Student Profile: Senior Exercise Science Major Benja Duff


Benja Duff

How did you get involved with the McNair Scholars Program?

Duff: When I was a freshman on the track and field team, my teammate Brandon Harris, who was already in the program, told me about McNair and pushed me to do it. As a student-athlete, he wanted to see more of us involved in campus academics. He knew that I was a STEM major and what my goals looked like and felt McNair would help me achieve those goals. He's the reason that I got involved in McNair. 

What did you research during your time as a McNair Scholar?

Duff: I’ve been in the McNair Scholars Program for three years (since being accepted into McNair my sophomore year), and I’ve done two research projects. My current research project, under Dr. Adam Jajtner, examines the relationship between training volume and upper respiratory illness symptoms in NCAA Division 1 swimmers. My specific focus is the effects of menstrual phases on the presence of these symptoms. 

My first research project, with Dr. Ellen Glickman, was looking at the cardiovascular stress response of e-sports. Our research aimed to determine the cardiovascular response within competitive gaming in young adult gamers and non-gamers and the effect of high-intensity exercise on stress reactivity during a gaming session that will follow. We researched this because of the growing fan-base and the number of athletes within e-sports. 

How did you connect with your mentor(s) throughout the program?

Duff: The McNair Scholars go through a class during the year before we begin our research. Dr. Cichy, from the School of Lifespan Development and Educational Sciences, runs the Research Methods Workshop class, where we work to understand what research is and find a mentor. One of our assignments is to research professors within our area of study at Kent State and look at their research to see if it interests us. I emailed three professors, and only one responded, who happened to be Dr. Glickman, director of the School of Health Sciences. I looked at her research and was interested in her studies on thermoregulation. That’s how I got connected with Dr. Glickman. 

My previous professor, Dr. Cichy, introduced me to Dr. Jajtner through email, and we connected there. 


Did you face any obstacles during your current or previous research projects?

Duff: Yes, I think everybody within research has found it hard to engage people in the labs because of social distancing and whatnot. The first research project I was working on, we never actually finished it because school went remote, and the labs were closed. For the current research project that I’m working on with Dr. Jajtner, we’ve had to follow different precautions and change our research methods because of the ever-changing climate.  

What do you feel are the benefits of participating in research as an undergraduate?

Duff: For my cohort and me, there's a lot of imposter syndrome that we have where we don't think we're smart enough to conduct research independently. Being able to have the experience of someone walking you through what you should be doing and having a helping hand early on is beneficial for when we're in grad school or our Ph.D. program, and we're researching by ourselves. 

What advice would you give to students interested in undergraduate research?

Duff: I would say not to be afraid and to ask questions. Professors always enjoy answering questions in their labs; if there are programs like this, you know help is always wanted. It's good to put yourself out there. 

Did you ever feel overwhelmed with school and being a student-athlete who's participating in research? How did you combat these issues?

Duff: I don't believe there's such a thing as ‘too much on my plate.’ Growing up, my dad always told me: “There may be a whole lot of reasons, but there’s no excuse.” Everything I do, I have that model in my head. There might be many reasons for me to go to sleep instead of working on my projects, but there's no excuse or reason that I can't be a student, an athlete, and a researcher. It's a lot of self-motivation, but many people in the program support me.  

How do you think you've grown as a student and as a professional as a result of your research?

Duff: I think I’ve grown a lot in my confidence in my ability. I'm a first-generation college student, so my confidence has grown because I can say I did research and have an intellectual conversation with someone about my research. I’ve also grown in my presentation skills. 

As a professional, I feel like I’ve grown because the people that I’ve met and experiences that I’ve had can support me. 


The McNair Scholars Program is run through the University College. To learn more about the McNair Scholars Program, click here.