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Q&A with Stacy L. Andersen, PhD, from Boston University in Boston, Massachusetts.

andersenMeet Stacy.

“Speaking with centenarians has taught me that older adulthood is a life stage that should be celebrated rather than feared. I would love to play a role in helping people to remain healthy as they age so that they can continue their favorite activities, foster their social connections, and have time to reflect and appreciate a life well-lived.”

Q: Tell us a little about what you are doing right now.
A: I am an Assistant Professor at Boston University and the project manager of the New England Centenarian Study and the Boston field center of the Long Life Family Study. In these two studies we are trying to identify the genetic and environmental contributions to healthy aging. In the New England Centenarian Study we study individuals who reach extreme ages (i.e., 105+ years) because we have found that they markedly delay the onset of disability and morbidity until the very end of their lives whereas in the Long Life Family Study we are studying families who have had multiple siblings reach old ages (e.g., their 90s). As a behavioral neuroscientist my research interests involve understanding how exceptionally long-lived individuals are able to stave off neurodegenerative diseases. I am also interested in identifying ways of detecting cognitive impairment with greater sensitivity and much earlier in the disease course.

Q: Tell us about your most recent activities and accomplishments.
A: Having recently obtained my PhD I am currently applying for a career development award from the National Institute on Aging (i.e., a K award). I am hoping to gain additional training in psycholinguistics, neuroimaging, and biostatistics and to complete a research project aimed at identifying early indicators of cognitive impairment from traditional neuropsychological testing and digital technologies. While I am waiting for the funding decision on my career development application, I have been moving forward with submitting manuscripts to publish my recent research findings. Most recently, I was the senior author on a paper published in The Journals of Gerontology, Series B: Psychological Sciences and Social Sciences showing that centenarian offspring report higher feelings of purpose in life than their peers which may be a sign of healthy aging.

Q: Have you had an important mentor(s) in your career? If so, how did it make a difference?
A: I have been very fortunate to have multiple mentors during my career, most notably Dr. Thomas Perls, the Principal Investigator of the New England Centenarian Study. My most influential mentors have been people who are excited about the work that I am doing and who also challenge me to reach new levels in my career development. Mentors have also been vital to expanding my research network, giving me valuable critiques on manuscripts and grant applications, guiding my research path, and keeping me motivated in the face of negative results or rejection!

Q: What are your motivations (inspirations) for studying aging?
A: Speaking with centenarians has taught me that older adulthood is a life stage that should be celebrated rather than feared. I would love to play a role in helping people to remain healthy as they age so that they can continue their favorite activities, foster their social connections, and have time to reflect and appreciate a life well-lived.

Q: What has been your most memorable experience in gerontology and aging research?  
A: My most memorable experience in aging research so far was implementing my dissertation research study. This was my first opportunity to design a study to answer some of the questions that intrigue me and move me forward on my path toward understanding how some individuals avoid dementia. Also since the testing was done in-home, it was a unique opportunity to make personal connections with our study participants!

Q: Tell us about your involvement in GSA. Which Section do you belong to?
A: In addition to being a member of the Behavioral and Social Sciences Section, I am currently the Senior ESPO representative to the Interest Groups committee and am serving as an Interim Co-Convener of the Alzheimer’s Disease Research Interest Group. I am also a member of the Brain, Epidemiology of Aging, GeroScience, and Technology and Aging Interest Groups. Needless to say, GSA has been a wonderful opportunity to strengthen my leadership and cooperative skills and expand my scientific networks. I have also been attending GSA Annual Scientific Meetings since 2004 which has been instrumental in providing a platform for presenting my research in poster and paper presentations and getting feedback from respected colleagues. I have met so many wonderful researchers with similar interests that I was able to arrange a symposium consisting of three longevity studies for the IAGG meeting last year.

Q: How do you feel GSA serves the field of gerontology and aging research?
A: GSA is instrumental in connecting people with similar interests within the aging fields from policy to research to practice during the annual scientific meetings and through GSA’s online community, GSA Connect. These forums allow for timely discussion of hot topics and sharing of research ideas and findings. I find that my own research ideas grow by learning how other researchers approach a topic or how research findings might have important implications for policy. In this same way, GSA enables my research to have a greater impact in the field of aging as well.

Q: Is there anything unique about yourself and experiences that you would like to share?
A: Interestingly, when I joined the New England Centenarian Study staff I didn’t think I had any long-lived relatives but several years ago I found out that my great-aunt was still living in Rome. I was able to visit her when she was 106 years and again when she reached the age of 114 years!

Q: Do you have any tips for emerging gerontologists?
A: Share your interests! In talking about what excites you about aging you’ll organically meet mentors and collaborators and gain valuable feedback on your research and career development.

Want to ask Stacy a question? Contact her on GSA Connect!

Q&A with Phillip G. Clark, ScD, FGSA, from the Rhode Island Geriatric Education Center at the University of Rhode Island in Kingston, Rhode Island.

clarkMeet Phillip.

“A major recommendation I would make is to seek out interdisciplinary collaborations and create groups or teams of faculty colleagues and students to develop research or instructional programs and projects. Many funding sources are increasingly emphasizing the importance of interdisciplinary research. By far the most rewarding aspects of my career have been related to collaborating with others from backgrounds different from my own.”

Q: How long have you been a GSA member?
A: I’ve been a GSA member since 1981, the year that GSA met jointly with the Canadian Association on Gerontology in Toronto. That was a very interesting and informative meeting that helped to launch me on many collaborations with Canadian colleagues and a subsequent sabbatical in Canada. I became a member as I was starting to work in the field of gerontology and realized that this association was the pre-eminent one for an interdisciplinary approach to the study of aging.

Q: How has membership in GSA benefited you?
A: For me, the real advantage of GSA is in building cross-discipline relationships and collaborations. You can meet colleagues from many different backgrounds and develop ideas for interdisciplinary programs and projects. An added benefit is staying current with national and increasingly international research on aging and older adults. Attending meetings has been an important opportunity to network with colleagues from across the country and around the world.

Q: How did you get interested in the field of aging?
A: Like a lot of people at that time, I happened upon gerontology almost by accident in the late 1970s. I was nearing the end of my public health doctoral program and was looking for a promising field for the future, and everyone said this would be it! At that same time, Jack Rowe was pulling together people at Harvard for a Division on Aging, and he was very gracious to include and support me at this critical time in my development.

Q: How do you feel GSA serves the field of gerontology and aging research?
A: I realize that there is often a membership competition between GSA and more discipline-specific professional associations, with people sometimes having to choose between them. For me, the importance of interdisciplinary professional associations is becoming increasingly apparent, especially with regard to research and teaching on aging and older adults. I like to think that we are the quintessential interdisciplinary field for the future, and
GSA is the best organization to embody this approach.

Q: What are your key responsibilities at your job?
A: I have a typical faculty position at the University of Rhode Island, which includes research, teaching, and outreach/service. Perhaps more importantly, I also am Director of both the Program in Gerontology and the Rhode Island Geriatric Education Center.

Q: What has been your most memorable experience in gerontology and aging research?
A: I think that the most memorable experiences I have had relate to sabbaticals I have taken in other countries, including Canada, Norway, and the UK. Each experience has opened new doors to collaborating with wonderful colleagues in the fields of interprofessional education and gerontology. The opportunity to develop personal and professional relationships with colleagues from other cultures and countries has been one of the greatest rewards of my academic life.

Q: Do you have any tips for emerging gerontologists?
A: A major recommendation I would make is to seek out interdisciplinary collaborations and create groups or teams of faculty colleagues and students to develop research or instructional programs and projects. Many funding sources are increasingly emphasizing the importance of interdisciplinary research. By far the most rewarding aspects of my career have been related to collaborating with others from backgrounds different from my own.

Q: Tell us a little about your most recent activities/accomplishments?
A: Probably the recent accomplishment of which I am most proud is to have received the Hiram Friedsam Mentorship Award from the Academy for Gerontology in Higher Education (AGHE) for my work in mentoring students, faculty colleagues, and administrators. This award has given me the opportunity to reflect on the many relationships I have developed with students and colleagues over the past several years, and how important they have been both to the field of gerontology and to me.

Q: Have you had an important mentor in your career?
A: I have had many mentors over the course of my career, but probably the most important one was Don Spence, my predecessor at the University of Rhode Island and President of AGHE in the early 1980s. Don provided gentle but sure and steady counsel, support, and advice at a critical time in my early career development. I am glad that I have been able to repay my debt to him by helping others in the ways he first mentored me. I think that effective mentoring of future gerontologists is the key to our field’s future!

Want to ask Phillip a question? Contact him on GSA Connect!

Q&A with Kenzie Latham-Mintus, PhD from Indiana University-Purdue University in Indianapolis, Indiana.

latham mintusMeet Kenzie.

“I am currently working with an interdisciplinary team of researchers to investigate the relationship between cumulative disadvantage and telomere length as it relates to racial health disparities.”

Q: How long have you been a GSA member?
A: I first joined GSA in 2008 as a graduate student. I attended my first meeting the same year and presented preliminary research from my dissertation. I was immediately delighted by the supportive environment provided by GSA. Over the years, I have been able to connect with scholars from all over the country and globe.

Q: How has membership in GSA benefited you?
A: GSA has created an intellectually stimulating and congenial space for networking opportunities. The interdisciplinary nature of GSA allows for new and exciting collaborations that move the field of gerontology forward. I have benefited from wonderful mentoring because of GSA over the course of my career.

Q: How did you get interested in the field of aging?
A: I became interested in understanding health disparities due to chronic diseases during my undergraduate studies. I decided to continue to explore this vein of research while pursuing my PhD in Sociology at the University of Florida. The field of aging gave me the theoretical and methodological tools to connect experiences earlier in life to health disparities in later life. Aging is truly a lifelong process.

Q: How do you feel GSA serves the field of gerontology and aging research?
A: The ability of GSA to bring together scholars from multiple disciplines from all over the world is invaluable to aging research. The cross-fertilization of ideas that occurs at GSA enhances aging research.

Q: Are you a member of a GSA Interest Group? If so, which ones?
A: I recently joined the Environmental Gerontology Interest Group. I look forward to expanding my network of colleagues interested in understanding how the environment influences aging.

Q: What are your key responsibilities at your job?
A: I am currently an Assistant Professor of Sociology at IUPUI. My key responsibilities are research, teaching, and service. I teach multiple courses related to health and aging at both the undergraduate and graduate level. I conduct research with colleagues and students from a variety of disciplines across campus including public health, medicine, and social work.

Q: What is your most memorable research/patient experience?
A: While wrapping up my postdoctoral training at the Population Studies Center (PSC) at the University of Michigan, I had the opportunity to present my research at the “Aging with Disability: Demographic, Social, and Policy Considerations” Interagency Conference in Washington D.C. The conference bought together researchers, policymakers, and activists interested in understanding aging with disability and advocating for older adults with lifelong disabilities. My experiences at the conference solidified my desire to conduct research with clear policy implications to help enhance the health and wellbeing of older adults.

Q: Do you have any tips for emerging gerontologists?
A: Seek out mentors and connect with colleagues. Research flourishes when we are able to get constructive feedback and support.

Q: Tell us a little about your most recent activities/accomplishments.
A: I was recently selected as a GSA Fellow. GSA Fellowship is such a great honor because GSA gives so much to its members. I look forward to more opportunities to act as a mentor to emerging scholars. I am currently working with an interdisciplinary team of researchers to investigate the relationship between cumulative disadvantage and telomere length as it relates to racial health disparities. We are applying a biopsychosocial approach to health disparities with an emphasis on understanding how stressful experiences across the life course impact cellular aging and the development of chronic disease.

Q: Have you had an important mentor in your career? If so, how did it make a difference?
A: I have benefitted from multiple caring and supportive mentors. In particular, Philippa J. Clarke, PhD, my postdoctoral advisor at the University Michigan and GSA Fellow, has supported my career and development. Besides helping me grow as a researcher, Philippa facilitated multiple networking opportunities including introducing me to colleagues while attending GSA meetings. Additionally, I had excellent mentoring from Charles W. Peek, PhD while at the University of Florida.

Want to ask Kenzie a question? Contact her on GSA Connect!

Q&A with Melissa Batchelor-Murphy, PhD, RN, FNP, FAAN, from the Duke University School of Nursing in Durham, North Carolina.

batchelor murphyMeet Melissa.

“Learn to use social media as a way to translate your top-tiered, peer-reviewed publications into a format the public can understand, and to build your professional network.”

Q: How long have you been a GSA member?
A: I joined GSA in 2007 as a doctoral student. I was interested in the support the Emerging Scholar and Professionals Organization (ESPO) provided to students, and the opportunity to meet and connect with experts in the field during the annual conferences. Two programs sponsored by the John A. Hartford Foundation (JAHF) facilitated engagement with GSA early in my career: The Building Academic Geriatric Nursing Excellence (BAGNC) as a pre-doctoral scholar, and the National Hartford Centers of Gerontological Nursing Excellence (NHCGNE) as a post-doctoral fellow.

Q: How has membership in GSA benefited you?
A: I have benefited from GSA membership the most through the annual conferences and the interest groups. The annual conferences helped me to build an interprofessional network of leaders in the field of aging.

Q: How did you get interested in the field of aging?
A: When I was in nursing school, there were no faculty with expertise in geriatrics at my school. As a senior nursing student, I declared “I will never work in a nursing home, and I will never work with older adults.” A month before graduation, I accepted my first professional position in a nursing home, working with older adults. That’s when I found out that geriatrics could and would be the most rewarding work of my life, and I never left! As a dually certified as a Gerontological Registered Nurse (RN-BC) and Family Nurse Practitioner (FNP-BC), I have only worked in long-term care settings. My story of entering geriatric nursing was captured by the JAHF, and now serves as a recruitment video for the field (http://bit.ly/2kseYk7).

Q: Why is it important for other individuals to join GSA?
A: GSA serves its members by connecting aging researchers from all disciplines around the world. The annual conference is a time and place for scientists to connect and share ideas, and keeps us updated on policy issues throughout the year with the monthly newsletter. It’s always been a must-read to find out what other members are doing and what “Hot Topics” GSA is focused on.

Q: Are you a member of a GSA Interest Group?
A: I am a member of the Nursing IG and Nutrition IG.

Q: What are your key responsibilities at your job?
A: I am a tenure-track faculty member of Duke University School of Nursing. My primary responsibilities with are as a nurse scientist, and educator. I teach Advanced Practice Care of the Older Adult to our nurse practitioner students in the Master’s program. And this year, I am participating in the Health and Aging Policy Fellows program – a program I learned about while at a GSA annual conference when it started.

Q: What is your most memorable patient experience?
A: Most memorable patient experience was taking care of a lady I met when she was 103 and living in the nursing home where I visited as a FNP. She was the first pediatric nurses in Wilmington, NC where I worked at the time. She was extremely hard of hearing, fiercely independent, and kept falling into her closet while picking out her clothes each day. The facility wanted to restrain her, against my (and her!) wishes. After a very long discussion with her, she very clear that she was not at all interested in using her call bell, keeping her door open, OR letting someone else put her clothes on her bed for her to dress herself – but if the staff came in to help her, she’d work with them every time. Alarms were tried, but she insisted on keeping her door closed and her television volume on full blast, meaning the staff couldn’t hear the alarms when they went off. After weeks of this merry-go-round of allowing her independence and autonomy, but knowing we also needed to keep her safe, the ultimate solution is a story I’ve told for years to my students. The maintenance man saved the day! He knew how to wire the alarm from the mat in front of her chair to the exterior of her bedroom door. When she stood up, the alarm sounded in the hallway where staff could hear it! She got to keep her television volume on full blast, with her door shut, and we got to keep her safe.

Q: Do you have any tips for emerging gerontologists?
A: I would say to learn to use social media as a way to translate your top-tiered, peer-reviewed publications into a format the public can understand, and to build your professional network. All major conference now have “Behind the Scenes” action, where professionals are using social media to connect and share the conference activities. In October of 2016, I presented a webinar for GSA Emerging Scholar and Professional Organization, and in 2017, presented at the National Academy of Medicine, Sciences, and Engineering to share my story of how I’ve used social media and technology in my research, as an educator, and     join the conversation for issues related to aging. Cultivating your online presence is critical in today’s world, and a great way to boost your career.

Q: Tell us a little about your most recent activities/accomplishments.
A: I was also inducted as a Fellow in the American Academy of Nursing in October of 2017, and promoted to Associate Professor December 1, 2017. And as I mentioned, I am a current Health and Aging Policy Fellows program. This program is sponsored by the JAHF and Atlantic Philanthropies. I am extremely honored to be serving on the United States Senate Special Committee on Aging, chaired by Senator Susan Collins (R-ME), gaining hands-on legislative experience.

Q: Have you had an important mentor in your career? If so, how did it make a difference?
A: My career really took off after I attended the Geriatric Nursing Education Consortium, when I met my first two mentors: Drs. Mathy Mezey and Claudia Beverly. The rocket-boosters were added when I was awarded the BAGNC Scholar and NHCGNE Fellowship; the support of these two programs solidified my career trajectory as a nurse scientist. My primary mentor for both of these programs was Dr. Elaine Amella at the Medical University of South Carolina College of Nursing, and she played a critical role in helping me build an interprofessional network at GSA and other conferences, and provided opportunities as an emerging scholar. Once at Duke, Dr. Ruth Anderson helped me grow into my role as a researcher and build a research team, including Drs. Cathleen Colon-Emeric, Eleanor McConnell, Connie Bales, and Cornelia Beck (before she retired!). There are many, many more mentors who have been supportive of me and my career over the years - and I am thankful for all of them; and opportunity the annual GSA conference gives me to reconnect with them each year.

Want to ask Melissa a question? Contact her on GSA Connect!

Q&A with Patricia Fletcher, BA, MA, MS, at Union Institute & University in Cincinnati, Ohio.

fletcherMeet Patricia.

"I had the honor of being her caregiver as she fought Stargardt and Alzheimer’s diseases. As a result, it has informed my research, and for those reasons, I am eager and dedicated to the advancement of gerontological research."

Q: Tell us a little about what you are doing right now.
A: Currently, I am a PhD candidate in interdisciplinary studies in public policy and social change at Union Institute & University in Cincinnati, Ohio. My intellectual work focuses on examining the resiliency of visually impaired older adults with cognitive decline aging in place.

Q: Tell us about your most recent activities and accomplishments?
A: Most recently, I worked for the State of North Carolina for the Emergency Management Department; I assisted individuals that were displaced by Hurricane Matthew in Kinston and Lumberton, North Carolina. I provided them with consistent verbal reassurance and helped them find suitable residential relocation until they were able to return to their homes. Putting them in contact with services that helped them manage the impact of the storm. Similar, I have been deployed with Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) to Austin, Texas, for Hurricane Harvey to support the leadership in establishing and maintaining adequate coordination structures with the Recovery Support Functions, state agencies, FEMA program areas, tribal/local governments and the private sector. I have applied the knowledge of interagency policy development processes, ecological housing modeling, and aging population expertise to build a robust recovery.

Q: Have you had an important mentor in your career? If so, how did it make a difference?
A: Dr. Charlene Lane, who is a part of my dissertation committee has been instrumental in guiding me in my career in gerontology. She offered me my first internship and job in gerontology.

Q: What are your motivations for studying aging?
A: My mother provided me with the most significant source of inspiration for studying aging. In my pursuit of my Ph.D. and through life, she has taught me to be courageous and triumphant through any struggle. I had the honor of being her caregiver as she fought Stargardt and Alzheimer’s diseases. As a result, it has informed my research, and for those reasons, I am eager and dedicated to the advancement of gerontological research.

Q: What has been your most memorable experience in gerontology and aging research?
A: One of my most memorable experiences in gerontology was being the featured interview in a half-hour public access TV show, in Charlotte North Carolina, to talk about older adults aging in place.

Q: Tell us about your involvement in GSA.
A: I was introduced to GSA years ago from a professor in my graduate program. Consequently, I joined the organization because it is devoted to research, education, and fostering collaboration between those who study aging. In 2015-2016 I served on the ESPO Executive Committee, as communications chair.

Q: How do you feel GSA serves the field of gerontology and aging research?
A: GSA provides an interdisciplinary platform for research and serves as a guide in developing my areas of interest. As well, it offers a community of scholars that think the way I do in advancing aging research.

Q: Is there anything unique about yourself and experiences that you would like to share?
A: While my career in aging has been deliberate, it has not followed a traditional trajectory. I have used the interconnections in communications, gerontology, and public policy and social change to provide unique insights into aging research.

Q: Do you have any tips for emerging gerontologists?
A: As you embark on your career in the field of aging, follow your dreams, find the place in research that feeds your soul, and helps you to be your authentic self.

Want to ask Patricia a question? Contact her on GSA Connect!

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