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Justine Mucinski

PhD Student in Exercise PhysiologyJustine MucinskiJustine Mucinski is from Rockford, Michigan and completed her Bachelor’s degree at Hope college which emphasizes undergraduate research. During a gap year, she worked at a neuro rehabilitation nonprofit as a fitness trainer for individuals who had traumatic brain and/or spinal cord injuries. She moved to Columbia in the summer of 2017 to begin her training in the laboratory of Dr. Elizabeth Parks and began coursework in the fall as an exercise physiology masters student. Justine transitioned to the doctoral program in the fall of 2018. Her research interests include the effects of a specific lipid species, ceramides, in contributing to the development and advancement of fatty liver disease and cardiovascular dysfunction. Justine utilizes stable isotopes to track liver lipid metabolism in individuals who are overweight and obese and has a goal of adapting these methods to assess ceramide metabolism in humans. When not in the lab, Justine enjoys hiking, cooking/baking, and traveling to places with large bodies of water nearby.

Awards: HES Adeline M. Hoffman Fellowship (2017-2018; $3,500/year), Graduate Professional Council Travel Award (2019).

Why did you choose Mizzou?

NEP offers a unique program that marries two very important and interconnected disciplines; nutrition and exercise. As an exercise physiology student who is training under a clinical nutrition scientist, my education has been highly interdisciplinary which was very important to me when searching for graduate programs. I never expected to live in Missouri, but I am so glad I am here.

What is your thesis/dissertation about?

I am interested in the lipid species, ceramides, which are in very small concentrations in humans yet seem to play an important role in lifestyle diseases. Specifically, I am interested in how they contribute to the development of nonalcoholic fatty liver disease and exacerbate cardiovascular dysfunction in individuals who are overweight and obese. I am working on developing methodology to quantify ceramide flux in humans using stable isotopes and mass spectrometry lipidomics.

Why did you choose the field you chose?

My undergraduate capstone course, Regulation of Human Metabolism, really solidified my decision to attend graduate school to study metabolism. Before my visit to Mizzou, I thought I was most interested in studying muscle metabolism, but soon realized there was another organ that was far more interesting and central to human metabolism; the liver. I am also in a unique position in that I am an exercise physiology student working under a nutritional scientist. It has always been a struggle for me to determine which discipline I was most interested in and this environment really allows me to gain an well-rounded, collaborative education in both nutrition and physiology.

Have your career goals changed?

No. My career goals are somewhat ambiguous however they are becoming more clear as I move through the program.

Where do you plan to go upon graduation?

My goal is to be as open as possible to opportunities that may come my way when I am done at Mizzou. That being said, I am a type-A planner, so I would be remiss if I didn’t have some semblance of a long-term plan. I would like to apply to a healthy mix of postdoctoral fellowships, industrial positions, and faculty appointments at undergraduate institutions with a heavy emphasis on research (much like my undergraduate institution, Hope College). This method will allow me to weigh the options available to me when that time comes. I will most likely go on to pursue a postdoctoral fellowship and eventually establish my own laboratory as a faculty member at a large R1 university. But, I like to keep my options open.

What did you like about Mizzou?

I really appreciate the collaborative nature of the university and the NEP department. From day one I have felt welcomed by the staff and faculty of the university.

Who was your mentor?

Dr. Elizabeth Parks is my main research mentor. Dr. Scott Rector has mentored me in my didactic training.