Outlook: Newsletter of the Society of Behavorial Medicine
Winter 2016 Return to Outlook main page »

Career Paths, Challenges, and Opportunities in the Field of Aging Research

Neha P. Gothe, PhD, Aging SIG co-chair; and Sandra J. Winter, PhD, MHA, Aging SIG co-chair

"All life is an experiment. The more experiments you make, the better."
- Ralph Waldo Emmerson

For this Aging Special Interest Group (SIG) contribution to Outlook we interviewed two Aging SIG members who have achieved professional success in diverse fields. They answered questions about their career paths and provided their perspectives regarding the challenges and opportunities in the field of aging.

Robin Mockenhaupt, PhD, MPH, MBA, is the chief of staff of the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation (RWJF), and Patricia (Pat) Dubbert, PhD, MA, is associate director of research training, VA South Central Mental Illness Research, Education, and Clinical Center at Little Rock, AR; psychologist investigator at the Little Rock Geriatric Research, Education, and Clinical Center; and professor of psychiatry at the University of Arkansas for Medical Sciences.

Dr. Mockenhaupt began her career as a health educator and has worked in the fields of health promotion and aging. Dr. Dubbert started her career as a nurse and her passion for research led to graduate studies and subsequent work as a project director, health psychologist, and investigator. The opportunity to improve the health of older adults is an important driver for both of them, and they embrace the value of working with interdisciplinary teams of committed people.

In her role as chief of staff at RWJF, Dr. Mockenhaupt is part of a team that is committed to ensuring that the foundation invests wisely to achieve the greatest social good - a task that requires keeping up to date with the trending issues in a rapidly changing health arena. However, for Dr. Dubbert in the field of research, competition for grant funding is challenging and makes it difficult for junior investigators to become independent researchers.

Dr. Mockenhaupt's advice for early careerists includes following your interests and passions, listening to your internal voice, and being open to new ideas and different opportunities. Dr. Dubbert's advice includes being prepared to put in long hours and working hard, seeking advice from the best teachers and mentors, continuing to learn in your own field as well as in other areas to facilitate creative hybridization and building, and nurturing your research team.

Drs. Mockenhaupt and Dubbert honed in on different and important challenges in the field of aging. For Dr. Mockenhaupt, a major challenge is the lack of adequate preparation in our communities, systems, and policies to deal with the needs of a growing aging population. For Dr. Dubbert, an important issue is learning how to use research knowledge and methods to help providers, caregivers, and patients balance the complex interplay of quality of life versus quantity that may be anticipated from available health care options.

Many opportunities exist in age-related research. Harnessing the wisdom and potential of older adults, who are living longer and healthier lives, is one opportunity for people working in the field of aging that Dr. Mockenhaupt identified. Dr. Dubbert identified opportunities found in engaging interdisciplinary teams that facilitate diverse perspectives and skills to address population level age-related health issues in a complex world. Both of our contributors identified the growing potential of the use of technology to promote healthy aging. Smart phones and tablet computers, increasingly sophisticated "wearable" activity trackers, monitoring devices installed where people live, and a myriad of other advances in technology offer incredible opportunities for interventions as well as accurate monitoring of the health, health behavior change, and functioning of older adults. The work of SIG members will be important for addressing the challenges of tailoring these to the needs, abilities, and preferences of aging adults.

We thank Drs. Mockenhaupt and Dubbert for their time and insights.