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Sandy Cobb first became interested in seizure disorders while working as an EEG technician at the University of North Carolina Medical Center.

Now Cobb, earning her PhD in nursing, was in the first group of students to receive the Tennessee Fellowship for Graduate Excellence. The premier program provided top-dollar fellowships that helped UT recruit some of the nation’s best graduate students in all fields.

Cobb said her experience as an EEG tech allowed her to work throughout the hospital and see what piqued her interest.

“I spent most of my time in the ICUs, especially the neuro ICU, and found that the nurses did incredible work,” she said. “I was amazed at level of involvement nurses had with their patients’ hospital stays and decided that I wanted to be involved in my patients’ care at the same level.”

While working on her nursing bachelor’s degree at East Tennessee State University, Cobb conducted undergraduate research with UT alumni Ken Phillips and Teresa Stephens.

Phillips advised Cobb’s research, which focuses on mental health indicators in patients with epileptic seizures as opposed to those with psychogenic nonepileptic seizures (PNES).

“Patients with PNES are often labeled as malingerers or faking their symptoms, and I wanted to show that not only are they not faking their disorder, they also have health outcomes that are often worse than those with epileptic seizures,” Cobb said. “My interest in the topic started when I worked at UNC as an EEG tech, because I dealt with both of those patient populations on a regular basis.”

Cobb credits both professors with inspiring and guiding her through the next steps in her graduate studies. Working with them made her want to further her education at UT, she said.

“I considered their success to be a positive reflection of UT’s PhD program and wanted to be a part of that.”

At UT, Cobb is continuing her research into the impact of adverse childhood experiences and depression disease development and health outcomes in patients with PNES, as well as options for therapy.


Lindsey Owen (865-974-0937,

Amy Blakely (865-974-5034,