La Follette School sociologist Pamela Herd has won two prestigious Vilas awards from the university.
The first is $100,000 for a Vilas Faculty Mid-Career Investigator Award from the Provost's Office. Funded by the William F. Vilas Trust Estate, the award recognizes exceptional scholarly accomplishments and provides flexible research funding.
The second award, the Graduate School's Vilas Associates Competition, recognizes new and ongoing research of the highest quality and significance. Herd will use the funds to conduct research on the relationships among the human microbiota, obesity, and cognitive functioning in later life.
Herd and her collaborator Federico Rey, an assistant professor of bacteriology, are leading an effort to facilitate research on the microorganisms inhabiting the human body — the gut microbiome. "This research will then examine the links between the microbiome, and obesity and diabetes, diseases that correlate to low levels of educational attainment," Herd says. "While this field of science is developing rapidly, the research is inhibited by small sample sizes and limited environmental data for the participants. WLS's comprehensive lifetime profiles of our participants will allow a range of innovative and potentially important analyses to better understand how the microbiome links to health."
Herd is the principal investigator of the nearly 60-year-long Wisconsin Longitudinal Study that examines how early and mid-life experiences influence later life well-being, income security, health, and cognitive functioning. As a National Academy of Sciences Report noted, the WLS is the most comprehensive cohort longitudinal study in existence.
"During Pam's leadership, the project has received nearly $35 million in funding from the National Institutes of Health," says La Follette School Director Susan Yackee. "That includes a recent $6.8 million award to add genetic data to the study. Despite this support, it is not unusual for her to pay out-of-pocket for travel and activities related to the project because those NIH funds are not fully flexible. She has no funds to pay for the activities she is proposing for the Vilas Award."
"Pam's incorporation of genetic data into the WLS has already made her a leader in integrating biological data into social science research and this project furthers that ambition," says La Follette School Director Susan Yackee. "The proposal is bold, but her record at the helm of the WLS is evidence of her ability to complete its aims."