Women in STEM Lara Dugas, Public Health Sciences
The science of healthy living
LARA DUGAS, PHD, MPH, HAS TRAINED MORE THAN 50 graduate and medical students during her tenure at Loyola. She joined the University in 2007 as a research associate, sharing her expertise in measuring metabolism, along with diet and physical activity monitoring. She is currently working on a study about gut microbiota and its association with obesity. Dugas is one of the founding members of Loyola’s Sports Medicine Epidemiology research group, which looks at understanding how early sports specialization can create risk for sports injuries in teenagers.
What’s your STEM field origin story?
When I was in high school, I didn’t even know there was such a thing as a PhD. I did all my schooling in South Africa. I was the first one in my family to go to undergrad, and I got a bachelor’s degree in nursing. When I was in that program I quickly discovered I felt on the wrong end of the health care system. I was working in a hospital with sick people and I really wanted to be on the preventative end. I came across in South Africa an exercise science program for a year and I just knew I wanted a career in science after that.
Then I registered for a doctoral program in physiology in exercise science and sports medicine. The program I fell into was looking at how we can improve people’s health through physical activity, lifestyle, and behaviors. I immediately clicked in that. My PhD looked at how do we accurately tell how many calories people are burning on a minute by minute basis. Since then my research has evolved into looking at metabolism, diet, and exercise to how gut microorganisms play a role in obesity.