Indiana University graduate student Olivia Ballew is gearing up for a Ph.D. and a chance at the Olympic games. The Ph.D. candidate in genome, cell, and developmental biology recently qualified for the 2020 Olympic trials in the marathon.
Pursuing her degree while getting the miles in was not a simple task. Ballew would begin her work in the lab at 6 a.m. She would leave for an hour for her first run and come back and work a full day before her second evening run. She ended her day by completing any unfinished work from earlier.
Even though balancing school and running was not always easy, Ballew said she gained time management skills she never knew she had.
"When you have big goals, you have to make sacrifices. I didn't have free time outside of my lab work and running," Ballew said. "I put my head down and worked hard."
After a nine-year hiatus from running after middle school and high school, she got back into it on a whim. She signed up for a half marathon and began training with a collegiate cross country and distance track coach.
Ballew's Ph.D. advisor at IU, Soni Lacefield, made it easy to get back into running by creating a supportive environment where Ballew could continue pursuing her degree while training.
"This campus is filled with supportive professors, and Soni is a great example of that," Ballew said. "She has pushed me past what I thought I was capable of.
"And let me tell you, getting a Ph.D. is much harder than running a marathon."
Ballew got her undergrad degree from University of North Carolina Chapel Hill, where she studied biology. Her professor, Jeff Sekelsky, recommended Ballew to Lacefield, who was a former colleague.
She chose IU to continue her studies after realizing the support that came along with the university.
"I was extremely impressed with her background and knew she had a promising future," Lacefield said. "She has fulfilled all expectations, and I have enjoyed watching her grow as a student.