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Rebecca Dirkes

PhD Student in Nutritional SciencesRebecca DirkesRebecca Dirkes was born and raised in central California, and chose to attend Montana State University in Bozeman, MT for her undergraduate education. She completed her bachelor’s degree in exercise physiology in 2012 but realized during her education that food and nutrition was really her passion, so she returned to MSU in 2013 to pursue a second bachelor’s degree in dietetics. In 2015, she moved to Missouri to begin her graduate education at Mizzou, where she is pursuing a PhD in nutrition sciences. Here at Mizzou, she has worked in Pamela Bruzina’s laboratory, researching many aspects of bone health. She began her graduate work researching the cellular mechanisms behind the negative effects of diabetes mellitus on bone strength and bone mass. In her third year of her PhD, she changed research topics to begin exploring the mechanisms behind the negative impact that estrogen loss has on bone strength and bone mass at various ages, and whether diet or exercise could help reverse some of these impacts. Her dissertation is built on that research to explore how exposure to environmental estrogen mimickers, primarily from food, can also impact bone strength and bone mass. She hopes to continue to explore the relationship between nutrition, exercise, and hormonal control on bone mass and bone strength in her future endeavors.

Awards: Food in the 21st Century Travel Award (2019); Graduate Professional Council Travel Award (2019); University of Missouri’s Nominee for the P.E.O. Doctoral Scholar Award (2019); Dale E. Brigham Teaching Assistant Award (2018); Food in the 21st Century Travel Award (2018); Graduate Professional Council Travel Award (2018); Maxine Seabaugh Shade Research Fellowship (2017); Charlene Scanland-Evert Graduate Research Scholarship (2017); Graduate Professional Council Travel Award (2016); Food in the 21st Century Travel Award (2016).

Why did you choose Mizzou?

I initially applied to Mizzou for graduate school because I was excited about the collaborative research in the department of Nutrition and Exercise Physiology. With an undergraduate background in both nutrition and exercise physiology, I appreciated that Mizzou had a combined department with a holistic approach to research in human health. Once I visited the campus, I was enticed by the supportive faculty and staff, as well as the many research and teaching opportunities provided by the department.

What is your thesis/dissertation about?

My dissertation focuses on hormonal regulation of bone mass, and the effects that environmental estrogens can have on skeletal development. We use rodent models to assess the impact that maternal exposure to bisphenol A, an estrogen mimicker, during pregnancy and lactation can have on skeletal development of the offspring.

Why did you choose the field you chose?

I’ve always been fascinated by anatomy, physiology, and how the human body works, and I’ve always been interested in working in some kind of medical or human health field. I am a firm believer in preventative medicine and behaviors, and I’ve realized through the years that my passions lie in helping educate individuals and communities so that they can make informed choices for their own health.

Have your career goals changed?

Yes. When I began my undergraduate career, I was intending on going to school to become a physical therapist. However, through different classes I took and different opportunities I have had, I’ve learned that nutrition and food is my true passion in life. Everyone eats, and I love that food can bring communities together like nothing else can. In addition, I’ve learned how much I value and believe in the power of education when it comes to health and behavior, and my career goals have changed. I now wish to stay in academia and become a professor in a nutrition department.

Where do you plan to go upon graduation?

I am currently looking into different postdoctoral fellowships and teaching positions in the mid-Missouri area that will help me advance my academic career while keeping me close to the place I have come to call home.

What did you like about Mizzou?

Mizzou has provided many opportunities to me, for both personal and professional growth. I love that the NEP department is collaborative between nutrition and exercise physiology, which allows for many learning and research opportunities. All of the faculty are passionate about how nutrition and exercise can impact human health, which makes their classes interesting and beneficial. The graduate school at Mizzou provides many opportunities for learning and growth through their professional development classes and support of programs such as 3-minute thesis. Graduate students at Mizzou are very supported in their chosen fields, and I have really appreciated that during my time here.

Who was your mentor?

My mentor is Dr. Pamela (Hinton) Bruzina, a professor in the department of Nutrition and Exercise Physiology. She has been an amazingly supportive mentor and I’ve been so lucky to work with her for the past few years.