September 28, 2016 7:00 AM

To Rio and Back: A Golden Reason to Take Time Off from Grad School

She rowed her way to gold in the Rio Olympics. And both she and her adviser say it’s a great example of why grad students shouldn’t hesitate to ask for time off.


When Amanda Elmore joined the laboratory team of University of Michigan microbiologist Pat Schloss, he didn’t give much thought to her request to row for the university’s crew team. Balancing that with her graduate studies, and her role in his team’s research on the microbes that live in the human gut, seemed feasible.

Then she was asked to join the national team and compete in the world championships — and eventually try out for the Olympic team. She worried about asking for time away from the lab.

But with Schloss’s support — and the ability to teleconference into lab meetings and to crunch massive amounts of microbiome data on her laptop — she made it work.

With only a few months completely off of her graduate work, Amanda made TeamUSA for the 2016 Olympics’ powerhouse women’s eight rowing team. She traveled to Rio de Janeiro, where her knowledge of microbes boosted her team’s already healthy respect for the rowing venue’s water.

And in late August, Elmore and her teammates rowed their way to a gold medal.

Now, she’s preparing to come back to the Schloss lab with a renewed commitment to her project, which aims to detect colon cancer through variations in the population of microbes in a person’s gut.

The video above shows when she brought her medal by for all to see and touch as a way of saying thanks to everyone who made pursuing her Olympic dream possible.