Dr. Donna K. Arnett, PhD (USA)

Position: Dean, College of Public Health

Affiliation: University of Kentucky, USA

  • What is your role at your work?

As Dean, I am responsible for oversight of the College of Public Health. I also remain engaged in research in the genetics of cardiovascular diseases and treatment response, and maintain 3 NIH grants and one grant from the American Heart Association.

  •      How did you get interested in your career path?

    I fell in love with research when I worked in the area of clinical research in hypertension. Noticing the great difference in target organ damage from hypertension, as well as variability in the response to blood pressure lowering drugs, I discovered epidemiology – the fundamental science of public health – which provided a framework for me to formalize and test my hypotheses.

  • What are you most proud of in your career or otherwise?

Without doubt, it is seeing the success of my junior faculty – seeing their presentations, publications, and witnessing them securing their own funding.

  •  What important career challenges have you faced and how did you overcome them?

When I started as a Department Chair in the early 2000s, I was one of only two chairs in the entire university. There were not great role models for women chairs from my past. Rather than focus on being a woman, I completely ignored my gender and assumed that I would have equal opportunity and access to higher levels of management as my male counterparts. That strategy, i.e., ignoring my gender, has served me well.

  • What advice would you give your younger self?

Embrace being a post-doc and junior faculty member. ASK many questions and don’t be afraid to reach out to senior faculty or scientists for help. Be unabashedly fearless.

  • Highlight your most significant research contributions and publications (3-5) – if relevant to you.

1. Lynch AI, Boerwinkle E, Davis BR, Ford CE, Eckfeldt JH, Leiendecker-Foster C, Arnett DK. Pharmacogenetic association of the NPPA T2238C genetic variant with cardiovascular disease outcomes in patients with hypertension. JAMA. 2008;299:296-307. PMID18212314.   (Identification of a significant variant predicting CV outcomes that differed by BP lowering drug assignment).

2. Arnett DK, Devereux RB, Rao DC, Li N, Tang W, Kraemer R, Claas SA, Leon JM, Broeckel U. Novel genetic variants contributing to left ventricular hypertrophy: the HyperGEN study. J Hypertens. 2009;27:1585-1593. PMID19593212. PMC2868312.  (Discovery of genetic variants by linkage, followed up by selection of regional genes in the linkage peaks, and demonstration of genes contributing to LVH in the HyperGEN study).

3. Arnett DK, Meyers KJ, Devereux RB, Tiwari HK, Gu CC, Vaughan LK, Perry RT, Patki A, Claas SA, Sun YV, Broeckel U, Kardia SL. Genetic variation in NCAM1 contributes to left ventricular wall thickness in hypertensive families. Circ Res. 2011;108:279-283. PMID21212386.  (GWAS analysis identified unique gene associated with LVH and replicated in a second population).

4. Arnett DK. Wicked problems and worthy pursuits: resolving to meet American Heart Association 2020 Impact Goals. Circulation. 2012;125(21):2554-6. PMID22547668. (My presidential address from my year as President of the AHA).

  • Have you had any significant career mentors? If yes, please provide further details.

I have made use of two different personal coaches over my career and have found them to be the most helpful, not only in balancing work and career, but also in determining strategy that allows me to solve problems, maintain authenticity, and stick to my values.

  •  How can we support the next generation of women scientists?

Be there for our junior colleagues – as you rise, reach down and offer a hand to those coming behind you.