A doctoral candidate in the final stages of his program in the department of exercise at the University of South Carolina’s Arnold School of Public Health, Mr. Justin Hardee has won the Doctoral Student Research Award at the 2015 Southeast American College of Sports Medicine Annual Meeting in Jacksonville, Florida. While many students change majors and career paths multiple times, Mr. Hardee has only had to refine his over the past 10 years.
His evolution moved from an interest in applying strength and conditioning to athletic performance to now trying to understand basic biological mechanisms that enable exercise to prevent and treat disease. This progression has required a lot of extra work and determination, but it is a path that clearly suits him. With just a year left in the No. 1 ranked program in the United States, Mr. Hardee already has seven first-author and three second-author publications with several in review or preparation.
While pursuing a Master’s in Exercise Science at Appalachian State University, Mr. Hardee began doing research with Dr. Kevin Zwetsloot that involved studying the effects of aging at the cellular level using lab techniques. During this time he also worked as a strength and conditioning coach for the football and track and field teams and began teaching undergraduates, realizing that there were parallels between training, teaching and research.
“Going from strength and conditioning to more basic research was a natural transition,” Mr. Hardee says. “Both have similar qualities and involve taking someone from the beginning to an advanced skill.” He credits Dr. Zwetsloot for helping him transition from a practitioner to an aspiring scientist.
Dr. Zwetsloot also had a connection to a school that Mr. Hardee had always respected. Exercise science professor and chair Dr. James Carson and Dr. Zwetsloot had both served as postdoctoral fellows under the same principal investigator, Dr. Frank Booth, an established international authority for applying molecular biology techniques to the understanding of exercise and inactivity related to biological mechanisms. This approach aligned perfectly with his own interests, so Mr. Hardee applied to the Arnold School of Public Health so that he could continue his studies with Dr. Carson.
“Dr. Carson’s laboratory and the diverse research environment at the ASPH has expanded my view of exercise and provided me insight on areas linking physical inactivity to diseases impacted by muscle wasting, which has become the focus of my dissertation,” he says. “My long-term goal is to understand the molecular mechanisms underlying physical activity’s contribution to muscle mass regulation and how increased physical activity could be used to improve therapeutic treatments in wasting conditions.”
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