perception happens in the brain.”
As it happened, Schar School Professor Francis Fukuyama’s dual track coursework—addressing social and cultural aspects of thinking—“forced me to look at the psychological components of risk.” His PhD dissertation was on “unwanted infrastructure that people believed had significant risk to it, such as cell towers…Understanding how people dealt with risks.”
The first course Mason offered in Thomas' PhD program made as much of an impression as those he took with Fukuyama.
“It was Logic,” he said. “And I learned how to really perform critical analysis—how to think—which aids in critical writing. I became a scientist.”