"Older students bring a variety of experiences..."
Janine Kirstein-Miles, PhD, is fast emerging as an authority of aging. The globetrotting molecular biologist has presented her research in Austria, Croatia, Germany and Japan.
A recent coup: An invitation to discuss her work at an international symposium this spring at the University of Cambridge in England.
Science, notes Kirstein-Miles, 33, who also teaches biology and biochemistry in Northwestern's Weinberg College of Arts and Sciences, is an international endeavor. Researchers “have in common a natural curiosity and share a passion to make sense of puzzling observations.”
The German-born scientist, a postdoctoral fellow at the Morimoto Laboratory on the Evanston campus, has spent the last four years here investigating the links between aging and neurodegenerative decline — “Why we age, what happens when we age, what we can do about it.”
No prima donnas, her research models are casual about their cradle-to-grave documentation. Kirstein-Miles scrutinizes microscopic roundworms over the course of their three-week lifespan. She observed that damaged and malfunctional proteins build up over time, ultimately harming other proteins and enfeebling “elderly” worms. She uses biomarkers to monitor the correct fold and function of proteins.
Basically, toxic proteins trap other proteins, depleting cells of their functions, Kirstein-Miles said. On a cellular level, “worm cells and human cells are almost the same,” she said. “We utilize the same genetic pathways for our metabolism or the way our cells communicate with each other to respond to internal or external stress conditions.” Her research could reshape the treatment of geriatric patients battling neurodegenerative disorders like Parkinson’s disease and Huntington’s disease.
Kirstein-Miles has been an instructor at SPS for three years. When she started, she just wanted teaching experience, “but this quickly changed to really enjoying the classroom,” she said. “SPS students are highly motivated and I'm glad that I can contribute to their new careers. I often hear back from former students who are now in med school or have started graduate school.”
Upon her return Stateside, Kirstein-Miles was soon packing her bags again, this time to present her findings during a six-day conference at the prestigious Cold Spring Harbor Laboratory in New York, a cornerstone of biological research. Her theories are worming their way into acceptance.
“I have relatively eclectic training as a psychologist,” says Sara Broaders, who earned a PhD in developmental psychology and mental health research from the University of Chicago. “That enables me to teach a wide variety of courses.” At the School of Professional Studies, Broaders teaches not only staples like Introduction to Psychology, Developmental Psychology and Psychopathology but also topics like Psychology and Law as well as Psychology and “Weird” Beliefs. The weird beliefs class examines the social and cognitive factors that contribute to beliefs like superstition, alien abduction, witchcraft, and spirit possession. “One person’s ‘weird’ belief may be another person’s firmly held conviction,” says Broaders.
In her teaching Broaders uses examples from her research — among other topics, she has studied how gestures can affect memory and problem solving — but teaching remains her top priority. “School of Professional Studies students are really motivated and engaged,” says Broaders, who also teaches students at the Weinberg College of Arts and Sciences during the day. “SPS students are balancing a lot of things in their lives, and they see how what we discuss in class relates to them personally.” She says that small class sizes at SPS allow her to get to know her students, especially when they enroll in her classes over several quarters. Broaders won an award for excellence in teaching from the Undergraduate Psychology Association at Northwestern University and was elected to the Associated Student Government Faculty Honor Roll.
Broaders is eclectic not only in her professional interests but also in her personal life. She’s an accomplished quilter — and she recently obtained a motorcycle license. Still, says Broaders, there’s nothing she enjoys more than teaching.
Teaching philosophy to day-school undergraduates and medical students, plus tending to his duties as an assistant dean of Weinberg College of Arts and Sciences, are more than enough to keep Mark Sheldon busy. But Sheldon chooses to teach at SPS, too. “I enjoy a mix of ages,” he says. “Older students bring a variety of experiences to class, making for interesting discussions.” Sheldon, who consistently appears on the University’s teaching honor roll, brings his talents to bear in encouraging those who have been away from school for years “to see themselves as fully capable of dealing with the rigors of the SPS program.” A distinguished senior lecturer in Weinberg’s philosophy department and in the Feinberg School of Medicine’s Medical Ethics and Humanities Program, Sheldon teaches a number of SPS ethics courses.