CSHP alumni, Dr. Kristen Mark, shares about her experiences at the Center, her exciting new career with Minnesota Medical School, projects she is most excited about and offers some great advice for prospective and current CSHP students.
Why did you choose to come to the Center for Sexual Health Promotion?
I grew up in Canada and was in my MS program at Guelph when I went to the SSSS conference and learned about the Center for Sexual Health Promotion at IU and met Michael Reece. We really connected through talking about some orgasm and satisfaction research and I started more closely following his work and the work of others at CSHP. I had also always followed Debby Herbenick's work and really admired the way Debby translated scientific research to the public in a meaningful way. My advisor in Canada was an IU alumni (Robin Milhausen) and she knew about CSHP's work and thought it would be a good fit for me to do my doctoral work based on my research interests. So I applied to the program and was thrilled to have the opportunity to work with such rockstar scholars.
Where are you now?
I am the Joycelyn Elders Endowed Chair in Sexual Health Education at the University of Minnesota Medical School in the Program in Human Sexuality. I'm also a professor in the Department of Family Medicine and Community Health and direct the medical school sexual health curriculum and our graduate certificate in Human Sexuality. I just started this position at the beginning of 2021, so I'm still getting into the role. I spent the last 9 years of my career as a professor at University of Kentucky. My current position as the Joycelyn Elders Chair is truly a dream role where I have the platform from which to shape sexual health education locally, nationally, and internationally and work to break down so many of the barriers that we see preventing people from living sexually healthy lives through continuing with my research program and engaging in a variety of educational efforts.
What experiences did you value the most during your time with the CSHP?
I felt really fortunate to be at CSHP during a time that they had some important industry grants that I could learn from, were doing all of the really groundbreaking NSSHB data collection and dissemination, and to have formed meaningful relationships with people in CSHP who I still keep in close touch with and collaborate with to this day.
Why did you choose a career in sexuality research and/or education?
I have always been comfortable talking about sex because I thought about it as a pretty natural part of life, but everyone around me seemed to be really uncomfortable talking about it, so that struck me as odd and I realized early on that I wanted to do something in that area. I am a first generation college student and honestly didn't really know what research was or what professors did specifically until close to the end of undergrad. Once I figured out this could be a career path and I could specialize in something that was so important to the vast majority of the population - sex and relationships - it was a natural fit. I saw being a sex and relationships researcher as something I was passionate about, could make a meaningful contribution to society, would be a career that wouldn't feel like work, and I'd never run out of research questions! All of those have remained true for me and stood the test of time.
When you’re not working, what are your hobbies and interests?
I love to go hiking with my dog Piper and really do just about any activity outside - skating, running, skiing, snowboarding, boating, SUPing, kayaking, I'm game for about anything. I've just discovered pickleball and it is a ton of fun! I also love checking out restaurants or breweries with friends, but I've just moved to a new city in the midst of the pandemic, so that's been on the backburner for now. I am super into home renovation and interior design stuff too. I have been teaching myself some home improvement skills - for example, I installed heated floors in my washroom and they shockingly actually work, so that was a success. Next project is to sand and paint and fill cracks in the stairs. I have an old home built in the early 1900s, so the project list is never ending.
What projects are you currently involved in or excited about?
There are so many! One project that is in the dissemination phase is this project on women who are in healthy sexual relationships but experienced sexual trauma. We have a few papers that are set to come out soon that feature really tangible outcomes that I think will directly help people navigate this. Another project I'm excited about is working with young advocates for change who are fighting for consent education to be an integral part of their health education. And given that I just started this new position at a new institution, I am really motivated by the amazing team of folks at the Program in Human Sexuality at UMN who I'll have the opportunity to collaborate with. There are so many great minds in this place, so I'm just really excited to see what's next.
What are some key pieces of advice for prospective or current CSHP students?
I would suggest getting involved as much as possible in the type of thing you want to do with your career. So, for me, that meant really making sure I got as many research opportunities as possible while at CSHP. I am so thankful I was able to do that because it set me up for success in my career. If you're really interested in policy or advocacy, talk to your advisors about ways you can get involved in policy or advocacy. If you're really interested in teaching, make sure you're getting as much teaching experience (formal and informal) as possible. A graduate program is what you make of it. Opportunities don't just happen for you - you'll need to pursue opportunities and show that you're enthusiastic and passionate about what you're doing. CSHP has so many of those opportunities ripe for the picking for students who are motivated to pursue them.