About Me

I am a biological anthropologist specializing in psychosocial stress, aging, and student-athlete mental health and well-being. My research program examines how local ecologies moderate the associations between psychosocial stress and biological aging in humans, connecting lived experiences to molecular, immunological, and demographic processes.

I leverage diversity both within and between populations to tease apart how differences in social environments (Tennyson et al., 2016), physical environments (Tennyson et al., 2018), and behavior (Tennyson, Nanda, et al., In Prep) influence associations between psychosocial stress and aging. This approach often produces findings that challenge traditional biomedical predictions from White, American “reference” populations. For example, I found that higher childhood psychosocial stress is associated with having longer telomeres for more active individuals, indicating younger biological age with more stress. In contrast, the opposite was true for less active individuals. Findings like this lead my collaborators and me to challenge what we know about stress and aging, how we know it, and how diverse populations and methods can improve our understanding of human health and evolution.

My ongoing work centers on three projects: The Vietnam Health and Aging Study (VHAS), The Einstein Aging Study (EAS), and the Human Biology of Stress and Sports (HBSS; tennysonresearchteam.org). For the Vietnam Health and Aging Study (vhas.utah.edu), I work with Principal Investigators Dr. Kim Korinek (U of Utah), Dr. Zachary Zimmer (Mount Saint Vincent University), and Dr. Alan Cohen (Columbia University). As a postdoc on this team, I am focusing on how exposure to armed conflict during the Vietnam War predicts epigenetic aging and other markers of health in Vietnamese war survivors. I am also working with Dr. Cohen on a project investigating differences in immune aging in industrial and non-industrial populations.

I also recently joined the Mechanisms of Emotion, Stress, and Health (MESH) Lab and the Stress and Immunity Lab at Penn State, working with PIs Dr. Jennifer Graham-Engeland and Dr. Christopher Engeland. As a member of this team, I work mainly with EAS to explore how lived experiences affect cognitive, immune, and molecular aging.

I founded HBSS in 2020, funded by the Center for Leadership in Athletics at the University of Washington, to study stress, biology, and well-being in NCAA student-athletes. Looking forward, I am currently working with collaborators across the US to expand HBSS to include more schools and athletic departments.

As a graduate student, I received specialized training in biological aging as a pre-doctoral trainee for the Biological Mechanisms of Healthy Aging at the University of Washington (supported by NIH/NIA T32 AG066574). I also received demographic training as a trainee with the Center for Studies in Demography and Ecology at the UW (previously supported by NICHD T32 HD007543). Alongside my academic positions, I’ve also worked as a Research Associate at Casimir Trials, where I helped utilize qualitative data in research on rare diseases and disorders.

I have also worked on research teams investigating global mental health methodologies, associations with mental health and biology both inside and outside the US, connections between genotype and health, and the anthropology of sports. I am also very fortunate to have worked on a couple of projects focused on improving equity in STEM fields and continue to center equity in my research and professional service.

Leave a Reply