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Q&A with Shannon Jarrott, PhD, FGSA, from The Ohio State University in Columbus, Ohio.

jarrottMeet Shannon.

“Surround yourself with good people; go out and find them if they aren’t knocking on your door! It’s easy to get busy with our day-to-day tasks and a growth area for me continues to be connecting with others across disciplines and settings. A team approach characterized by honest communication is powerful as partners can push, pull, and encourage each other through challenging and mundane tasks.”

Q: How long have you been a GSA member? What GSA member benefit do you like best and why?
A: I’ve been a member of GSA since 1994. I joined as a student at Penn State and continue to enjoy the quality learning and professional opportunities the conference affords me and the students with whom I work.

Q: How has membership in GSA benefited you?
A: I benefit from gaining access to the latest research and other researchers dedicated to aging issues at the annual conference and through other outlets like the Interest Groups. I just attended the Reframing Aging preconference workshop in Boston and cannot stop talking about the ideas conveyed there and the evidence behind it. The values conveyed align so well with my motivation to support intergenerational programs. Just this week I led a mini-workshop on the framework approach in a doctoral course on theory of behavior change, and I am inspired to “reframe” my approach to a master’s level survey course on aging that I teach.

Another thing I value about GSA is getting engaged by regularly attending the BSS business lunch and contributing to Society efforts, such as nominating colleagues for Fellow status, serving on a GSA journal editorial board, and reviewing abstract and award submissions. It has afforded me the opportunity to build some new skills, and it has helped me feel connected to this rather large organization.

Q: How did you get interested in the field of aging?
A: I have been interested in the power of intergenerational relationships since I was in high school and enjoyed a close a relationship with my own grandmother. In college, I took an aging course with Carolyn Aldwin at UC Davis, and she mentored me in my search for a graduate program. I love that now I get to see Carolyn every year at the annual scientific meeting.

Q: Why is it important for other individuals to join GSA?
A: While almost all of us connected to university settings can access the top quality research published in GSA journals that are not open-access, membership builds a commitment to a home organization and conference. That’s what other gerontologists will likely find at GSA. In addition to the conference research presentations, resources like Mentor Match, Interest Group meetings and sponsored symposia, panels on NIH funding and the Health and Aging Policy Fellowship, and even the Journalists in Aging Fellows Program offer added reasons to join GSA and attend the annual meetings.

Q: Are you a member of a GSA Interest Group? If so, which ones?
A: I am a member of the Grandparents as Caregivers Interest Group. As AGHE builds a closer relationship as part of GSA, I also plan to join the Intergenerational Learning, Research, and Community Engagement Interest Group.

Q: What are your key responsibilities at your job?
A: As a Professor of Social Work at The Ohio State University, I have responsibilities for teaching and advising undergraduates through doctoral students and conducting research. Some of my service responsibilities are in the community, such as working with a shared site intergenerational center created through a community-university partnership. I also learn, serve, and build network ties through professional organizations such as the Ohio Association for Gerontology Education, Generations United, the National Adult Day Services Association, and, of course, GSA.

Q: What is your most memorable research/patient experience?
A: One of my most memorable experiences comes from challenges I faced when I realized that standard research training hadn’t prepared me to share ownership in a community-based research partnership. This experience pushed me to continue developing my community-based participatory research skills, which serve me well today as I continue to learn from and with my community research colleagues. Work with student research colleagues has been highly memorable and positive in my career.

Q: Do you have any tips for emerging gerontologists?
A: Surround yourself with good people; go out and find them if they aren’t knocking on your door! It’s easy to get busy with our day-to-day tasks and a growth area for me continues to be connecting with others across disciplines and settings. A team approach characterized by honest communication is powerful as partners can push, pull, and encourage each other through challenging and mundane tasks.

Always speak to the implications of your work. First semester doctoral students in my theory of behavior change course are frequently frustrated to reach the conclusion of a research article only to see that the authors believe that the implications of their findings are that “more research is needed.”

Q: Tell us a little about your most recent activities/accomplishments.
A: After spending many years studying community capacity building and identifying evidence-based practices for non-familial intergenerational programs, I have funding to apply these strategies to a critical community need – healthy food access. So often, youth and elders are viewed through a deficit lens, and I relish the opportunity to apply theory and evidence to demonstrate that they can be a resource to each other and broader society using intergenerational strategies.

Q: Have you had an important mentor in your career? If so, how did s/he make a difference?
A: Steve Zarit introduced me to adult day services research and, perhaps more importantly, offered a great model of supporting students with professional development opportunities; I continue to value that relationship to this day.

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

Q&A with Darlingtina Atakere, MS, from the University of Kansas in Lawrence, Kansas.

atakereMeet Darlingtina.

“My basic strategy is to draw upon knowledge rooted in indigenous and minority settings as an epistemic foundation from which to ‘de-naturalize’ the ways of knowing and being considered as standard in hegemonic sciences. We need to know how shifts in the conceptualization of practices can affect the communities where we may live, work, and engage.”

Q: Tell us a little about what you are doing right now.
A: Currently, I am an Instructor and a Ph.D. Candidate at the University of Kansas, at the concluding stage of my Ph.D. research. While I specialize in Social Psychology and Gerontology, my work builds upon and contributes to a wide range of fields including Public Health. I also have Health Psychology and African Studies graduate certificates and broad training in Social Work and Community Development.

Q: Tell us about your most recent activities and accomplishments.
A: I attended the GSA annual conference in Boston, where I made three separate presentations. Also, I was one of the few people who received The Gerontological Society of America (GSA) Mentoring and Career Development Technical Assistance Workshop and Junior Investigator Diversity Fellow Travel Award. The workshop offered more than I hoped for. We had the rare privilege of learning first-hand from seasoned professionals in the field. It was a memorable experience for me.

Q: Have you had an important mentor(s) in your career? If so, how did it make a difference?
A: Yes, I have an important mentor in the person of Dr. Tamara Baker. She has been with me every step of my Ph.D. career and has helped shape the researcher that I am now. She provides the appropriate level of push and motivation that I need to keep wanting to be a better version of myself. She is that person to have your corner because you cannot go wrong with her in your life.

Q: What are your motivations (inspirations) for studying aging?
A: I study social determinants of health in older minority males, and I picked up that interest from my curiosity about the life of my father who died from a chronic illness. He checked every box of what we know in mainstream sciences as indicators of health outcomes (e.g., educated, good job). Yet, there existed something that caused poor health outcome in him and eventually led to fatal diagnosis (and death). I wanted to address the critical void as to what is known about the influence of SDoH on health outcomes among older minorities.

Q: Is there anything unique about yourself and experiences that you would like to share?
A: At the core of my research is the application of decolonial perspectives to psychological sciences. I consider the possibility that theory, practices, and research on aging in mainstream sciences do not reflect universal or “just natural” laws of human experience but instead reflect particular constructions of aging, as well as experiences of well-being among people in WEIRD (i.e., Western, Educated, Industrialized, Rich, and Democratic) settings. These settings disproportionately inform scientific understandings and clinical practice. My basic strategy is to draw upon knowledge rooted in indigenous and minority settings as an epistemic foundation from which to ‘de-naturalize’ the ways of knowing and being considered as standard in hegemonic sciences. We need to know how shifts in the conceptualization of practices can affect the communities where we may live, work, and engage.

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

Q&A with Aasha I. Hoogland, PhD, from the H. Lee Moffitt Cancer Center and Research Institute in Tampa, Florida

hooglandMeet Aasha.

“I have been to several GSA conferences, and I have found that each one re-invigorates my passion for aging research. I love re-connecting with colleagues and hearing about the latest gerontology research.”

Q: Tell us a little about what you are doing right now.
A: I graduated from the University of Kentucky with a Ph.D. in Gerontology in 2016, after which I completed a NIH-funded postdoctoral fellowship in behavioral oncology at Moffitt Cancer Center. I am currently an Applied Research Scientist, where I conduct research cancer and aging, advise trainees, and provide support on multiple federally-funded research projects. Much of my current research explores the relationship between quality of life and circadian rhythmicity in cancer patients, including older women with suspected gynecologic cancer and hematopoietic cell transplant recipients. More recently, I have developed an interest in side effects of immunotherapy. I am particularly excited about this line of research because little is known about patient-reported outcomes in cancer patients receiving immunotherapy, and even less is known about such outcomes in older patients receiving the same treatments.

Q: Tell us about your most recent activities and accomplishments.
A: My most recent activities include wrapping up a study evaluating digital literacy in older cancer patients, and preparing a R03 grant proposal for submission next spring.

Q. Have you had an important mentor(s) in your career? If so, how did it make a difference?
A: I have had several wonderful mentors that have molded me into the scholar that I am today, including Drs. Graham Rowles, John Watkins, Nancy Schoenberg, Heather Jim, and Brent Small. Each has had a remarkable impact on my professional development, ranging from stoking my passion for aging studies to critically honing my writing to encouraging me to dive into new disciplines and literature bases to better inform my research.

Q: What are your motivations (inspirations) for studying aging?
A: I have had a lifelong fascination with old age, and specifically with the lived experience of older adults at the end of life. This interest was fueled by a number of experiences, including unexpectedly sharing a grandparent’s final moments, and providing care to another grandparent in her final years. As an undergraduate and graduate student, I assisted with research studies involving older adults in the community, where I recruited participants and administered neurocognitive tests, which led me to pursue my own research with older adults. Now, as a junior scholar in behavioral oncology with several family members and colleagues who have dealt with cancer first-hand, I am especially motivated to improve and maintain quality of life in cancer survivors.

Q: What has been your most memorable experience in gerontology and aging research?
A: There are several! If I have to choose one, then I would pick my dissertation recruitment phase when I was calling up older adults with cancer to solicit interest in my study on the lived experience of cancer. Many participants opened up about issues I really hadn’t considered when I was initially designing my study, including being unable to pay for recommended oncology care, feeling stigmatized for having cancer, and frequently-cited concerns about caring for grandchildren and leaving a legacy behind for their children. Those calls helped open up my eyes about how multifaceted late-life chronic/terminal illnesses can be, but also about the importance of behavioral oncology research for older adults. Too often we neglect to include older adults in studies of individuals with cancer, which is a major disservice to the growing population of older cancer patients and survivors.

Q: Tell us about your involvement in GSA. Which Section do you belong to?
A: I have been a member of the Behavioral and Social Sciences Section of GSA since 2011 when I joined as a first-year doctoral student. It seemed like everyone else in my doctoral program was a member, so I thought I might as well try it out. I have been to several GSA conferences, and I have found that each one re-invigorates my passion for aging research. I love re-connecting with colleagues and hearing about the latest gerontology research.

Q: Is there anything unique about yourself and experiences that you would like to share?
A: I did not plan to be a Gerontologist. I started out in psychology with the intent of being a clinical psychologist (or maybe a counseling psychologist…either one would have sufficed). My circuitous academic trajectory placed me in gerontology, which then led me to cancer and aging research. Outside of my career, I am a mom to a brilliant and beautiful daughter who motivates me to keep learning more and achieving more, and I am a spouse to a fellow academic who not only supported my career aspirations during the two years we lived apart for my postdoctoral fellowship, but also makes excellent blueberry pie.

Q: Do you have any tips for emerging gerontologists?
A: Seek out mentorship wherever you can and try to find mentors outside of your discipline or immediate professional circle. Seek out funding opportunities (internal or external) whenever you can. Be gracious when you receive feedback. Present your research at conferences – it is good experience, it provides you with networking opportunities, and it looks good on your CV. Get involved with ESPO, and finally, always be open to learning something new.

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

Q&A with Matt R. Kaeberlein, PhD, FGSA, from the University of Washington in Seattle, Washington

kaeberleinMeet Matt.

“Identifying mentors who will give you honest feedback and help you identify opportunities for career advancement is probably more important than most people realize.”

Q: Why did you become a member, and what type of involvement do you have?
A: I joined GSA just after completing my PhD thesis in Lenny Guarente’s lab at MIT. My PhD thesis research was focused on the molecular mechanisms of aging, and the GSA Biological Sciences section was a natural fit. Since joining GSA, I have served on the Publications Committee and the Biological Sciences Executive Committee, and I have presented and chaired sessions at several annual meetings and pre-meetings.

Q: How has membership in GSA benefited you?
A: The opportunity to get to know and interact with many of my colleagues interested broadly in aging research has been an invaluable benefit from my involvement with GSA. GSA is really the only scientific organization that brings together a wide diversity of people with a shared interest in aging.

Q: How did you get interested in the field of aging?
A: I got interested in aging biology during my first year as a graduate student at MIT. I went to graduate school with the intention of pursuing PhD research on structural biology or biophysical chemistry, which was my background. That all changed when I heard a seminar by Lenny Guarente during my first year talking about how his lab was using genetics and biochemistry to understand the molecular mechanisms of aging in budding yeast. I had never before considered aging as a biological problem, but I was immediately taken by the idea that we could actually understand this immensely complex problem through scientific investigation. After that, I joined Lenny’s lab and started studying the role of Sir2 in aging and haven't looked back since.

Q: How do you feel GSA serves the field of gerontology and aging research?
A: GSA plays a unique and important role in gerontology. It is the only organization that spans the entire spectrum of aging research and education, from basic biology to clinical aspects to psychological and social aspects of aging. I think we all recognize that we can gain valuable insights from our colleagues who approach aging from different backgrounds and perspectives. While it’s not always easy to figure out how to make that happen, GSA provides the opportunity for interactions that are unlikely to happen anywhere else.

Q: What are your key responsibilities at your job?
A: I am a Professor of Pathology at the University of Washington where I run a research lab that fluctuates between 50-60 members at any given time. In many ways, this is much like running a small business. Certainly, one big responsibility I have is to guide the research direction in the lab and to make sure we can pay for it, by writing and hopefully obtaining grants. Managing people and mentoring them is another big responsibility. Dealing with the bureaucracy is the biggest headache, but by and large it’s an immensely rewarding career and I hope to continue doing this for many more years.

Q: What has been your most memorable experience in gerontology and aging research?
A: I was extremely fortunate to get to spend about four years mentoring young scientists at the Ageing Research Institute of Guangdong Medical College in Dongguan, China. Along with Brian Kennedy, Yousin Suh, and Zhongjun Zhou, I worked with the students and faculty there to design experiments and develop a sustainable program in aging research. This involved about 15 trips to China with many adventures and memories I’ll treasure forever. I especially value the opportunities I had to experience different aspects of Chinese culture and the friendships I made.

Q: Do you have any tips for emerging gerontologists?
A: This is an exciting time to be entering the field of aging research, especially the biology of aging. I’m jealous of those who are “emerging gerontologists” today. In the blink of an eye, they’ll be telling you you’re a “senior gerontologist” so enjoy it! Of course, you have to write grants, publish papers, network at meetings, etc. Identifying mentors who will give you honest feedback and help you identify opportunities for career advancement is probably more important than most people realize. One tip that I don’t hear mentioned often in science is to surround yourself with people you enjoy being around. This is especially important if you are running your own lab. I’ve been careful to do this, and I think it has contributed to a great overall lab environment.

Q: Tell us a little about your most recent activities/accomplishments.
A: One area I’ve been working on over the past few years is something called the Dog Aging Project. Our two broad goals for the Dog Aging Project are to (1) understand the environmental and genetic determinants of healthy aging in pet dogs and (2) to make pet dogs live longer, healthier lives. The first objective is being tackled through a nationwide Longitudinal Study of Aging in >10,000 companion dogs. The second objective involves veterinary clinical trials of interventions that have been shown to increase lifespan and delay age-related declines in health in laboratory mice. The first intervention we are testing is rapamycin, which can increase lifespan by ~25%, delays several age-related diseases, and rejuvenates cardiac and immune function in mice. There are many reasons why companion dogs are an outstanding choice for this kind of translational geroscience, but the most important one to me is that I want my own dogs (and yours!) to live longer, healthier lives. And I’m pretty confident we can do it.

Q: Have you had an important mentor in your career? If so, how did s/he make a difference?
A: I’ve been fortunate to have had several great scientific mentors who have supported me and without whom I would have not been as successful. Lenny Guarente introduced me to the biology of aging which has become my scientific passion. Stan Fields gave me the resources to be successful as a post-doc, but more importantly was my role model for the kind of scientist (and person) I hope to be. George Martin and Peter Rabinovitch gave me invaluable advice on how to be successful as a PI, helped me identify important questions to ask, and created opportunities to advance my career. Brian Kennedy has been a true friend in addition to a great mentor, and our long-term collaboration has been more productive than I could have possibly imagined, even if he does steal my slides and take credit for them from time to time.

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

Q&A with Brian Kaskie, PhD, from the University of Iowa in Iowa City, Iowa.

kaskieMeet Brian.

“The field of aging is still emerging and has not yet become so orthodox that there is only one right way to succeed.”

Q: How long have you been a GSA member?
A: I attended my first GSA annual scientific meeting in Minneapolis way back in 1989, and then I became a member when I enrolled in the graduate program at Washington University in St. Louis in 1990. The membership has provided a number of benefits. As a student, I was able to attend meetings at a discount; as a faculty member, I receive the leading journals in the field.

Q: How has membership in GSA benefited you?
A: I look to GSA’s newsletters and webpages to learn about what is currently happening in the field of gerontology. Whether it is a hill briefing, a media feature, or a posting for a faculty opportunity, I rely on GSA to offer me a “first look.”

Q: How did you get interested in the field of aging?
A: I did not have much of a long-term career direction when I graduated from Indiana University in 1987. Instead, I took some jobs that just seemed “right” for me at that time in my life. One job was working in a local community hospital. That is where I began to notice just how much older adults intersected with the health care system, and I was particularly intrigued by those older adults who were admitted to our unit with “senility.” After a few years in Bloomington, I moved to Chicago and took a job teaching high school and coaching boys’ basketball. This is where I discovered a joy for teaching and working with students. I seemed to build on these experiences when I decided to apply to graduate school.

Q: How do you feel GSA serves the field of gerontology and aging research? OR Why is it important for other individuals to join GSA?
A: GSA is the scientific home for aging related research. There is no other organization like it. GSA also serves to remind the public as well as the individual members of our field just how diverse and fascinating the aging research enterprise really is. You can attend one session with the world’s leading demographer in aging, and then review a poster from a graduate student who made a new discovery about age-related neurological changes. There are few scientific organizations with this kind of bandwidth.

Q: Are you a member of a GSA Interest Group? If so, which ones?
A: Mental Health Practice and Aging.

Q: What are your key responsibilities at your job?
A: As a professor, I assume three responsibilities. I teach graduate courses in health policy and aging; I conduct externally funded, peer-reviewed research that examines the intersection between population aging and public policy; and I offer my expertise in serving several organizations including The Gerontological Society of America.

Q: What has been your most memorable experience in gerontology and aging research?
A: I enjoy the experience of “scientific discovery.” It such a thrill to discover something that might illuminate our understanding about aging. I also enjoy engaging in the follow up needed to determine the actual value of what has been discovered. For example, as part of the research enterprise, my colleagues and I were able to illuminate some of the early signs of Alzheimer’s disease. I also have worked on a project that illuminated our understanding about aging and retirement trends. Then, I have worked to translate these discoveries – working with healthcare systems to improve their evaluation of older patients and consulting with academic organizations developing viable responses to the aging professorate.

Q: Do you have any tips for emerging gerontologists?
A: I am most familiar with the academic path that can be taken by gerontologists, and I think there are one of two ways to succeed in moving through this part of the field. One is to train under an established researcher, a person who has established NIH funding ties and other professional supports. Follow this person closely, learn from her, and strive to stand upon her shoulders. Of course, it helps if you are passionate about the particular topics you are studying as a part of your mentorship. If you are not so lucky as to find this sort of mentor or have yet to find a particular topic that really excites you, then I encourage to take the other way. That way is to just show up and get to work, no matter what your background is or no matter who you know. The field of aging is still emerging and has not yet become so orthodox that there is only one right way to succeed. You will figure out your own path as you take some steps forward; you don’t always need to follow someone else.

Q: Tell us a little about your most recent activities/accomplishments.
A: In 2017, I was selected as a Health and Aging Policy Fellow and served the Majority Staff of the Senate Special Committee on Aging. That experience led to my most recent accomplishment of being named editor of the Public Policy and Aging Report in 2018.

Q: Have you had an important mentor in your career? If so, how did s/he make a difference?
A: Martha Storandt was my first mentor. She was a professor of psychology at Washington University in St Louis, and she also served as a director for the Alzheimer’s Disease Research Center. It was a pleasure to learn from her, and her influence on my professional development was unmistakable, largely because Martha was the kind of mentor who was just as quick to call out sloppy work as she was able to recognize unique ideas. She pulled and pushed; and I found that working with her was like playing chess all day-and rarely gaining any sort of advantage. Anyway, as a new student in the field, she provided the skills needed to design and execute a good scientific experiment. She also offered ample opportunity to engage in the emerging science of separating Alzheimer’s and other dementias from normal aging, and then staging individual disease progression. It truly was a time of “scientific discovery.”

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

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