Kinesiology, Nutrition doctoral students awarded dissertation research grants

From left to right (top):
Miles Bartlett, Sharmin Hossain
From left to right (bottom):
Russell Johnson, Christine St. Laurent

January 29, 2018

Four School of Public Health and Health Sciences doctoral students have received financial support from the UMass Amherst Graduate School in the form of $500 and $1000 Graduate School Dissertation Research and Pre-Dissertation grants. Russell Johnson, Christine St. Laurent, and Miles Bartlett from the Kinesiology Department, along with Sharmin Hossain from the Nutrition Department, were awarded grants by the program which recognizes exceptional graduate students and assists them in finishing their dissertations.

“I was both thrilled and honored,” St. Laurent said after receiving the $1000 grant. Her project goals “are to examine whether a fitness program offered during school recess to elementary school students is feasible and acceptable, and if it can help improve their cognition and performance in school.”

Johnson’s dissertation is to understand how humans and other species choose their movement patterns. “Comparing movement patterns between two species, such as humans and chimpanzees, may give insight into how movement patterns are influenced by morphology and how these unique patterns have evolved,” he says. “I was very excited to hear that the Graduate School was going to sponsor my dissertation research. It is great to know the school supports my research and is willing to fund my work.”

Pre-Dissertation Research grant awardee Miles Bartlett will be investigating the relationship between energy expenditure and muscular work. He will be testing a hypothesis he developed during his undergraduate and master's studies, predicting that the efficiency of aerobic metabolism decreases during high intensity exercise. “This is conceptually similar to reducing a car's gas mileage, because more aerobic metabolism (i.e., gas) is needed to complete a given activity (i.e., number of miles driven).”

Hossain’s research will examine cancer epigenetics, looking at the influence of vitamin D and sulforaphane (a bioactive compound obtained from cruciferous vegetables like broccoli and brussel sprouts) on colorectal and breast cancer cells. “We are focusing mainly on D-responsive key genes and their expressions both in vivo and in vitro while narrowing down a few targets related to antioxidant defense mechanisms in both cancers,” Hossain notes. “I honestly could not believe when I saw the email about winning this grant! We know how extremely competitive this grant is and only 50% of the applicants won this year. I feel extremely honored to be one of the recipients and bring our research into the spotlight.”

The funding will be essential for all four grantees.

“My dissertation research is an independent project in our laboratory and therefore is not supported under a larger grant. I am extremely appreciative of this funding support as it allows me to purchase some equipment and tools that will be needed for our measurements and intervention,” says St. Laurent.

Bartlett plans to use the grant for “reserving time on the MRI-scanner at the new Institute for Applied Life Sciences. Specifically, we will use the scanner to develop methods for quantifying intramuscular metabolite concentrations. We will also look at how metabolite concentrations change during high intensity muscular contractions.”