Four CHS RHB Alumni Receive Prestigious K Awards

By Lindsey Fiori
CHS Contributor

Four young investigators who graduated from the College of Health Sciences' Rehabilitation and Health Sciences PhD program have recently received highly competitive K-award funding from the National Institutes of Health for their research, reports Esther Dupont-Versteegden, PhD and professor in Physical Therapy, as well as Director of the Center for Muscle Biology and RHB Director. 

The investigators are: Shelby Baez, PhD, ATC; Davis Englund, PhD; Kate Jochimsen, PhD, ATC; and Kirby Mayer, DPT, PhD.

How did they earn the award? What does it mean to them? We catch up with each to find out …

Shelby Baez, PhD, ATC, two-time alumna (’16 and ’20), Master of Science in Athletic Training and PhD in Rehabilitation and Health Sciences
Currently an assistant professor of Athletic Training and director of the Psychology of Sport Laboratory at North Carolina at Chapel Hill

The specific K award you received:
I received the K23 Career Development Award through the National Institutes of Arthritis and Musculoskeletal and Skin Diseases. This award provides protected time for clinician-scientists to develop the necessary skills to transition them into independent investigators.

What it meant to your career: 
This award has been foundational for my career. The protected time for training opportunities and the excellent interdisciplinary mentorship has allowed me to enhance my abilities as an investigator. This award has opened the door for innovative and meaningful investigations from my lab aimed at improving health outcomes in patients after anterior cruciate ligament reconstruction.

How you felt when you received the award:
I was extremely proud and excited to receive this award. The K23 opens the door to provide the necessary training to become an independent investigator. This award is a testament to all of my mentors, including my mentors at the University of Kentucky, for their support of me throughout my entire career.


Davis Englund, PhD, (’20), PhD in Rehabilitation and Health Sciences
Currently a postdoctoral fellow at the Mayo Clinic

The specific K award you received:
I received the National Institutes of Health (NIH) Pathway to Independence Award (K99/R00) through the National Institute of Arthritis and Musculoskeletal and Skin Diseases (NIAMS).

What it meant to your career:
Receiving the K99/R00 will facilitate my transition from a postdoctoral researcher to a tenure-track faculty position and the start-up of a competitive independently funded research program.

How you felt when you received the award:
I am thrilled for the opportunity to continue investigating the underlying causes of skeletal muscle loss and dysfunction in response to aging and disease. This work has the potential to reveal new tractable mechanisms that may then be targeted therapeutically.  


Kate Jochimsen, PhD, ATC, (’18), PhD in Rehabilitation and Health Sciences
Currently member of the faculty, Harvard Medical School and researcher, Department of Psychiatry, Center for Health Outcomes and Interdisciplinary Research (CHOIR) at Massachusetts General Hospital

The specific K award you received:
K23 from the National Center for Complementary and Integrative Health

What it meant to your career:
Receiving this K23 award will be transformative for my career. It will provide me with dedicated time to continue my own scientific training, which will enhance the quality of my science and the potential impact of the findings. I am excited to learn new methods, including qualitative and mixed methods. The human experience is vast and nuanced. Understanding it is critical to developing sustainable, impactful clinical interventions. Through this award I will also expand my skills in mind-body medicine and intervention development through coursework, new collaborations, and incredible mentorship. Ultimately, my hope for this award, is that it will advance my career and afford me the opportunity to make a more substantial and lasting impact. I am passionate about improving well-being for patients with chronic musculoskeletal pain and opening doors for the next generation of clinician-scientists.

How you felt when you received the award:
When I received my K23 award, I was excited and deeply honored. It was a moment of validation for all the hard work and dedication I had put into writing the proposal. I remember feeling a mix of emotions – primarily gratitude, a sense of accomplishment, and excitement for what was to come. It was a moment I will cherish because it reminded me that hard work, perseverance, and a passion for what you do can pay off. As a first-generation college graduate, I immediately thought of my family and hoped I had made them proud.


Kirby P. Mayer, DPT, PhD, two-time alumnus, (’14 and ’19), Doctor of Physical Therapy and PhD in Rehabilitation and Health Sciences  
Currently an assistant professor in Physical Therapy at UK and clinician and researcher in the ICU Recovery Clinic

The specific K award you received:
I was awarded the K23 - Mentored Patient-Oriented Research Career Development Award from the National Institute of Arthritis and Musculoskeletal and Skin Disease to examine recovery of muscle after critical illness.

What has it meant to your career:
The award has "jump-started" my career providing the financial support to lead innovative research in my field. The award provides multiple opportunities for training with scientists from across the globe to foster my scientific knowledge and skills. This award has already had a significant impact on my career!

How you felt when you received the award:
There were mixed emotions — excited, elated, grateful, nervous, and so on. In general, I was extremely excited to get started, and honestly grateful to the mentors, peers, and patients who have supported my research.