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Christopher Steven Marcum

Q&A with Christopher Steven Marcum, PhD, from the National Institutes of Health in Bethesda, Maryland.

marcumMeet Christopher.

“Take someone under your wing and be a good mentor; you’ll learn as much from your trainees as they learn from you.”

Q: How long have you been a GSA member?
A: I’ve been a member since I was a graduate student at the University of California, Irvine. My membership card says I joined on April 7th, 2009. The greatest benefit that GSA brings to me is a sense of professional identity as a gerontologist in an interdisciplinary community of scholars and policymakers. I’ve not been involved in service directly for GSA, but I am an associate editor of JGSS (and formerly I was a guest editor of the special issue on aging and networks with Ben Cornwell and Merril Silverstein). I strongly advocate for the widespread dissemination of research on aging published in GSA journals.

Q: How has membership in GSA benefited you?
A: As I mentioned, GSA has brought me a sense of professional identity as a gerontologist. Moreover, the annual meeting is one of the finest scientific arenas for sharing research across all of science, in my opinion.

Q: How did you get interested in the field of aging?
A: My parents, grandparents, and great-grandparents on my mother’s side were “young” when I was growing up. So, I had the distinct privilege of growing up in a richly intergenerational family. My interests in aging and gerontology, especially in intergenerational relations and social networks, are a direct result of my personal experience witnessing my own family life course.

Q: How do you feel GSA serves the field of gerontology and aging research?
A: GSA and its members are the primary agents in translating research on aging to the public. Through its partnerships and civic action, GSA is also, even more than other organizations like AARP and Grantmakers in Aging, the principal institutional actor involved in establishing precedents for scientifically-informed aging policy in the USA (and in some cases across the world).

Q: Are you a member of a GSA Interest Group? If so, which ones?
A: Ha! I am a member of a few interest groups. I mainly use the interest groups to stay informed of research and events that I would not normally see as they lie outside of my wheelhouse. I’m on the listservs of “Aging, Alcohol, and Addictions,” “Epidemiology of Aging,” and “Transportation and Aging.”

Q: What are your key responsibilities at your job?
A: I’m a scientist and so I’m responsible for all of the primary research, teaching, and publication expectations that any tenure-track or tenured academic in a university would have. In addition, I perform service to the NIH: specifically, I sit on the National Human Genome Research Institute's Intramural Research Program Scientific Review Committee (which reviews scientific and clinical protocols prior to going before the full IRB), and I organize the Social and Behavioral Research Branch Works-in-Progress colloquium.  

Q: What is your most memorable research/patient experience?
A: This is going to sound a bit self-effacing but my most memorable experience was the manner in which I failed my initial dissertation proposal defense. Drs. Judith Treas and Karen Rook, both well-known gerontologists, were on my committee and they both raised the issue that I hadn’t pushed hard enough in terms of situating my research interests on age differences in daily social interaction into the broader gerontological literature. As a result of their feedback, I’ve adopted a very deep appreciation for social and psychological theories, and I try very hard to map my methodological work to precise aspects of theoretical import in this field.

Q: Do you have any tips for emerging gerontologists?
A: Apply for grants! Apply early, and apply often. It’s a great way to build a collaboration and, even you do not get funded right away, your experience with grantwriting will improve (as will your chances for future success). Moreover, take someone under your wing and be a good mentor; you’ll learn as much from your trainees as they learn from you.

Q: Tell us a little about your most recent activities/accomplishments.
A: There’s been a lot going on in my lab at NHGRI in terms of accomplishments over the last couple of years. In 2016, I was honored by the Office of Behavioral and Social Science Research as a Matilda White Riley Early Stage Investigator (in part, for my work on network approaches to understanding intergenerational contact). That same year, my students successfully nominated me for an NIH mentorship award. But recently I’m most proud of the fact that two of my students have gone on to become outstanding award winning scholars: Mr. Jeffrey Lienert (my doctoral candidate) and Dr. Jielu Lin (my postdoc and fellow GSA member) both won the Intramural Research Award from the NHGRI in 2017, which is the highest and most competitive honor given to our fellows. Few things make one feel more accomplished than seeing the success of others you’ve supervised fly high.

Q: Have you had an important mentor in your career? If so, how did it make a difference?
A: I’ve had many. Good mentorship has helped me be successful as an academic, particularly, in how to model being a good mentor to my own trainees. I’m especially grateful to Drs. Carter Butts, Judith Treas (GSA fellow), and Laura Koehly in this regard.

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

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