Meet the 2015 Faculty Member of the Year
By Anna Gaynor
Linda Janusek’s research has improved the lives of hundreds of women with breast cancer. A large part of Dr. Janusek’s research is focused on the connection between the immune system’s influence on psychological stress and emotions in relation to disease. Her research has also demonstrated that mindfulness-based practices, such as meditation, improve a patient's well being and coping skills while also restoring the body’s immune response after the challenges of cancer.
For her contributions, Janusek, a professor at the Marcella Niehoff School of Nursing, was recently named the 2015 Loyola University Chicago Faculty Member of the Year during the September 21 Faculty Convocation ceremony at Loyola’s Health Sciences Campus. Chosen by members of the faculty, the award acknowledges an honoree every year for their outstanding teaching and mentorship of students and faculty in addition to successfully balancing teaching, research, and service to the University community.
“It is so meaningful to be recognized by my faculty colleagues as Faculty Member of the Year,” Janusek said. “I did not expect this honor, as Loyola has so many esteemed and dedicated faculty members.”
More than a researcher
Fresh from earning her PhD, Janusek joined Loyola in 1978 as an assistant professor. Today, Janusek holds the Endowed Chair for Research, the only endowed chair at the school.
“Janusek has always been a fabulous teacher,” said Vicki Keough, PhD, Dean of the Niehoff School of Nursing. “She engages with students, she takes very difficult scientific topics and makes them understandable to the students. The students have continuously remarked about her ability to make complex lectures interesting and exciting.”
One of Janusek’s favorite classes to teach has been a graduate course she developed in her field of research. Called Interdisciplinary Frontiers in Psychoneuroimmunology, the course provides a forum to discuss the interaction of psychological processes with the immune and nervous systems, and, in the process, students are guided to discuss the implications of those interactions on health.
Janusek’s research seeks to identify the environmental factors that predispose vulnerable individuals to risk for behavioral symptoms, such as depression, fatigue, and perceived stress, and poor health. Her studies have shown that stress can negatively alter the mental health as well as the immune response in women with breast cancer. Recently, she identified early life adversity or trauma as a vulnerability factor that intensifies both the psychological and immune response to cancer-related stress.
Janusek has more recently extended her research to the field of behavioral epigenetics, an area of science that seeks to explain how a person’s psychosocial environment is translated to the genome to influence risk for disease across the lifespan. She now investigates epigenetic mechanisms that link psychosocial stress and social disadvantage to poor health. Recently, Janusek chaired a scientific symposium: Epigenetic Discovery: Unraveling Environment, Genome, and Health Interactions at the 2015 Midwest Nursing Research Society.
Janusek engages students at all levels in research. She mentors nursing and medical students, undergraduate, and graduate students (MSN, PhD, and DNP students), as well as others across Loyola. While Keough said this type of interprofessional collaboration may be the “buzz word” in education today, Janusek was way ahead of that curve. “Long before we ever talked about interprofessional education, Janusek was mentoring nursing students and medical students,” Keough said. “She has been a leader in the Niehoff School of Nursing in that area of interprofessional research.”
A leader and mentor for all
Janusek also works a great deal with nursing faculty in completing and submitting their research and academic articles. She founded the Niehoff Scholarly Writing Program, which assists junior faculty to prepare their scholarly projects for publication. The semester-long program culminates in a two-and-a-half-day workshop at Loyola’s Retreat and Ecology Campus. It gives faculty members a place and time to work exclusively on their publications—with some additional advice and mentoring along the way. She also spends time mentoring faculty to receive competitive postdoctoral fellowships and National Institutes of Health Mentored Career Development Awards.
According to Keough, Janusek represents the Niehoff School of Nursing and Loyola in many ways, including her national and international work, her commitment to working with vulnerable populations as a researcher and scholar, and her dedication to teaching and encouraging students to reach high levels of achievement. “She’s touched hundreds and hundreds of lives of women with breast cancer and their families, of students and faculty,” Keough said. “But also look at all of the PhD students, the medical students, the graduate nursing students, and undergraduate students she takes on. Janusek has provided such leadership and mentorship to the students, all across the University, not just in nursing.”