Reflections on my decade at the AgeLab
by Julie Miller
If you had told me when I was a Master’s student pursuing a clinical career in social work (and moonlighting making amateur documentary films about “Vibrant Aging”) that I would wind up doing research, I would have said, “think again!” If you had told me that I would wind up at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology doing that research, I’d say, “Who… me?”
Fast forward to my first visit to the AgeLab, learning about its new and optimistic vision of longevity, its translational work to make that vision a reality, and the interdisciplinary team that makes it happen… all the dots connected for me.
Now, after ten years at the AgeLab, I am moving on to the next stage of my professional journey. Working at the AgeLab has been an incredible experience, and one that I simply can’t do justice in describing its impact on my life, both personally and professionally. The AgeLab has seen me through several chapters of my own life-marriages, funerals, and births, pandemics, interstate moves, graduations, globe-trotting, sickness, and health. As I have aged and moved through new stages of my life, the AgeLab has done the same: A growing and changing group of AgeLab researchers, new sponsors, partners, projects, events, and books, and so much more. I am so proud to have played my part in almost half of the AgeLab’s 20+ year history.
In my decade at the AgeLab, I led and contributed to projects I’ve loved and learned tremendous amounts from; projects about forecasting the aging future of Millennials; sandwich generation caregiving;student loans, family dynamics, and longevity planning; impacts of shifting age and identity demographics on family, technology, and consumer values; trust and advice; and living on the leading edge of longevity, to list a few. I am so proud of the translational work my colleagues and I have been able to accomplish together—publishing, presenting, and partnering within and outside of MIT to ensure that our research moves beyond the academy and to end users. Likewise, it has been an honor to plant the seeds for some of the Lab’s community-based research and programming initiatives, including the 85+ Lifestyle Leaders Panel and OMEGA (Opportunities for Multigenerational Engagement, Growth, and Action), and most recently, to help grow PLAN (Preparing for Longevity Advisory Network). I am excited to see how these projects and initiatives resurface, evolve, and in true MIT fashion, can be “broken” and rebuilt for the better.
I also want to express my sincere thanks to some of the people who have made my tenure at the AgeLab an incredible experience. In no particular order:
Dr. Joe Coughlin: You are magic. Your investment in me is humbling and is what has made my time at the AgeLab a reality. Thank you for sharing and elevating my vision for this work. It has been, and continues to be, my distinct honor to be part of your labor of love.
Dr. Lisa D’Ambrosio, you are the backbone of so much of the work I have been able to contribute to, and learn from, in my time at the AgeLab. Thank you for hanging in the weeds with me from the beginning, for asking the toughest questions, and for helping me keep everything in perspective, offering tremendous support each step of the way.
To the brilliant and compassionate colleagues with whom I have been so fortunate to work, comprising multiple generations of AgeLab researchers who spanned globe-thank you for being tremendous teachers, collaborators, and friends.
To the excellent folks at AgeLab sponsor and partner organizations: Through tours, conferences, meetings, presentations, public tabling events, emails, phone calls, elevator rides, and informal chats in the hallways, thank you for everything you have done to teach me, ground my academic work in non-academic (aka “real life!”) terms, and elevate our collaborative work together.
To AgeLab research participants, most especially the 85+ Lifestyle Leaders: Stories like yours are what drew me to the field of aging and what keep me endlessly inspired to do this work. Thank you for your candor, your tears, your laughter, and your willingness to share your attitudes and experiences in the name of social science research and social change.
Furthering the vision and work of the AgeLab has been the honor of a lifetime. I look forward to carrying this vision and work with me to AARP as I transition into the role of Director of Thought Leadership, Financial Resilience. I look forward to staying connected to the MIT AgeLab and overlapping in our efforts to re-imagine and remake longevity.
Dr. Julie B. Miller