This psychology and sports communication alumna can trace a Fulbright award and upcoming graduate degree in Scotland to sports injury.
The road to a career is usually so winding that it can be hard to trace it all back to a single starting point. Linnea Bacon does not have that problem. She can trace her college career, the work she has done after graduation and where she is headed to a single injury: a concussion she sustained during a high school soccer match.
Recovering from a concussion usually takes around 10 days – if you realize you have had one. Bacon did not. She finished the match and continued practicing and playing for over a week before the concussion’s effects – nausea and trouble sleeping – caught up with her. A 10-day recovery became eight months, many missed classes and guilt over letting her team down.
“The experience changed my perspective on a lot of things,” Bacon said. “I didn’t feel supported and I experienced the stigma that occurs around head injuries; it really revealed to me how sports and psychology could intersect, which I may have never realized otherwise.”
Bacon became interested in learning more about athletes encountering challenging transitional periods. She would go on to double major in psychology and sports communication at Clemson while also working with the Clemson Tigers Football Team as a student assistant in player development. After graduating in December 2019, Bacon went on to work for Michigan Medicine at the University of Michigan as a research coordinator.
In early April, Bacon learned that she had been awarded the Fulbright University of Stirling Award, so in the Fall she will travel to the University of Stirling in Scotland to begin its one-year master’s program in sport psychology. She will also work with faculty members such as Robert Morris who specialize in athlete transitions and mental health.
“I was the semi-finalist and alternate two years in a row for this, but I continued to apply because it just seemed like the perfect fit and everything I would want,” Bacon said. “The University of Stirling has the only sports psychology-accredited program in the country, they have amazing sports facilities and academies on campus and the work of their faculty is super impressive. On top of all that, I have extended family in Glasgow.”
Bacon enjoys the clinical and research aspects of her current position, so she hopes that her studies in Scotland will prepare her to eventually earn a Ph.D. in clinical psychology. Her goal is to become a practicing clinician who doubles as a researcher working with athletes or sports teams.
Bacon said she fondly thinks back on her time at Clemson when she was able to put the pieces together and see what was possible in the fields of sports and psychology. She said she could not have done this without the guidance of many professors, including Greg Cranmer, associate professor in the Department of Communication, and Robin Kowalski, Centennial Professor of Psychology in the Department of Psychology.
Cranmer said he clearly recalls how Bacon was able to grasp the scholarly components of theory while also naturally extending those principles to applied contexts without much guidance. He said he is impressed with how efficiently and how early Bacon has put her research agenda together. He added that the potential impact of her focus in sports is hard to overstate, and the positive effects on single athletes can have a ripple effect on entire teams.
“This topic is central to the functioning of sport,” Cranmer said. “Sport participation is limited by numerous factors that ensure constant turnover and transition, so practitioners such as Linnea who have the ability to negotiate these transitions and provide the needed social structures and resources can improve athlete well-being, team cohesion and performance.”
Kowalski said she is hardly surprised that Bacon has found early success as a researcher and has earned the Fulbright award. She said Bacon always had a gift for tying internships and related opportunities to the fields she was passionate about. Bacon’s undergraduate honors thesis focused on return-to-learn and return-to-play among student athletes following concussions, which Kowalski said was instrumental in Bacon earning a Stanford internship in 2019 and was helpful in her work with the Clemson football team.
“She is brilliant, highly responsible and very motivated,” Kowalski said. “She always made it look so easy. While I was technically the professor and mentor, Linnea was always teaching me new concepts and ways of doing things. It made our relationship more peer to peer than teacher to student.”
Students interested in the Fulbright award or other nationally competitive programs should contact the Office of Major Fellowships at 864-656-9704 or firstname.lastname@example.org.
The Department of Psychology and Department of Communication are part of the University’s College of Behavioral, Social and Health Sciences (CBSHS). Established in 2016, CBSHS is a 21st-century, land-grant college that combines work in seven departments – Communication; Nursing; Parks, Recreation and Tourism Management; Political Science; Psychology; Public Health Sciences; Sociology, Anthropology and Criminal Justice – to further its mission in “building people and communities” in South Carolina and beyond.
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