Meet @RowanCHASE Lab: Interview with Postdoctoral Fellow Cole Ainsworth

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Dr. Ainsworth has a Ph.D. in Health Promotion and Health Behavior (Public Health) from the University of Alabama, Birmingham. He was interviewed by Ph.D. student Kristen Pasko.

@RowanCHASELAB: Could we start with you telling us a bit about yourself? Where are you from? What are some hobbies you have?

CA: Sure! I come to the CHASE lab from the great state of Alabama, and I received my Ph.D. training at the University of Alabama at Birmingham. Earning that degree has been one of my only activities in the last few years, but I am looking forward to picking up where I left off with other hobbies like reading, roller skating, and the occasional online gaming shenanigans.

@RowanCHASELAB: How would you describe your undergraduate experience? How did that lead to your graduate experience?

CA: My undergraduate experience didn’t follow a single path. In fact, I started college as a vocal performance music major! After realizing that I probably would not become a world-famous vocalist in musical theater, I sought other professional interests and ended up majoring in psychology. It gave me a foundational understanding of human behavior, which is what really drew me to the field in the first place. Still unsure of what specific career to pursue, I took a couple of courses in public health and ended up loving it so much I applied to a related master’s program.

@RowanCHASELAB: Continuing with that theme, you received your Ph.D. in health education and promotion. Can you tell us about the perspective this field has regarding applications of research and how you believe your training within this field adds a different and new perspective to our lab?

CA: I find there is quite a bit of overlap between research conducted in the areas of public health education/health promotion and psychology. For one, both are interested in behaviors that affect human health and research generally seeks to improve health outcomes by helping people realize opportunities for behavior change. As you may have guessed, public health tends to place value on understanding how to affect change at both the individual and population levels. My training has reflected the art of balancing these two – sometimes competing – levels of influence, essentially maximizing the benefits for as many people as possible.

@RowanCHASELAB: You’ve had previous experience working at MD Anderson Cancer Center as a graduate intern. That sounds like an amazing opportunity. What are some of the more unique opportunities you got working at that facility?

CA: My time as an intern at MD Anderson Cancer Center was great. I assisted with projects focused on lifestyle medicine for women in remission for certain types of cancer. First, it allowed me to see for myself how a research lab with multiple related projects actually operates. It also gave me a chance to expand my understanding of the ways mental practices like mindfulness and other behaviors like physical activity and nutrition can be modified to improve cancer-related outcomes. Lastly, I got to take the initiative on several projects, such as developing a protocol for using new physical activity assessment software and creating a price breakdown of the dietary component for one of the studies.

@RowanCHASELAB: What initially got you excited to work in the CHASE lab as a postdoctoral fellow?

CA: Dr. Arigo is doing a lot of really cool research related to social comparison in the CHASE lab. I think social comparison is a powerful tool at the disposal of health professionals, but we need to better learn how to leverage it in order to create meaningful digital health programs and interventions. The CHASE lab is a trailblazer with respect to that belief, and I am already learning so much from the brief time I have been here.

@RowanCHASELAB: What is some valuable advice you would give to students at Rowan looking to pursue a career in research?

CA: Pursuing a career in research will challenge you in many ways as an individual, but I have never looked back and regretted the path it has led me down. Don’t be afraid to be wrong. Research is often about pursuing the unknown, and even our most informed guesses about a phenomenon can be off.  In addition, a healthy sense of skepticism can go a long way in a research setting if communicated appropriately. Finally, don’t limit yourself from the start. Take time to think about how your interests – while seemingly unrelated – can tell you something new about the world if you put them together.

@RowanCHASELAB: What is it you are hoping to get out of your experience here in the CHASE lab? Any specific projects you are excited to have a hand in?

CA: I hope to develop new skills during my time in the CHASE lab. My training to date has focused on physical activity and cancer prevention intervention, and I am excited to learn more about the process of developing digital health tools and how to improve the user experience to promote long-term engagement in positive health behaviors. Project WHADE (women’s health study) is definitely one that has my attention because of the way smartphones are being used to capture the effects of timing and social comparison on health behaviors like physical activity.

@RowanCHASELAB: Lastly, what are your plans for after you leave this lab, and how will the skills you learned in the CHASE lab help you in your future endeavors?

CA: I am never ever leaving this lab! Joking aside, I really want to take my experience and interest in communication, human behavior, and digital technology and develop solutions to the problems facing our world today. That plan could come to fruition in many ways, via institutional research, consulting, or even entrepreneurship. I am keeping an open mind about it. My appointment as a postdoctoral fellow in the CHASE lab has allowed me ample opportunities to hone the research skills I began learning during my graduate training. Even more, I am gaining exposure to the duties of an independent research scientist like mentorship and project management. I have no doubt that whatever the future holds, my time in the CHASE lab will serve as a momentous stepping stone in the right direction.

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