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The Interview: Dharini Bhammar

Helping tackle America's obesity epidemic is among the goals of this exercise physiology professor.

People  |  Sep 10, 2018  |  By Kevin Dunegan
Dharini BHammar, an assistant professor in the department of kinesiology and nutrition sciences.

Dharini Bhammar is an assistant professor in the department of kinesiology and nutrition sciences where she researches the respiratory effects of obesity among children. (Lonnie Timmons III/UNLV Creative Services)    

Dharini Bhammar, assistant professor in the department of kinesiology and nutrition sciences, began her career in health care as a physician in India and then completed her Ph.D. in exercise physiology at Arizona State University. Now at UNLV for a year, she enjoys spending time in national parks, and binge-watching popular comedies on Netflix. But forget about asking her to sit next to you on a trip to Mars — she is not a fan of long flights.

What inspired you to get into your field?

While working as a physician in India, I was struck by how many patients had chronic diseases that were poorly controlled. I wanted to learn more about preventive medicine. The field of exercise physiology was a perfect fit. During the course of my training, I learned how exercise impacts health through many different mechanisms. I am excited about my research that examines the impact exercise can have on the health of children diagnosed with asthma and obesity.

A time in your life you were daring

When I was a student at Arizona State University, I went to Slide Rock with some friends. There was a perch atop a 40-foot cliff from which you could dive into the water, and I did it. However, I don’t think I will ever do that again.

What drew you to UNLV?

I was drawn to the promise of a budding and aspirational research university that is poised to become a leader in health care innovation. The School of Medicine and the Nevada Institute of Personalized Medicine are perfect collaborators for research. Also, I have always loved the southwestern United States. After completing graduate school in Phoenix, I couldn’t wait to come back and live in this part of the country.

What problem in the world would you most like to fix?

Often times, people think that simply eating less and exercising more will fix the obesity epidemic, but there is a large body of data showing that the solution is not that straight-forward. Solving the obesity epidemic remains the most daunting challenge in current times. Through my research, I hope to discover insights that may help with our understanding of the complex nature of this challenge.

Biggest pet peeve

My biggest pet peeve is tardiness.

A gear recommendation

I recommend computation notebooks. I keep track of my research ideas, my meetings, and my research findings in categorized notebooks. These books are a record of my professional life, and they are lifesavers. For example, when I receive reviewer comments about a grant or manuscript I submitted months ago, I go back to my notes and find my original ideas and impressions, which is much better than trying to recall why I approached a particular problem in a certain way.

When you were a child, what did you want to be when you grew up?

I wanted to be a physician. It was the only thing that I could imagine being, and I am glad to have achieved my dream. Being a physician scientist is one step further than I had ever imagined possible when I was a child.

The last show you binge-watched

The last show I binge-watched was The Americans. The characters and plot twists in that show were incredible. A song from that show, Games without Frontiers by Peter Gabriel, has been on my replay list ever since I heard it.   

A guilty pleasure

Binge watching episodes of The Office or Seinfeld.

If space tourism advances to the point where a trip to Mars and back were possible, would you go if the shortest round-trip flight was three years?

I would not go to Mars. I already hate cross-country flights and those are about five hours. I cannot imagine being cooped up on a space shuttle for more than a year. No amount of Netflix can keep me occupied for that long.

Is the start of fall semester more or less exciting than the end of spring semester?

I think the start of fall semester is more exciting because it brings with it new people and the promise of new ideas. I am usually rejuvenated after a summer of research and collaborative meetings, and ready to put my ideas into action when the semester starts.

Ideal summer vacation

My ideal summer vacation is spending a couple of weeks in a national park. Nothing beats drinking coffee while looking out at mountains or a lake, hiking through a forest, spotting bison or bears, watching the stars on a clear night, and playing board games with friends and family. The fun never ends when you are away from civilization and immersed in the quiet charm of nature.