Katie Ellison’s Journey: Triumph, Mentorship, and the George Bray Obesity Research Award

Katie Ellison’s Journey: Triumph, Mentorship, and the George Bray Obesity Research Award

Katie M. Ellison, M.S., a doctoral student at the University of Alabama at Birmingham (UAB), is on a remarkable journey that blends personal struggles with professional triumphs. This journey will soon be celebrated on the grand stage of the Nutrition 2024 conference in Chicago, IL, where she will receive the prestigious George Bray Obesity Research Student Award.

This award not only recognizes her groundbreaking work but also underscores the vital mentorship of FAC Core Project Principal Investigator Drew Sayer, Ph.D., whose guidance has been essential in her journey.

The Mentor’s Influence

Ellison speaks about the profound impact Sayer has had on her career. “Dr. Sayer has significantly shaped my approach to research and my professional growth,” she shared. “One of the most valuable lessons I’ve learned from him is the importance of perseverance and curiosity in scientific research.” Sayer, who found his passion for public health early on, said, “Even during my undergraduate years, I was more drawn to the public health implications of healthy eating and physical activity than just sports performance. Obesity research felt like a natural fit.”

Ellison’s enthusiasm and commitment have been evident from the start. “Katie has that ‘it factor’ that’s hard to describe but easy to recognize. Her enthusiasm for this work is infectious, and her genuine desire to improve lives brings a unique perspective,” Sayer noted.

Katie Ellison (right) with her mentor Drew Sayer, Ph.D. (second from right), and colleagues at a research presentation.

A Personal Motivation

Ellison’s passion for obesity research is deeply personal, stemming from her own battles with weight. “I was inspired to pursue a career in nutrition sciences and obesity research because of my personal journey with weight loss and the challenges I faced,” she explained. “I have seen firsthand the profound impact that obesity can have on individuals and their families. This experience has fueled my determination to help others overcome similar struggles.”

Did You Know?

Dr. George Bray was the founding Executive Director of the Pennington Biomedical Research Center, a Forge AHEAD partner institution, and is internationally recognized for his research in obesity. The George Bray Obesity Research Student Award, endowed by Dr. Bray and his wife Marilyn, continues to honor his legacy by recognizing outstanding student research in obesity.

Award and Research Focus

Receiving the George Bray Obesity Research Student Award is a pivotal milestone for Ellison. “I was incredibly honored and excited to learn that I was receiving the George Bray Obesity Research Student Award. I believe my research stood out because it addresses a critical gap in understanding the behavioral aspects of obesity,” Ellison said.

Her work aims to uncover strategies that can improve health outcomes for individuals struggling with obesity. “My research aims to understand how specific behavioral strategies can improve weight loss outcomes and overall health in individuals with obesity. My own journey taught me the importance of sustainable lifestyle changes, and I hope this work will contribute to more effective treatment protocols for obesity,” she elaborated. Her work is not just about data; it’s about changing lives.


Sayer highlighted the significance of this achievement, saying, “George Bray is a pioneer in obesity research and receiving an award bearing his name is a tremendous accomplishment for Katie and a testament to the quality of her work. There is a lot of interest in the concept of ‘precision nutrition’ in obesity research treatment. I hope that this award signals a growing interest and emphasis on innovative experimental designs that can bridge the translational gap between traditional clinical research and the delivery of adaptive and personalized care to people living with obesity.”

Future Aspirations

Looking ahead, Ellison has clear goals. “Following this award, my aspirations are to further explore innovative behavioral interventions that can be integrated into clinical practice. I plan to build on my current research to develop comprehensive treatment strategies that address the multifaceted nature of obesity.” Her vision is one of a healthier future for all, where effective treatment strategies can lead to lasting health improvements.

Ellison’s recognition with the George Bray Obesity Research Student Award is a testament to her perseverance, the mentorship she received, and her dedication to making a difference. Her work, guided by Sayer, exemplifies the spirit of collaboration and innovation at Forge AHEAD. As Ellison continues her journey, her contributions are set to shape the future of obesity treatment, offering hope and better health outcomes.

Katie Ellison’s story is one of courage, determination, and the transformative power of mentorship. It highlights the importance of resilience, curiosity, and the incredible impact of one person’s dedication.

“Dr. Sayer has significantly influenced my approach to research and my professional development. One of the most valuable lessons I’ve learned from him is the importance of perseverance and curiosity in scientific research.” – Katie Ellison