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Iowa City, Iowa
Assistant professor, Department of Physical Therapy and Rehabilitation Science
University of IowaVIEW PROFILE
Darren Casey, Ph.D. (ANES ’11), isn’t a Midwesterner by birth, but he is by choice. He grew up in southern California and lived in New York and Florida before landing in at Mayo Clinic in Rochester, Minnesota, for a postdoctoral research fellowship. Since 2013 he’s been in Iowa City, Iowa, studying cardiovascular physiology. He plans to stay in the Hawkeye State as long as the work remains rewarding. In fact, he’s told his wife he won’t retire — he plans go to well beyond age 70, saying, “As long as there’s interest, I’ll keep doing it.”
I finished my Ph.D. in applied physiology at the University of Florida in Gainesville, where I studied exercise and vascular physiology. I jumped at the chance to train in the lab of Michael Joyner, M.D. (ANES ’92). His lab has a similar focus as my interests and is world-renowned. More importantly, Dr. Joyner’s lab is involved in cutting-edge pharmacological and integrative approaches in the study of human physiology. Dr. Joyner allowed me to spend most of my time on the intellectual and technical components of research versus administrative activities. His lab is a well-oiled machine. Lab staff members take care of many of the administrative aspects of research so you can focus on carrying out your studies. That structure allows you to be extremely productive.
Because of the Mayo Clinic infrastructure, the Joyner lab doesn’t operate like a silo. You can go down the hall and interact with other labs and experts in fields that overlap with yours. You don’t find that everywhere else. There’s a sense of expertise in vast areas and openness to collaborative experiences. I couldn’t have had a better postdoc experience at Mayo Clinic.
Where I am now, at the University of Iowa, the environment is similar to Mayo’s. Our walls are pretty transparent, and we can go from lab to lab and department to department to collaborate.
After completing my postdoc fellowship, I became an associate consultant in the Department of Anesthesiology and Perioperative Medicine at Mayo Clinic and continued to work out of Dr. Joyner’s lab as part of my NIH K99 award. In total, I was at Mayo Clinic for five-and-a-half years.
I was sad to leave because I had a great relationship with everyone in the lab, but I was ready to get a faculty position and become an independent scientist. Shortly after leaving, I realized how spoiled I was at Mayo Clinic, having everything taken care of for me.
I am an assistant professor in the Department of Physical Therapy and Rehabilitation in the Carver College of Medicine at the University of Iowa. In addition to some teaching and administrative responsibilities, the majority of my time is spent on research as director of the Human Integrative and Cardiovascular Lab. My research interests are in the regulation of skeletal muscle blood flow during exercise, how it becomes altered in disease states, and how it impairs functional exercise capacity and overall health. I work with patient populations from young to healthy older adults, as well as those with cardiovascular risk factors and disease (e.g., peripheral arterial disease and diabetes).
There’s a lot more responsibility managing the lab. I can’t just focus on the research. I teach a course in the spring and one in the summer, and serve on departmental committees. I’m the mentor instead of the trainee, and my time has to be split across many venues.
It’s rewarding, exciting and challenging to mentor young graduate students. Teaching adds variety to the day.
At Mayo I learned the details that go into high-quality human research studies. From a managerial standpoint, I learned attention to detail. I had the opportunity to mentor visiting medical students, graduate and undergrad students as a postdoc in Dr. Joyner’s lab, which helped me learn how to interact with students of different backgrounds and with different career aspirations.
The Mayo name carries a lot of weight. It’s associated with quality of trainees and a rich history. The Mayo name is beneficial, but having Mike Joyner as a mentor carries a lot of weight, too. I had multiple interview opportunities because of Mayo and Dr. Joyner.
I’ve gotten my first large independent extramurally funded grant since leaving Mayo. My previous awards were mentorship-based and tied to Dr. Joyner. Funding is always difficult, so getting my own is rewarding.
I also was very fortunate to co-author a large review with Dr. Joyner that took more than two years and was published in Physiological Reviews two years after I took the position in Iowa. It was a culmination of my work during my time at Mayo.
I received the Mayo Clinic Alumni Association Edward C. Kendall Award for Meritorious Research in 2012. That research was the focus of three years’ of my time at Mayo Clinic. It’s a competitive field at Mayo Clinic, so receiving any award was a big deal to me.
Now, I regard the success of my own students as very rewarding. My first doctoral student graduates in May 2018. I’m a relatively young new investigator training newer, younger investigators, so feeling like I had something to do with getting someone through a Ph.D. program feels good.
I want to get my first NIH R01 grant. I plan to submit this summer and hope to get funded by early 2019. The mean age for getting an R01 is a little older than I am. It doesn’t come easily to young investigators; persistence is key. I learned a lot about grant-writing skills at Mayo Clinic, so that will help. I also am going up for tenure and promotion this summer.
I love cardiovascular and integrative physiology research. As long as there’s interest in what I do, I’ll keep going.
I have daughters ages 8 and 10 who are very active. My work takes up most of my time, but any downtime revolves around family and basketball. I coach my daughters’ basketball teams, play basketball a few times a week, watch it on TV and read about the history of the game any chance I get. I guess you can say I’m a basketball junkie.
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