A Career in Research Proves to Be More Rewarding than Student Alexandra Peluso First Imagined

by Alexandra Peluso, BS

Students of Public Health: Voices & Profiles focuses on research projects and other contributions students are making to advance public health.

Alex Peluso

Alexandra Peluso

Student Voices — Research is not something I was always interested in. When I enrolled at the University of South Carolina in the fall of 2013, I was convinced I was going to be a physical therapist. I thought a job in research consisted of sitting at a desk and writing papers all day; in fact, I didn’t even really think about a job in research at all. I was intent on helping people, and physical therapy was the best way I knew how. But that’s the thing; it wasn’t necessarily the best way I knew how but more the only way I knew how. I had no interest in exploring other options or career paths.

Over winter break during my sophomore year at USC, I shadowed a physical therapist for children with developmental, mostly physical, delays. It was not until then that I realized I did not want to practice physical therapy for the rest of my life. I had no idea what to do next. I immediately spoke with my adviser in the midst of my panic attack, who suggested I apply to different health-related positions around campus, including research positions. So that’s exactly what I did, and thankfully, by the time summer came around, I was the newest volunteer in a research lab.

Alex Peluso at an event for the Kinesiology and Health Education department at Univ. of Texas at Austin.

That summer I assisted Dr. Justin Moore on his Be a Champion! project, incorporating physical active lessons into classrooms in rural South Carolina. I only volunteered a few hours a week, but I learned so much about working in research. Most importantly, I realized I could help a lot of people in an interesting and exciting environment.

This volunteer position changed my life. I continued to be a part of the Be a Champion! project throughout undergrad with the opportunity to present posters at the Active Living Research and Southeast American College of Sports Medicine conferences. I was even fortunate enough to be awarded a Magellan Scholarship for my work. I learned about accelerometers, grant submission, and data collection. The summer before I entered my final year at USC, I aided Dr. Moore in the development of JPHMP Direct and got the chance to visit Wake Forest School of Medicine for a weekend. My senior year I was a part of Dr. Kerry McIver’s research lab at the Arnold School of Public Health, where I helped distribute accelerometers, administer surveys, and collect student information, such as waist circumference and Bio-Electrical Impedance Analysis. I was also involved in downloading and analyzing accelerometer data. After my time on these projects and receiving a bachelor’s degree in exercise science, I knew I wanted to pursue a career in research.

I am currently admitted at the University of Texas at Austin. I am entering my final year toward completing a master’s degree in health behavior/health education. I assist in Dr. John Bartholomew’s exercise and sport psychology lab. I am a part of the ICan project, which uses active lessons and mindfulness to increase time on task behavior of elementary students in Central Texas. I have been able to continue to expand my knowledge of analyzing and interpreting accelerometer data. I am also involved in data collection and classroom observations, as well as mentoring and supervising undergraduate interns. I especially enjoy working closely with the students and teachers, as well as seeing positive academic results.

I aspire to continue to research and help people in my community. I am currently interested in exploring levels of activity in children with developmental delays. I love the team aspect of research, everyone working together to create a better future. I am so grateful for all of the amazing opportunities I have received and people I have met along the way. My advice to students is to not limit yourself. Explore every opportunity with an open mind and step out of your comfort zone!

Alexandra Peluso is a second-year master’s degree student at the University of Texas at Austin studying health behavior and health education. She was born and raised in New Jersey but now calls South Carolina home. She graduated from the University of South Carolina in May 2017 where she received a bachelor of science degree in exercise science. Her dream is to advocate for children with developmental delays and increase physical activity in this population.

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