Dr. Thurber graduated in 1986 from South Portland High School in southern Maine. He captained the Boys’ Varsity Swim Team and enjoyed building sets and running lights for Portland Players, the local community theater. “I loved growing up in Maine, near the ocean, in a place with four distinct seasons,” says Dr. Thurber. To earn spending money, he clerked at Jones’ Pharmacy and taught swimming for the South Portland Parks & Recreation Department. Dr. Thurber has a been a certified lifeguard and Water Safety Instructor since 1984.
After switching concentrations three times (from biology to political science to art history), and spending a gap year earning a Diplôme d’Etudes Supérieur at the University of Caen, Dr. Thurber earned his BA in psychology from Harvard University in 1991. “I wrote perhaps the most obscure undergraduate thesis ever,” says Dr. Thurber. “The Role of Silent Inturn Pauses in the Comprehension of Speech is something no one has ever read, but it taught me how to do rigorous scientific research. Plus, I now have an uncanny but useless ability to tell you where you can pause in a sentence to create the most comprehension problems for your listeners.”
After a year conducting research on autism at the University of Massachusetts, he attended graduate school at UCLA and earned his PhD in clinical psychology in 1997. “I had two extraordinary advisors,” says Dr. Thurber. “Professors John Weisz and Marian Sigman were sterling examples of world-class scholars devoted to improving the lives of children and families. Their dedication continues to inspire me.” Dr. Thurber then moved to Seattle to marry Simonida Rutar (who was finishing her PhD in analytical chemistry), and complete an internship and postdoctoral fellowship at the University of Washington School of Medicine.
From 1997 to 1999, he had the privilege of studying with Dr. David R. Patterson, the world’s expert on the use of hypnosis and virtual reality for pain control. Under Dr. Patterson’s tutelage, at both Seattle Children’s Hospital and Harborview Medical Center, Dr. Thurber worked extensively with young burn survivors. In 2002, he was asked by Marvel to co-author a special edition X-Men comic book to promote the psychosocial adjustment of young burn survivors. The project won several awards and is widely used in hospitals across the country. He and and his family remain regular contributors to The Phoenix Society for Burn Survivors.
Dr. Thurber’s sons, Dacha (born in 2002) and Sava (born in 2004), along his wife, Simonida, continue the Thurber family tradition of helping burn survivors get back to living by playing benefit concerts for the Phoenix Society each fall. Together, the boys have raised more than $3000 since 2006. Click on the player below to watch a video of an early fundraising performance. For more recent recital footage, visit the YouTube Channel, Exeter Thurbers.
Dr. Thurber’s formal education continues as a member of several professional organizations, including The Association of Boarding Schools (TABS), the National Association of Independent Schools (NAIS), the American Psychological Association (APA), and the American Camp Association (ACA). Currently, he serves as a psychologist and instructor at Phillips Exeter Academy in Exeter, New Hampshire.
“I learn the most from my students and from my own children,” says Dr. Thurber. “Just when I think I have something about child development or parenting figured out, my own boys show me the score. I love it. And I love them for keeping me humble. There is no greater educational endeavor–and no greater joy–than being a parent. I’d take a child’s love and candor over a paper diploma any day.” Dr. Thurber’s upcoming book, Fumble, reveals what parents can learn from their parenting mistakes.