What happens to our Kinesiology graduates once they walk away from Cooke Hall for the last time? Many of us think about the students we got to know well, and hope they’re enjoying satisfying lives and careers made possible by their years of study and hard work. Current students often wonder what the future holds after they complete their degree. So, each month we’ll ask an alum to tell us about life after Kinesiology and share their words of advice and wisdom. Our March 2016 feature is Kara Marlatt.
Kara started in the Kinesiology Ph.D. program in Fall 2011 in the Exercise Physiology emphasis, co-advised by Dr. Don Dengel and Dr. Aaron Kelly, associate professor in the Department of Pediatrics in the Medical School. Upon graduating in summer, 2015, with both her Kinesiology PhD and an MPH from the School of Public Health, Kara accepted a post-doctoral fellowship at Pennington Biomedical Research Laboratory at LSU in Baton Rouge. She’s working on research projects in the John S. McIlhenny Skeletal Muscle Physiology Laboratory. During her time in our Ph.D. program, Kara was awarded a coveted American Heart Association Fellowship to study the effects of statin therapy on arterial stiffness in young adult survivors of childhood cancer.
Could you describe your current position in detail? What do you like best about it?
I am currently a postdoctoral fellow at Pennington Biomedical Research Center in Baton Rouge, Louisiana, under the mentorship of Dr. Eric Ravussin, a world expert in translational research in obesity and type 2 diabetes as it relates to energy expenditure, body composition, carbohydrate metabolism, and biomarkers of aging. Because energy metabolism as it relates to obesity and diabetes is fairly different than what I specialized in at the University of Minnesota for my doctorate, I had (and still have) quite the learning curve to overcome; however, I think this learning curve is what I like best about working here at Pennington. The Center is one of the best facilities in the nation with all the gold standard methods for assessing energy metabolism, and I get to learn from some of the best researchers in the field. While daunting, I’m often attracted to the unknown and it’s what I don’t know that excites me.
How do you think your experience at the U of M helped you in your career and personal goals?
That is easy to answer! My mentors (Drs. Donald Dengel and Aaron Kelly) exposed me to more studies and opportunities to explore than most postdoctoral fellows that I’ve encountered so far. Because I was exposed to so many different research opportunities and given personal opportunities to apply for grants and run my own studies as a doctoral student, I was very marketable. And with my diverse background, that brought a unique perspective which more people value than I had originally anticipated.
What sparked your decision to go to graduate school?
I was an economics major as an undergraduate who realized that simply making money for businesses who only sought to make a profit off my hard work was not something that I could honestly say I loved to do. Actually, someone at a networking event asked me, “What would you do if you had an endless cash flow and could do anything with your life?” and when I responded “I’d go to school for the rest of my life,” only then did I realize I had to make a change and do exactly what I wanted to do. Life is too short to be doing things you’re not excited about.
What were some of your greatest challenges as a graduate student?
I think my biggest challenge as a graduate student was determining where I saw my career taking me at the end of it all. Graduate students are exposed to many different research topics and it is very difficult to sometimes weed through them all and carve out which of these topics you want to take with you, and which ones you want to leave behind. Realizing how to make these decisions for yourself and focusing on only those that really intrigue you is difficult, but necessary. We can’t all be an expert in everything; as researchers, this is why we collaborate.
What advice would you give incoming graduate students?
Don’t be afraid to ask lots of questions. You often think you’re the only one who doesn’t understand a concept, but trust me—you are not. Often those questions lead to answers that then lead to more questions that no one has examined yet.
Any details about your life outside of work you’d like to share?
I’ve become a wimp following my adaptation to the warmer Louisiana temperatures. I’m currently wearing four long sleeve shirts and it’s 40 degrees out. Hey…it’s windy and humid, too!