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Arnold School of Public Health

I Am Public Health: Marnie McLean

April 3, 2023 | Erin Bluvas,

Many people visit Niagara Falls, but Marnie McLean is actually from the Canadian town. For the past several years, however, she has lived in the U.S. The exercise science doctoral student is currently half-way through the No. 1 Ph.D. program in the country.

Initially interested in a career in orthopedic surgery, McLean discovered the field of exercise science when attempting to optimize her performance as a college athlete. While a student at Nova Southeastern University (Fort Lauderdale, Florida), she competed on the school’s rowing team.

“I soon realized that I would need to gain an edge to stay in the top boats,” McLean says. “I used to experiment with how much caffeine – in the form of coffee – I would consume before practice to see what amount would help me go the fastest.”

Those informal experiments were her first foray into what would become a career as an exercise science researcher. After graduating with a B.S. in Exercise and Sport Science, McLean completed a master’s in applied exercise physiology at the University of Massachusetts.  

With interests in women’s cardiovascular health, she began looking at doctoral programs with experts in the area. After meeting assistant professor Abbi Lane, whose work examines long-term increases in heart disease risk for women who experience certain pregnancy complications, McLean knew that USC and the Arnold School’s Department of Exercise Science would provide her with the support she needed to grow as a scientist.

“Dr. Lane and I have developed a wonderful working relationship where I can ask questions and better understand anything from the inner workings of the human body to complex statistical analyses,” says McLean, who has also found inspiration in the undergraduate- and master’s- level research assistants she mentors and works alongside in the Women’s Vascular Health Lab. “They provide me with a broader perspective, and I love learning about the areas of science that they are interested in.”

McLean’s own interests have evolved to focus on the effects of long-term endurance exercise on the arteries of female athletes. During her program, the Norman J. Arnold Doctoral Fellow has delved into various aspects of the USC Maternal and Child Health (MCH) Catalyst Program, including serving as communication director for the MCH Student Association. As a student in the MCH Certificate of Graduate Study program, McLean has broadened her knowledge of women’s health across the lifespan as well as how it is affected by certain factors and systems, such as health care. Off campus, she continues to advance cardiovascular disease research through a fundraiser she is holding as she trains for the Buffalo Marathon.

“Reach out to faculty members and see what projects they are currently working on,” McLean advises students considering a similar path. “People in this field LOVE to talk about their research more than anything. I also think it is important to consider what you are looking for in a mentor – what kind of communication styles work well and what type of professional relationship you want to have.”

Challenge the conventional. Create the exceptional. No Limits.