Class of 2017: Gaitan Earns Honors While Tackling Complex Research

Max Gaitan has wasted no time making his mark at the Curry School and beyond. Graduating this month with a Master of Education in Exercise Physiology, Gaitan has not only conducting a significant amount of research here on Grounds, but also spent a summer researching diet and exercise as part of the National Institutes of Health's Short-Term Research Experience for Underrepresented Persons (STEP-UP).

During his tenure as a Curry student, Gaitan has accumulated an impressive number of honors and awards. He was awarded the Samuel Marx Scholarship and Curry Faculty Scholarship, both of which are awarded by the Curry School Foundation. He earned the Federation of American Societies for Experimental Biology (FASEB) Minority Access Research Careers (MARC) Award and a 2017 Steven M. Horvath Travel Award.

Gaitan is also a member of the University of Virginia's prestigious Raven Society.

We asked Gaitan a few questions about his time at the Curry School and his plans for what comes next.

How did your journey bring you to Curry?

I entered undergrad at UVa in the College of Arts and Sciences, undecided about what degree to pursue. During my first year I found a passion for learning about health and exercise, so I applied and was accepted to transfer into Curry’s Kinesiology program. During my second year in the program I gained interest in research and exercise in people with chronic diseases, so I applied to the accelerated Master’s degree in Exercise Physiology with a plan to complete a thesis project.

What is the most significant thing that has shaped your time while you’ve been here?

Working in the Applied Metabolism and Physiology lab and all the associated ups and downs of research. I’ve gotten to share the high points with great people, and learned to persevere and adapt to the low points. Even with so little time left here, I’m still learning every day.

If you can name one person, who at Curry made a special impact during your studies and how?

It’s difficult to name just one because I’ve worked with so many influential and supportive people at Curry. Art Weltman has been an exceptional mentor, providing constant guidance in class, research, and in making career decisions. He stresses integrity, which is essential in our work. He also views work within a broader perspective and encourages work-life balance. All these qualities have come through in his mentorship to make me a stronger individual.

What is one thing you learned here that surprised you?

That research is incredibly hard but equally rewarding. A massive amount of work goes into studies and it’s easy to take that for granted when reading through a journal article. Behind those articles are many early mornings and long hours on the part of the research team and the participants.

What will you be doing next?

Taking a trip to the west coast! After that, I plan to work for a year or two while considering my options to pursue a PhD in Exercise Physiology. I hope to work either as a research assistant in an exercise lab focused on chronic disease or as a coach for young athletes in triathlon, the sport I’m most passionate about.