Jillian Barnas, a doctoral candidate in Nutrition and Exercise Physiology, is making her case for health and wellness through her research on maternal and childhood health while using exercise and physical activity to help combat the epidemic of childhood obesity. Part of her research also involves understanding the effects of maternal obesity on fetal outcomes and raising the awareness of how maternal obesity directly impacts child development and how maternal exercise may be used to ameliorate any detrimental effects.
Barnas was recently selected to represent Mizzou at the 2018 Catalyzing Advocacy in Science and Engineering Workshop also known as CASE that was organized to educate STEM students who are interested in learning about the role of science in policymaking, to introduce them to the federal policymaking process, and to empower them with ways to become a voice for basic research throughout their careers. This unique opportunity is one of many that Barnas says have been significant to her time at MU.
“To be successful, you have to be able to confidently work and complete tasks on your own. I have been fortunate throughout these years to be involved in research and service work with a variety of individuals. Mizzou given me a lot of opportunities to be successful. I have been able to collaborate with a large company, doctors within our hospital system, and our school system. I have a unique experience in that I am mentored by two primary investigators which has allowed me to develop my skills for applied science in addition to developing my basic science skills,” she says.
Barnas also credits one of her faculty mentors, Dr. Jill Kanaley for sparking her interest in CASE. “Dr. Kanaley was a Jefferson Science fellow with the US State Department in 2015. It was hearing about her experiences that sparked my interest in the CASE 2019 workshop and having a potential career in scientific policymaking and advocacy,” says Barnas.
Beyond graduation, Barnas hopes to continue making her case for health and wellness while not limiting her work to the academy. Barnas explains the importance of considering a career path that may not involve being a tenured full professor or work in the industry. “We are at a juncture in American policymaking that these decisions should be based on scientific facts and not shaped by lobbyists and myths. As research scientists, we hypothesize, use methods to answer our questions, and publish the findings in research journals, only to have them rarely reviewed by the government or the general public. However, we owe it to society to help translate these findings to our government to help establish policies that benefit the health of the people. After attaining a doctorate degree in exercise physiology, I can envision myself spending my career primarily in science policymaking and advocacy and am strongly considering the American Association for the Advancement of Science (AAAS) postdoc program,” Barnas explains.
Besides using her research to advocate for living a healthy lifestyle and combating obesity, Barnas assures us that her life does not solely revolve around her research. Part of her post-graduate plans includes not only getting a dog but traveling, hiking, and of course exercising. And wherever her research, policymaking, and advocacy work may take her beyond MU, we wish her the best on her next chapter.