Aasha I. Hoogland

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!