Time to meet Dr. Michael Harris-Love (He/him)! Dr. Harris-Love is a rehabilitation scientist with clinical training as a physical therapist and post-doctoral training in clinical trials research in the USA!
What kind of scientist are you?
I’m a rehabilitation scientist with clinical training as a physical therapist and post-doctoral training in clinical trials research. My doctoral research involved developing and validating clinical methods to characterize anaerobic fatigue in people with idiopathic myopathies. This line of work later evolved to the assessment of age-related muscle dysfunction – building upon the idea that sarcopenia should be considered a heterogeneous condition. Investigating how adverse changes in muscle quality may precede appreciable losses in muscle mass has led my lab group to embrace transdisciplinary research. Approaches ranging from quantitative bioimaging and semi-automated image acquisition to more conventional muscle performance measures help us to better understand muscle health and promote the functional independence of older adults.
What made you want to become a scientist?
Being a scientist was never an idea that was on the table. As a first-generation college grad who was raised by a single parent in East Detroit, there was no clear path to attaining a college education. Don’t get me wrong – my family always encouraged the pursuit of higher learning, but no one really knew the best way to attain that goal. Seeking a drastic change in direction, I moved from Detroit to Phoenix, AZ after high school to find work and figure things out. I worked in temporary jobs during the day, attended a technical college at night, and eventually landed an entry-level position with a large government contractor. The company provided me with training in technical writing and charged me with the task of creating a 40-hour internal training course related to circuit board design simulations. I never realized that I had any aptitude to be a teacher until I stepped out of my comfort zone to do it. After working and saving funds for about 6 years, I quit my job and enrolled in a state university with the intention of studying full time and earning my degree. However, my car engine died during my first semester and wiped out about half of my savings. So, I looked high and low for another job and found work in a Comparative Physiology and Functional Morphology Laboratory. Suddenly, I was immersed in the very unfamiliar world of antelope muscle bioenergetics and rattlesnake muscle mechanics. The lab director, Dr. Lindstedt, helped me to land a NASA Space Grant during my senior year. Upon enrolling at the university, research was not even a passing thought…yet there I was helping to conduct an exercise study, giving a conference platform presentation, and publishing a FASEB abstract. My mind is still blown after all these years. Mentors matter.
“I was an older student when I started my undergraduate education and the only African American in my physical therapy program.”Dr. Michael Harris-Love
What makes you a #UniqueScientist?
I suppose that my lab group is unique within our medical center given that our projects involve therapists, physicians, nurses, radiologists, kinesiologists, and bioengineers. My hope is that our rehabilitation science perspective adds some value to the rapidly evolving field of sarcopenia research. Also, I think that my early experience in a functional morphology lab helped me to expand my view of muscle function as both a clinician and a scientist. In considering career matters, I took the somewhat unique approach of conducting my initial research activities in federal labs and hospitals before taking on the minefield of academic promotion (my appointment as a Professor at the University of Colorado (@CUPhysTher) begins later this year). From a personal point of view, I was an older student when I started my undergraduate education and the only African American in my physical therapy program. So, my experience always permeates how I think about educational access issues, the mentorship and advising of trainees, and the challenges of the non-traditional student.
What’s something cool you do outside of work?
I love “iron athletes” of all stripes: powerlifters, Olympic lifters, bodybuilders, etc. I’ve competed as a teen, open class, and Masters’ division athlete, and I will continue to train for as long as I can. Ultimately, weightlifting helped me to avoid destructive behaviors and other sources of trouble while growing up in a tough neighborhood. Moreover, the discipline of the endeavor proved to be useful when nearly all my attention was consumed by the demands of grad school. Beyond physical activities, I enjoy cooking for my family (and the lab group BBQ each year), reading and writing, listening to jazz, and finding my way on bass guitar.
If you had one wish and could change anything in science, what would it be?
Addressing some of the thorny issues related to team science participation would be high on the list based on my experience as a contributor to multi-center clinical trials. The perverse incentives to publish, coupled with the limited opportunities to ascribe “credit” on the authorship line of a paper, have important ramifications for junior investigators and non-physician members of the clinical research team. The team science model will only continue to grow over time. Therefore, thinking about the outcomes of projects that conform to this model is important for the career trajectory of contributors who are subject to the critical eye of grant reviewers and promotion/tenure committees. An ongoing dialogue about this topic is critical. Resources such as the Science of Team Science (SciTS) listserv are important. Nevertheless, much more work remains to be done.
“I worked in temporary jobs during the day, attended a technical college at night, and eventually landed an entry-level position with a large government contractor.”Dr. Michael Harris-Love
Who has inspired you the most in your journey to where you are now?
While mentors such as Dr. Stan Lindstedt have been a source of inspiration, there have been other mentors that have lent support at crucial periods along the way. Perhaps more should be said about “anti-role models”. For those of us who were raised in less than ideal circumstances, there are plenty of key people who taught us hard lessons about what NOT to do. Indeed, to wear the veil of discernment is to have an outfit that is right for every occasion.
Let’s end on a high note! What’s something you’ve done this week that you’re proud of?
I inadvertently became a mentor this week. What started as a call about employment at our medical center became a larger discussion about life after the post-doc, targeting the right training grant, and managing research goals while serving a faculty in a clinical department. A career in science is about so much more than just what happens in the lab…
#BlackInSTEM, #FirstGen, #FirstGenInSTEM