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Brian Kaskie

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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