Clemson University Feature Stories

Books and black belts

Psychology professor June Pilcher is an esteemed teacher and holds an eighth-degree black belt in Karatedo Doshinkan. She is the highest-ranking female in the world and the 13th-highest overall. By Molly Collins
Media Relations, Class of 2013

In an office in Brackett Hall sits a first-generation scientist whose thirst for knowledge led her to becoming the first college graduate and Ph.D. recipient in her family. With an impressive track record that spans the realm of academia and recreation, Distinguished Alumni Professor of Psychology June Pilcher ranks high in personal, academic and world-renowned achievement.

After graduating from high school in her hometown of Slidell, La., Pilcher couldn’t afford a college education, so she enlisted in the U.S. Navy and completed some course work through Navy education programs. She completed her undergraduate studies at the University of Southern Mississippi on the GI Bill, earning a degree in psychology and computer science.

Pilcher spent a year in Germany between her undergraduate and graduate careers on a Fulbright Student Award before completing a master’s program and earning a Ph.D. in biopsychology from the University of Chicago. After a three-year stint as a research psychologist in the medical sciences unit of the U.S. Army, she taught at Bradley University in Illinois for nine years before coming to Clemson in 2001.

Having studied abroad, Pilcher longed for the opportunity to engage in the cultural exchange of ideas once more. She was awarded the Fulbright Award to spend five months in 2012 teaching and conducting research at the University of Vienna as well as the Freud Museum.

While completing her grant, Pilcher participated in research with the university’s SCAN unit, a center that conducts research in the fields of social neuroscience, cognitive neuroscience and affective neuroscience. Collaboratively, they initiated two research projects, the first focusing on sleep habits and social cognition in college students, and the second focusing on how brain stimulation affects self-control when operating under sleep deprivation.

Apart from her studies, Pilcher saw another opportunity in being located in Vienna. She trains in Karatedo Doshinkan, a philosophy-based, noncompetitive form of martial arts headquartered in the area. Though Pilcher currently travels there to train for a couple of weeks every summer, she was able to train constantly throughout her prolonged stay.

“I trained a minimum of 11 hours per week, 15 on average,” she said.

Pilcher has been training for years, and she became interested in the art while in graduate school at the University of Chicago.

“I tried it, and I’ve been doing it ever since,” she said.

Throughout her many years of training, she has obtained several high honors. Her official title is Shihan 8.Dan Dr. June Pilcher, which designates that she is an esteemed teacher and holds an eighth-degree black belt.

“Other than grand master, it’s the next highest title we can get,” she said.

Pilcher is the highest-ranking female in the world and the 13th-highest overall. She is the only female in the top 13.

In addition to practicing, Pilcher has been teaching classes in Karatedo Doshinkan for more than 25 years. She began holding classes at Clemson in 2004, and currently offers three levels of classes, including an advanced class for brown and black belts. Pilcher says that there are normally 10-18 people training on campus, and classes are open to all faculty, staff and students.

“I really encourage students to come and train with us, and to give it a try and not be afraid of us old folks,” she said.

While researching at the University of Vienna, Pilcher developed two projects focusing on sleep habits and social cognition in college students, and she is looking forward to involving graduate and Creative Inquiry students at Clemson in the continuation of this research.

“Currently, a grad student in Vienna is organizing the results. The data sets will come here to Clemson, and students can work to define research questions and identify what kind of research we can contribute to. We also have the chance for cultural comparisons that will make for some interesting differences,” she said, referring to the comparison of sleep habits of students in Vienna and students here.

For Pilcher, the inquiry is ongoing, as she also conducts seminars on sleep habits in conjunction with the Academic Success Center. She says there is “a lot of underestimation” when it comes to sleep, both the positive effects of good sleep and the negative effects of sleep deprivation.

Pilcher plans to continue her studies and make further contributions to sleep research. And there’s no stopping her, as word-renowned achievement comes with world-renowned spirit.

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