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Spotlight On: Yoo Kim, postdoctoral fellow at NIA

Yoo Kim was born and raised in South Korea. He completed his Bachelors and Masters degree a Korea University, Seoul, South Korea. His passion for Food Science led him to pursue a Ph.D. at University of Massachusetts followed by postdoc at Harvard Medical School & National Institute on Aging.

What motivated you to do your postdoctoral fellowship at NIA?

I always dreamt of having a chance to work at Harvard Medical School or NIH as a postdoc. After my doctoral degree, I got a postdoc position at Harvard. During my two years there, I learned many skills and in-depth knowledge. My drive to be an independent researcher led me to postdoc position at Laboratory of Clinical Investigation in NIA.

What is your area of research focus and its impact?

Image of Yoo Kim, a postdoctoral fellow at NIAMy research background is obesity and type 2 diabetes with aging and physical inactivity. So far, I have focused on two key molecules that play a critical role in regulating glucose and lipid metabolism in the insulin signaling. One of them is endocannabinoid 1 receptor, CB 1 R. Its activity is upregulated in obesity and seems to be affected by the aging process. I plan to investigate this molecule and find functional food bioactive compounds which have the potential to switch on and off functions of this molecule for aging, obesity and type 2 diabetes.

My drive to be an independent researcher led me to NIH as it is not only well known but also provided me with opportunity to pursue independent projects as a postdoc. I knew that NIH would be the best place for me.

— Yoo Kim

Who or what has been the greatest influence in your career?

I have three mentors who influenced my career. First, my doctoral program advisor, Dr. Yeonhwa Park from whom I have learned mentoring skills and productivity. Her lab had 5 graduate students and published around 10 papers every year.

Second, my first postdoctoral training advisor, Dr. Sang Park. Her attitude toward science was inspiring. When I joined her group, she taught me pipetting, even though I had earned my Ph.D. She wanted me to avoid any careless mistakes and to get rid of research bias in order to present correct scientific evidence. Although she is a young investigator, she has several big grants.

Lastly, I am influenced by my NIA advisor, Dr. Josephine M. Egen and her enthusiasm and knowledge in science. She works more hours than us. Her criticism based on her knowledge as an endocrinologist was helpful in moving my project forward. I admire all of them since they helped me grow and become what I am in the scientific world.

What is your biggest takeaway from your experience as an NIA postdoc?

The title you earn as an NIH postdoc is highly significant in the biomedical field. NIH is the most prominent institute. Everyone in academia wants to have a connection with NIH, the biggest funding agency in the United States. The title of a postdoc at NIA (NIH), helps you a lot when you seek a new position in academia.

What’s next for you and what is beyond?

I have recently started a new position as a tenure-track assistant professor at Oklahoma State University. It was my career goal and I finally made it. I get the opportunity to interact with scholarly colleagues and students. I plan to achieve my scientific goal by using nutrigenomics techniques, like transcriptomics and proteomics, to find nutritional candidates to regulate target molecules that will help develop personalized nutrition recommendations preventing obesity and type 2 diabetes.

What are some of your hobbies in your spare time?

I am an outdoor person. I enjoy playing tennis, going fishing all year round and skiing in winter. I enjoy watching my boys participating in sports activities, such as baseball, swimming, and tennis. My wife and I love to travel domestically and internationally as well. Someday we will visit attractions of all 50 states in the U.S. and collect all 50 magnets!

What advice do you have for postdocs at the NIA?

You have to try to develop your own idea based on your current projects. It will be your future asset and a starting point for collaboration with your PI. Also, be more aggressive once you decide to look for a job. If you want to get into academia, go to conferences and present your work. Another tip is to approach the professors who attend the meetings and let them know you are looking for an academic position. In the future, one of them might contact you if their department posts a job opening or they could be chair of a search committee. That’s how I received information on open positions for myself.

Without experience as a NIA postdoc I would have never made this great personal network. If you pursue aging research forever, the people you work with at NIA of NIH are going to be invaluable contacts throughout your career path.

— Yoo Kim