New faculty profile: Tim Rhoads studies the molecular links between aging, metabolism, and chronic disease
Tim Rhoads joined the UW–Madison faculty in January 2023 as an assistant professor in the Department of Nutritional Sciences.
What is your hometown? Where did you grow up?
I was born and grew up in Portland, OR.
What is your educational/professional background, including your previous position?
I got my bachelor’s degree in chemistry at Gonzaga University and my Ph.D. in biochemistry at Oregon State University. I came to the University of Wisconsin for a postdoc and stayed as a research scientist for the past few years, before starting as a faculty member.
How did you get into your field of research?
A collaborative project as a postdoc led me to my current field of metabolism and biology of aging research, although prior to that my graduate work was on Lou Gehrig’s disease, which is considered an age-related disease since it most often manifests late in life. That work was conducted at Oregon State University in the Linus Pauling Institute, which focuses on nutrition related work similar to my current department. So, the same themes have been present throughout my scientific career.
What are the main goals of your current research and outreach programs?
The main goal of my research program is to understand the molecular links between aging, metabolism, and chronic disease. Advanced age is the largest risk factor for most chronic diseases (cancer, diabetes, cardiovascular disease, and neurodegenerative disorders, to name a few), and so work in my lab is focused on trying to understand the fundamental changes that occur with aging that lead to higher chronic disease risk. We think that cellular metabolism is an important part of those fundamental changes.
What was your first visit to campus like?
It was in August and very hot. I was not (and still am not) a fan of the humidity, which is much less present in the pacific northwest, but I’ve gotten used to it. Paid a visit to the Terrace and was hooked from there on.
What’s one thing you hope students who take a class with you will come away with?
Hopefully my enthusiasm for the topic/science in general. I think it’s easy to get bogged down in much of what goes into learning about scientific topics and lose sight of the big picture – the world around us is pretty amazing, and science is the framework for how we try to understand it.
Do you share your expertise and experiences with the public through social media? If so, which channels do you use?
I am an occasional user of Twitter (@timwrhoads and @GERAM_lab) and Mastodon (@firstname.lastname@example.org)
Do you feel your work relates in any way to the Wisconsin Idea? If so, please describe how.
I like to think that it does – the Wisconsin Idea as a guiding philosophy is one of the things that I admire most about UW-Madison. The end goal of my research is the development of interventions that target the increased chronic disease risk that accompanies aging so that people, Wisconsin residents included, can live healthier lives. Related to this, I also am a firm believer in the power of open science, that the output of research should be freely available to all. I am an ambassador for the Center for Open Science, and have it as a goal that all of my lab’s research outputs will be fully available to the general public.
The pandemic forced us all to reconsider many things we took for granted. Is there something you’ve learned that has helped you through these challenging times, personally or professionally?
I don’t know if it’s something I learned but rather had reinforced – the idea to focus on what you can control. I think it’s easy, maybe even expected, to feel anxious about the future and the pandemic exacerbated that. So I try (not always successfully) to remind myself to only worry about the things I have control over, and let whatever else happen and deal with it as it comes.
What’s something interesting about your area of expertise you can share that will make us sound smarter at parties?
That your metabolism doesn’t gradually slow as you age. It largely stays the same from young adulthood until your early 60s.
What are your hobbies and other interests?
I kind of dabble in a lot of things – I play the piano, I like watching sports, I play video games occasionally, and I like to travel.