An Interview With John R. Best — GRC Research Associate

October 21, 2019

Can you tell us a little bit about yourself?

I am from a small city in the eastern part of Tennessee, near the Smokey Mountains National Park. Knoxville is the ‘big city’ close by, where you’d go to feel fancy. Like BC, east Tennessee has lots of outdoor activities to offer, so I did a fair amount of swimming in rivers and lakes and hiking growing up. After graduating from high school, I spent some time in Atlanta and then Athens, Georgia as part of my undergraduate and graduate training. I did a postdoctoral fellowship in St. Louis, Missouri before moving to Vancouver on 2013.

What led to your interest in aging/older adults?

It’s been a bit of a circuitous route. During my PhD studies and first postdoctoral fellowship, I conducted research in children, mainly focused on cognitive development and health behaviours. Somewhat by chance, I landed a postdoctoral fellowship at the University of British Columbia, working with Dr. Teresa Liu-Ambrose. Her work addresses similar questions but focused on the other end of the lifespan. I’ve come to realize the aging is a lifespan developmental process and thus, experiences early in life may impact aging trajectories. This perspective has helped fuse these research experiences together.

What interests do you have outside of your research?

My passion is cycling, both on the road and on the trail. I also enjoy reading, ideally accompanied by a cup of coffee during the day and a hoppy IPA-style beer in the evening.

Where were you working prior to the GRC?

I was a research associate in the Aging, Mobility, and Cognitive Neuroscience lab at the University of British Columbia, and I was working under the direction of Teresa Liu-Ambrose, PhD.

What type of research were you undertaking there?

Our ‘bread and butter’ was conducting randomized controlled trials to investigate the impact of physical exercise and other lifestyle behaviours on cognitive performance and the neural correlates of cognitive performance. Because trials of this nature can take a long time to complete, I additional looked at existing databases, for example, the US-based Health, Aging, and Body Composition study, to address related questions on the interconnections among cognitive aging, health behavior, and physical functioning.

What are your goals for your time at the GRC?

To continue investigating cognitive aging, and more generally, the notion of resiliency in aging, which includes the maintenance of cognitive health as one gets older. I also look forward to working with GRC researchers – e.g., Drs. Cosco and Wister – to consider how cognitive resiliency and mental health resiliency relate to one another.

What are you currently reading?

I’ve been slowly trying to train myself in the Bayesian tradition of statistical thinking, and therefore, have been reading Statistical Rethinking by Richard McElreath. I am also reading The Art of Statistics by David Spiegelhalter, which isn’t necessarily a Bayesian book, but provides a nice overview of what statisticians do. On the non-work related side, I’m reading the Three-Body Problem trilogy by Liu Cixin, which is a pretty wild science fiction story about the imminent invasion of Earth by aliens from an unstable solar system.

Celebrating 40 years