Sara Rathman Zwart
I received a Ph.D. in Nutritional Sciences from the University of Florida in 2003. I am currently completing a National Research Council postdoctoral associateship at the NASA Johnson Space Center in Houston, TX. As a member of the Nutritional Biochemistry Laboratory, I am studying the mechanisms of bone and muscle loss in astronauts using ground-based models such as bed rest and cell culture in a 3-dimmensional bioreactor system. Other current issues of primary concern involve the astronauts' dietary intake, vitamin D status, and iron absorption during space flight.In addition to research, our laboratory performs operational nutritional status assessments on astronauts before and after space flight.
The Nutritional Sciences program at the University of Florida left me well prepared for my position at the Johnson Space Center. The seminar preparations, proposal writing, teaching, and manuscript writing experiences during graduate school were invaluable. I also use the knowledge gained from my graduate level courses on a daily basis.
My graduate studies within the FSHN department gave me the opportunity to perform and appreciate the importance of cutting-edge science at all levels. In Dr. Cousins laboratory, the opportunities were limitless. I was surrounded by bright, innovative, sharing minds, and provided with every tool currently available to perform research from the cellular level to clinical human studies. The department faculty, especially the members of my graduate committee, provided a highly supportive mentoring environment. I truly felt that for learning opportunities, the sky was the limit during my four year doctoral experience in the nutrition sciences program.
Upon graduating in 1997, I took a position as a professional speaker and educator with MED2000, a continuing education company for health professionals, and have been with them for the past 7 years. I have conducted over 400 seminars across the US on various topics including diabetes, heart disease, aging, bone and joint disease, alternative medicine and bioterrorism. An important role of this position is being able to translate the latest technical scientific information to a level that can be understood, and then implemented into current clinical practice. FSHN prepared me to be able to handle technical questions at all levels from a versatile audience (including MD,NP, RN, PT, OT PharmD, RD and alternative medicine practitioners), and to be able to relay this important information to health professionals for implementation. My job also allows a great deal of freedom and time to spend with my family and five year old daughter Sabrina which makes it a truly perfect job!
I came to the Nutritional Sciences graduate program at the University of Florida with a B.S. degree in Chemistry and two years experience as a laboratory supervisor/instructor at the College of the Holy Cross in Worcester, MA. I directly entered the Ph.D. Program in Nutritional Sciences and selected Dr. Robert J. Cousins, Ph.D. as my mentor. The coursework that I took at UF gave me a good base of nutrition knowledge. In the laboratory I conducted many nutritional research studies using transgenic and knockout mouse models, which were state of the art at that time. I had many opportunities to conduct or to observe other labmates conduct studies using the latest techniques in molecular nutrition. I also learned to conduct cell culture studies and I observed other laboratory members conduct human nutrition studies.
After graduation in 2000 I entered a postdoctoral research position a few feet down the hall in the laboratory of Jesse F. Gregory III, Ph.D. There I was a coinvestigator on multiple human nutrition research studies related to vitamin and amino acid metabolism. These studies were only possible because of the strong collaborative relationship between the laboratories of Drs. Gregory, Bailey, and Kauwell. By capitalizing on each others strengths we were able to accomplish more than if each had worked alone. This triumvirate of B vitamin researchers is relatively unique and is a true strength of the UF Nutritional Sciences program. In addition to doing great science, I was able to improve my management and leadership skills.
I began my current position as Assistant Professor of Nutritional Science at the University of Connecticut in August of 2004. Looking back I can see that the breadth of knowledge and skills that I gained in my laboratory experiences at UF combined with the gradual increase in management and leadership responsibilities helped to equip me to succeed in my new position. I still receive consultation and support from previous mentors and from other faculty members that I collaborated with at UF, and I'm confident that I will continue to receive that support in the future.
I arrived at the University of Florida in 1994 with a Dietetics degree from the University of North Florida and very little (actually nil) research or laboratory experience. That quickly changed, however, when I entered the laboratory of Dr. Lynn Bailey in my second semester. Lynn had just received a large NIH grant, in collaboration with Dr. Jess Gregory, to assess the adequacy of the folate RDA for pregnant women under controlled conditions. One of my first jobs was to design a diet that was low in folate, yet palatable and satisfying to the end-user. Naivety in this case paid off (at least for the short-term). I had never been pregnant so I was unaware that an additional 300 calories is often not enough to counteract the insatiable appetite that many pregnant women experience. Reality hit, however, when one of our first pregnant subjects came storming into the metabolic center exclaiming "I need more food!!!" Thank goodness she was a fan of jello and coolwhip.
Another one of my initial assignments was to work along side Dr. Jess Gregory in synthesizing the stable isotope labeled folates to be used in our experiments. This was, I must confess, a nerve racking experience. Not only did I lack lab experience but I had no experience with tools - not good when you are working on an HPLC. Dr. Gregory soon realized the short-comings of his protégée when he sent me on a mission to retrieve a "Phillips" head screw driver and I returned with a "Flat" head.
Needless to say, I survived and immensely enjoyed my research and mentors at the University of Florida . Dr Bailey nurtured and nourished a passion for research that I was unaware existed. I am currently a tenured associate professor at Cal Poly Pomona University in Southern California and have an active research program in the areas of folate and choline. Since arriving in 1997, my research efforts have yielded ~ 3 million dollars in extramural funding and have provided thesis projects and support for ~ 16 graduate students. I, along with my students and/or colleagues, have published ~ 18 peer-reviewed manuscripts, 13 of which were outside my doctoral project. My awards include University of North Florida 's "Alumni of the Year" in 1998 and the College of Agriculture 's "Teacher of the Year" in 2001. On a personal note, I am a mother to Bradley and Kyle and wife to Tony Caudill who earned his MBA at the University of Florida . Through it all, Drs Bailey and Gregory have, and continue to be, a source of inspiration, expertise, support and encouragement.