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Haaga Takes NIA Behavioral, Social Research Post

By Jeannine Mjoseth

Dr. John G. Haaga has been named deputy associate director for the Behavioral and Social Research Program at the National Institute on Aging. He will help advance health science administrators' projects, coordinate cross-institutional research efforts and manage a portfolio of health services research and international demography grants.

Dr. John G. Haaga

"Health policy merges my interests in both economics and biology," said Haaga, who has a Ph.D. in public policy from the RAND Graduate School of Policy Studies, an M.A. in international relations from Johns Hopkins University and a B.A. from Oxford University.

Haaga, a Bethesda native, will draw upon a wide variety of work experiences from the RAND Corp., the Population Council, the National Academy of Sciences and the Population Reference Bureau. At RAND, he was codirector of the Malaysian Family Life Survey, where he encountered some of his first challenges in demographic research. While supervising pre-tests, he met a man who had been married 17 times, had four current wives and innumerable children. "He was locally famous, and just happened to turn up in our sample. For a demographer, it was an honor to meet him!" Haaga joked. While at the Population Council, Haaga moved his family to Bangladesh where he worked on family planning, and maternal and child health programs.

During his 4-year tenure at the NAS, Haaga decided to learn more about aging since NIA was one of the largest funders of the NAS committee on population. He immersed himself in a wide ranging course on aging research from Drosophila flies to retirement economics at the RAND Summer Institute on the Demography of Aging, which NIA supports each year.

Haaga also spent a lot of time communicating with Dr. Richard Suzman, associate director of the BSR, about the NAS projects on the biodemography of aging and racial and ethnic differences in health. "I knew the program (BSR) and had a lot of respect for what the program is trying to do. When the job came open, I was convinced it was an exciting opportunity and an interesting place to work."

This belief was affirmed late one night when Haaga was walking his Cockapoo "Griff" (named for baseball player Ken Griffey, Jr.). He encountered a fellow dog walker who happened to be an electrician at NIH. "My neighbor told me that he had just given a lecture that morning to his apprentice electricians about how wiring the new Clinical Center at NIH wasn't just another job. 'This job is for NIH and it means something,'" Haaga remembered. "That's how I feel. It's not that I think I'm important but the work we do at NIH is very important."
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