Postdoc Q&A: Early career scientist from Finland shares why she chose to traverse continents for research

Released: Wednesday, February 22, 2017

Welcome to our postdoctoral researcher Q&A, where you get to meet Pennington Biomedical's emerging scientists. Dr. Sari Aaltonen came to Pennington Biomedical from Helsinki, Finland, where she spent time studying and working in the exercise science field. Thanks to a grant from Finland, Aaltonen has been at Pennington Biomedical studying alongside Dr. Tuomo Rankinen for the last 10 months. Hear why she traveled across the globe to study at Pennington Biomedical.

What are you studying here at Pennington Biomedical?

My research is examining the association between family health history and training response to aerobic exercise by using the HERITAGE Family Study data. It is important to get to know different kind of indicators that may predict high and low responders to aerobic exercise training. We are aiming to publish this data soon.

 What did you know about Pennington Biomedical and/or its reputation before coming to study here?

Pennington Biomedical has good reputation around the world and in Finland in terms of exercise and nutrition research, and that was definitely one of my initial reasons to come here. Over the past 10 months, I quickly learned that this center was much more than I expected in terms of the interdisciplinary nature of studies and broadness of research areas.

What's it been like collaborating with Pennington Biomedical's researchers?

It has been a great opportunity, of course! I have learned many new things related not only to exercise science but also to a different kind of working culture and alternative ways to work. Moving to a new country has also been an interesting experience and I don't want to underestimate the meaning of that life experience either. Getting a tornado alert on your cell phone may be normal in Louisiana, but it's something that has been a new experience for me. On a monthly basis, I have faced new situations that I hadn't previously experienced! It has been a great learning experience.

You are also involved in public health in Finland. How do the public health problems faced by people in Finland compare with those in the U.S. and in Louisiana?

In general, I think many public health problems are pretty similar in all western countries: sedentary behavior, physical inactivity and obesity among both children and adults are prevalent in both Finland and here in the United States. However, I have noticed that the incorporation of physical activity into everyday life may be more common in Finland. For example, active commuting is much more common in my hometown, Helsinki, compared to Baton Rouge. People are much more likely to walk or ride their bike to work, school or almost anywhere they want to there so they naturally get more exercise throughout the day than people here in Baton Rouge who rely heavily on cars.

What have you learned about the culture during your time in Louisiana?

It has been interesting to learn to know new ways to do things. Many things work somewhat differently here than in my home country. For example, people in Louisiana are friendly and enjoy both small talk and talking with strangers - that's much more common in Louisiana than back home in Finland. I have also learned that charity work is important in the USA, and I think that one of the funniest ways I've found to do charity work may be charity runs - we don't have many of those in Finland, but those runs have been a great new experience for me during my time here since I enjoy running.

Dr. Sari Aaltonen graduated with her Master of Science degree in Physiotherapy from the University of Jyväskylä, Finland in 2007 before earning her Ph.D. from the same university in 2013. Her Ph.D. is in Sports and Exercise Medicine. 

For more information on how you can support this and other projects at LSU’s Pennington Biomedical Research Center, visit