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March 1, 2018

Major Mondays: Studying Gerontology

Yes, we know we are posting this on a Thursday–but what can we do?! “Major Thursdays” just doesn’t have the same ring.  Below is a blog from Sarah Wong, a senior at the USC Leonard Davis School of Gerontology.  Read on to learn more about one of our unique and beloved programs!

Sticking my feet into the clay mud of the Dead Sea, giving a research talk to fellow scientists at a conference in Tuscany, consulting on a clinical elder abuse case and seeing patients hands-on–these are all experiences enabled by the Leonard Davis School of Gerontology during my four years here. Gerontology, the study of aging, is a multidisciplinary major that draws from biology, policy, sociology, and psychology fields. As a friend has put it, it’s a 365 attack on aging. Too often is gerontology misunderstood as the study of death and the decrepit.  Gerontology, instead, is a study of the future and is dynamic as much as it is compelling. In fact, we do dive head-first into subjects like end of life care (palliative care), disabilities, and the positivity effect (older adults remembering more positive memories than their younger counterparts) in our world-class labs–but this is just a taste of what it means to become a gerontologist.

I’ve had the privilege to study under the greats like Dr. Mara Mather through her Herzliya, Israel course at the Interdisciplinary Center. Learning about the psychology of older adults was so fascinating in the setting of the rich Jewish culture found in Israel. The course, in a typical USC Gerontology fashion, brought in groundbreaking researchers native to the country and offered experiences beyond the classroom–visiting places such as Jerusalem, Yad Vashem (the Holocaust Museum), among others. The Israel course is just one of many Maymesters in gerontology which allows students to take classes at USC for a week before study abroad for 2-3 weeks for an intensive course. Florence? Cuba? Italy? Nutrition? Food culture? It’s all offered here.

As a premedical student looking to pursue an MD-PhD, I have been privileged with the opportunity to serve as a lab assistant in Vice Dean Dr. Kelvin J. A. Davies’ lab for almost three years this June. Our investigation into sex-specific differences in adaptation to oxidative stress has provided me opportunities from attending six professional conferences to being co-authored on three publications. To grapple with issues of aging from a basic science standpoint with incredible mentors such as recent Biology of Aging graduate, Dr. Laura Corrales-Diaz Pomatto, has been unparalleled.  On that note, Biology of Aging is the first of its kind as a joint doctoral program between the Leonard Davis School of Gerontology and the Buck Institute of Aging.  Our school’s Masters’ programs accommodates interests in long-term care, policy, and housing development among others.  Lastly, our undergraduate programs have a curriculum to allow students to succeed in pre-health (MD, PT, PA, OT, Pharm.D., etc.), social-science sectors (policy, long-term care, research), and basic science research.  Taking classes like Dr. John Walsh’s Physiology of Aging that explores chronic diseases and cancer, both issues imminent to older adults, has been eye-opening.  The course load is dynamic, also inviting students to learn more about healthcare policy through courses like Dr. Caroline Cicero’s Policy, Values and Power in an Aging Society and Dr. Carey Kruetzer’s Physiology, Nutrition, and Aging.   Not only are the classes themselves fascinating, but the opportunity to interact and collaborate with Master’s and doctoral students offers itself as a unique facet of gerontology.

The students that would succeed in the School of Gerontology’s majors (they offer both Lifespan Health and Human Development and Aging) are those who are passionate about helping older adults, are proactive in their interests, and are self-advocates in making the most of the resources at hand: small classroom environments to build relationships with professors, incredible research opportunities, study abroad opportunities, and content to serve one of the fastest growing populations in this nation.  For pre-medical students especially, the School of Gerontology allows students to stand out and become experts on aging, which is so useful during a time when the baby boomers are entering the 65+ older sector and will seek more medical attention.

To navigate the waters of taking general chemistry, biology, organic chemistry courses, and physics has been so much smoother because of the intimate setting of Gerontology that allows for student-professor relationships to develop and for us to take a deep dive into topics.  So many of the classes for a pre-med major, for example, overlap with the requirements of the Bachelor of Science (Health-Science Track) that the remaining elective courses are taken out of interest, not to simply fulfill requirements.  Gerontology has a carefully constructed curriculum that is intended to enhance the interests of students, promote hands-on experience for students with required internships credits, and build the person as much as the student.  The experience of being part of the USC Gerontology Family resonates so well with being part of the USC Trojan Family because of the life-long ties you build here and the expertise you gain that will serve you in far beyond the realm of USC itself.  As we continue to address issues of aging and quality of life, consider gerontology as a future prospect of not only a major, but also, and more importantly, a lifetime career.



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