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New Face: Graham McGinnis

Finding a way to merge his interest in sports and passion for science led this new faculty member to his career in kinesiology and exercise physiology.

People  |  Mar 12, 2018  |  By Kevin Dunegan
Portrait Graham McGinnis

Graham McGinnis, Ph.D. Assistant Professor Department of Kinesiology and Nutrition Sciences  (Josh Hawkins/UNLV Creative Services)  

When you meet the department of kinesiology and nutrition sciences' Graham McGinnis be sure to ask whether North Carolina will beat Duke this season, why he greets certain people with “War Eagle,” and if he really used a micro treadmill to study running mice. 


During my education and training, I experienced several different department styles including small liberal arts, larger academic institutions, and a research-heavy school of medicine. As I considered my next steps, the balance of UNLV appealed to me. This university offers a large and diverse student population that is dedicated to getting a good education and excited about developing new research directions. With a new medical school and the initiative to achieve Top Tier status, UNLV became the high-energy collaborative environment I wanted.

What about UNLV strikes you as different from other places you have worked or where you went to school?

People are excited about UNLV’s future and seem ready to talk about new and exciting potential projects. I really enjoy that aspect of the university. And Vegas is unlike any city I have visited. Both continue to grow and mature, making them a great place to begin my career.

Where did you grow up and what was that like? What do you miss about it?

I grew up in Chapel Hill, North Carolina, which is one of three points in Research Triangle Park (RTP). The Chapel Hill-Carrboro area was a really great place to be as a kid. The draw of University of North Carolina (UNC) and Duke University, as well as RTP, made the area culturally diverse. It had a unique small town feel while maintaining a big city impact. It was impossible not to get sucked into the basketball rivalry between Duke and UNC, which has been heralded as one of the greatest college sports rivalries. It may be as contentious as the Auburn University (where I did my graduate work) and Alabama University football rivalry. I love a good grudge match.

What is your current job title and what are a few of your duties?

I am an assistant professor in the department of kinesiology and nutrition sciences. My job is generally split among the three pillars of academia: teaching, research, and service. Within those, a big component of my job will be to perform research and apply for grants. Some of the topics that I am most interested in are physical activity/exercise and circadian rhythms, or how your body perceives time. These areas are critical to human health and are particularly relevant in today’s society. More people are becoming increasingly sedentary and constantly disrupt their internal circadian rhythms through shift work, transmeridian travel (across time zones), and exposing themselves to light at night — all of which are practically a signature of the entertainment capital of the world.

What inspired you to get into your field?

Like many people in kinesiology and exercise physiology, I grew up playing lots of sports. Throughout school and especially during college, I realized my passion for science. It was practically a match made in heaven to be able to work in a field where you can mesh two things you enjoy. It wasn’t always flattering work, though. During one of my first experiences in research as an undergraduate student at Appalachian State University, I had to hold cyclists’ feet soon after they rode a bike for three hours so muscle biopsies could be performed. Gross. But after starting at the bottom, I eventually got to do more exciting experiments that have captivated my interest ever since.

Finish this sentence, "If I couldn't work in my current field, I would like to...”

Travel the world as an adventure photojournalist.

Tell us about a time in your life when you have been daring.

I recently participated in a 50-mile trail race with a friend. This wouldn’t be too daring for someone who was actually training for a 50-mile race, but I was wrapped up with work and not ready for it. After throwing caution (and years of exercise physiology education) to the wind, we completed the event. I suffered through the day with nearly all of my muscles cramping at some point. I’m not sure if that was daring, or just plain dumb, but it was a whole lot of fun and I can’t wait to do it again — certainly with more preparation.

Tell us about an object in your office that has significance for you and why it is significant.

When I was finishing grad school at Auburn University, I was gifted a framed print of the War Eagle dated 1966. While the official mascot of Auburn is the tiger, the common greeting on campus is “War Eagle.” Legends as to how War Eagle became an Auburn mascot vary. The print had made its way through the hands of several faculty members at Auburn, ended up with me, and is now hanging on my office wall.

What is something people would be surprised to learn about you?

When I explain that my research examines the biochemical effects of exercise using mice or rats, people usually laugh and ask, “Do you have a tiny treadmill for them?” Yes. Yes I do. For many years I have used a miniature rodent treadmill to make mice and rats run so that we can better understand how exercise effects tissues (primary the heart) at the molecular level. It is a lot easier than prescribing exercise to people.