What do you do every day?
I never do the same thing twice; so as a research-oriented professor, my job has always been a combination of research, teaching, and service. So depending on the day I am working on one, or all of those things. I might be writing grants to fund my research, I might be analyzing data or working with my team to collect data on a research projects, we might be writing up a manuscript resulting from one of our research studies, the variety abounds. I do a good deal of service, both to the professional community, because it is really important to me, and the broader community. I do all sorts of speaking engagements for the public, media requests related to translating our science into terms the public can understand. Service is doing peer review of grants and manuscripts for colleagues; and different committees I serve on. Depending on the semester I might also be teaching or doing mentorship training. That can include any range from high school students to research fellows who are working on projects. The variety is really nice. It also means that there is always something that needs attention, so it is kind of a juggling act, but it kind of keeps it interesting too.
Why do you love it?
I like that it is very entrepreneurial. When you think of something that is interesting, you have the opportunity to pursue that idea. If I think of a project that I think would be interesting and beneficial, I can pursue writing a grant to fund that or doing a pilot study to see what we find. I get to support that in the students that I teach and mentor. I like that ability to be creative and pursue the things that you think are interesting and bring them to fruition. There’s a lot of different skills that go into making that happen and I like the variety that I get which is very similar to being an entrepreneur but I get to do it in the realm of health.
What were your moments of fear and challenges in your career?
It’s been enormously beneficial to be able to view things through different lenses. My doctoral work was concentrated in epidemiology but I have minors in biostatistics and health behavior. What I’ve realized over time is that being able to understand the same discipline, speaking the same language that are primarily oriented in those disciplines makes team work a lot easier and more enjoyable. Some of the best collaborations and interesting sciences that people have participated in have come from sitting in that place right on the boundary of the discipline, or three or four disciplines coming together. There is a lot of emphasis placed on where science is going, crossing boundaries, working with people from different fields, to ask questions we wouldn’t normally ask if we didn’t ask the people down the hall. It really motivates my thinking, making the wheels turn and gets the creative energy flowing. I love that aspect of talking to someone in different field than from what I do everyday.
I’m a life long learner. I like to learn. The more diversity in discipline and backgrounds that I am exposed to, through the collaborations with my colleagues, the more I’m learning. The opportunity to learn about what other disciplines are doing and how they're approaching problems makes me a better scientist and I really enjoy that.
Yeah I think right now its kind of a scary time to be in this field because so much of what we do depends on a pretty narrow set of funding sources and those finds are harder and harder to come by particularly for colleagues where you're expected to bring in most of your support. It is a stressful time and has led people to choose a different career paths because those opportunities are not there for them and I worry about the loses for the advancement in science that result from that uncertainty or loss of support for the research that we do.
What are some of the latest innovations in science that you are most excited about?
There’s a lot of health and mobile health right now and it’s really exciting! They’re a lot of innovations happening; it seems like everyday there’s a new product on the market or a new thing happening. A lot of that is really exciting. Unfortunately right now much of these products don’t have any science behind them. We don’t know if they’re any good at driving meaningful changes in health outcomes. There is enormous potential there and the question is whether we're doing enough to realize the technology. It really provides an opportunity for the research focus that comes from academia and that the private sector is generating to come together to really be able to demonstrate the value of these technologies for improving health.
Where did you grow up?
Upstate New York. It was great, safe and I had the opportunity to explore different things. I was very fortunate that there were many large cities that were within driving distance from my house so we could take a trip to New York City and go to museums and explore that. Also, I grew up in a pretty safe town, and it was very homogenous so when I got older I was ready to leave to a place where people had different experiences than mine and different backgrounds. I was excited to go to a college where people were different then me, which I did and it was great!
Who was your favorite teacher and why?
My favorite teacher was my second grade teacher Mrs. Minkler. She was the person who created a safe learning environment at an age where you want to learn and explore. I remember we did an experiment in second grade when we went out and collected monarch butterfly caterpillars and we watched them form and took them out to release. I was seeing science and it was fantastic. I was seeing science and I still remember it.
Describe an experience where you adapted your approach to resolve a sticky situation.
I was at WashU medical school campus for a long time and when I first got there I wanted to do a study in men with prostate cancer taking therapy and what were the affects of treatment and the economy took a turn and gas prices rose, so participants weren't going to get in their car and come because gas was so expensive to drive. Some of the patients were coming from several hours away and we couldn't get people to consent and be randomized because we couldn't get them to come in. But that process created a lot of valuable relationships with the urologist and led to a different form a research. But if the research would have gone as planned I would have never gotten a chance to explore other things that I find interesting.
Is there a current book or book you love?
Favorite book of all time is Cry, The Beloved Country.
What is your favorite website or fun activity?
Favorite website is a cooking website, it's called Dinner and a Love Story which is a website written by parents on the challenges of giving healthy meals.
Who inspires you?
I am fortunate to have a wonderful network of friends many of whom are parents, I am inspired in the way they manage the challenges of parenting both those who work at home and those who don't. The way that everyone is working to do the best they can and looking to support each other in that journey. I feel very lucky to have that.
What’s next for you?
My goal is to tackle my bucket list before I'm holding the bucket. There are items both big and small I want to accomplish, and check a few things off that list every year, like learning a new skill, practicing gratitude small things that make a difference.