The science of health and wellness with Kevin Kaiser
Within the Leidos Health Group, a team of more than 300 scientists, researchers, and program managers are focused on how human performance and biobehavioral research can support warfighters serving on land and on and under the sea.
Today’s guest on MindSET, Kevin Kaiser, leads this team as Vice President and Division Manager of Biobehavioral Research. His team focuses on both human subject and database-driven research in the areas of combat trauma, casualty care, warfighter performance, psychological resilience, behavioral health, readiness, and clinical research.
“As part of the military and veterans’ health operation and the overall human performance and behavioral health account within Leidos, we are uniquely positioned to use our research abilities and analytical skills to take various types of data and turn it into actionable information for our customers," said Kevin.
Kevin has had an incredibly unique career combining his interest and background in human performance, research, data, and technology to prevent illness, injury, and to optimize human performance not just in the military world, but in the corporate one too.
In this latest episode, Kevin shares his path to Leidos and how the military applies Leidos’ research to optimize the entire deployment cycle of a warfighter and drive decision making, to promote readiness and resilience in our nation’s military. He also discusses the implications COVID-19 has had on research for the military and more broadly in a corporate setting.
For anyone wanting to follow in Kevin’s footsteps or to find out more about biobehavioral research, this is an unmissable episode.
On today’s podcast:
- What is biobehavioral research
- Leidos’ capabilities in human performance across the deployment cycle
- Examples of biohehavioral research, including human subject and database-driven studies
- Impacts of COVID-19 on human performance research
Kevin Kaiser: This is where Leidos is really setting ourselves apart here. It really is a new mindset relative to human performance and being able to look at the holistic picture, the overall picture of health in performance optimization. I think as a company, Leidos is uniquely positioned to do that.
Bridget Bell: Welcome to MindSET, a Leidos podcast. I'm your host, Bridget Bell.
Meghan Good: And I'm your host Meghan Good. Join us as we talk with pioneers in science, engineering and technology to understand their creative mindset and share their stories of innovation.
Bridget Bell: Welcome to MindSET. Today, we're talking with Kevin Kaiser, Vice President and Division Manager of Biobehavioral Research at Leidos. Kevin talks us through his background and interest in human performance and how that applies to the health and wellness of the military in his current role.
Meghan Good: We also talked a lot about data and technology and how it's being combined and used for a purpose with his research. Kevin gave some great examples of projects, of how they're working to optimize human performance.
Bridget Bell: He describes his research as the science of health and wellness, and he talked us through how we can apply capabilities to the entire deployment cycle of a warfighter. So from preparation to training, to deployment and then return and reintegration.
Meghan Good: The themes emerged of readiness and resilience, which also echoed when he talked about his team of over 300 multifunctional multidisciplinary kinds of scientists who work in this research.
Bridget Bell: And we couldn't talk health and biobehavioral research without talking COVID-19 and he talked through some of the implications that this virus has had in research for the military and also what the implications might be for research in a more corporate setting.
Meghan Good: So let's dive in.
Bridget Bell: Welcome, Kevin.
Kevin Kaiser: All right. Thank you very much. Thanks for having me.
Bridget Bell: So let's start with a little bit about your background and your role here at Leidos.
Kevin Kaiser: All right. Sure. No problem. So I am, as you mentioned, a division manager for our Leidos biobehavioral research division. We are part of an overall human performance and behavioral health account within our health group within Leidos and specifically focused on military and veteran health. I have been working for Leidos for about 50 years, but I've really been working in this space for just about 24 years or so. And always as a kind of a kid really was fascinated by the area of human performance and exercise and diet and how those things could influence overall health. And I wasn't sure where I would focus that attention, whether that would be in the medical profession or research profession, but kind of matriculated with a degree at UCLA in biology, and then got a graduate degree at San Diego State in public health. And it was really kind of the formulation of those two that really kind of jump-started my career in looking at research specifically in the military community.
Kevin Kaiser: So, like I said, I began right after grad school in the mid-nineties, and that was right about the time in the military we were wrapping up and finishing from the Gulf War and there was a lot of research that was being done around Gulf War health related issues and how we could address those and looking at things that people might have been exposed to in theater or illness and injury that they might have suffered and ways to prevent that in future deployments and things. Which as an initial job right out of grad school was really fascinating to me because then all of a sudden you've got a kind of a confluence of my personal interest in health and human performance, but also being able to prevent illness and injury among military members, which is extremely near and dear to my heart.
Kevin Kaiser: So as I mentioned, kind of working with Leidos and some of our predecessor companies, I started out doing research, actually going out, interacting with military personnel, collecting information, trying to answer research questions specifically for active duty Navy and Marine Corps individuals, publishing those, of course, analyzing the data and publishing. And then over time, it kind of just morphed into managing several studies and working lots of different things all in this area of health and wellness for military personnel. And then now, I really have mostly management responsibilities over a team, really focused on doing what I started doing many years ago, which is conducting research specifically to improve the health, morale, and welfare for our Navy and Marine Corps.
Meghan Good: So what is biobehavioral research?
Kevin Kaiser: Biobehavioral research is really conducting research to study kind of the overall picture of health. So maybe the science behind overall health. It's holistically looking at all the factors that might contribute to overall health.
Kevin Kaiser: And another name for that could be wellness. You hear terms such as readiness and resilience talked about in the military communities, looking at specific health and wellness for groups, particular groups and individuals, populations, and subpopulations within the Navy and Marine Corps. And it really is very fascinating because it draws on many different scientific disciplines too, as we'll get into it, you'll hear that we've got input from a variety of scientists and different personnel that bring a wide variety of backgrounds to the problem of again, essentially the science of health.
Kevin Kaiser: And so really our focus, our main focus within the biobehavioral research division, is to conduct research as I mentioned, using technology as you'll hear about, and then as well as taking that data and that information to drive decision making and improve health and performance in the military, specifically, building a resilient and ready fighting force.
Bridget Bell: So you've talked about the science of health and wellness and also your interest in human performance and how you got into this field. So how does this all fit together into Leidos' overall human performance offerings?
Kevin Kaiser: There's a lot of different ways that we play a role in fitting into our overall, I would say not only just our human performance strategy, but also to the health strategy as a whole. So within our accounts, specifically within the human performance division, it's really this research. It's this group, it's this foundational things that we do with regards to the research questions we answer and the outcomes of that, that really can drive in some cases input and feedback to clinicians within the military. We provide in other parts of the account, counseling services to dependence of military personnel. And so a lot of those lessons learned from the research perspective can then translate into, in certain situations, the clinical care side or in this case, the counseling side. With regards to our operation as a whole within Leidos, we have something within our company that I dare say is unparalleled in anybody else.
Kevin Kaiser: We have the foundational work with regards to electronic health record and our long history as a company supporting things like CHCS and Alto, which was the older medical record for the military. And now of course the MHS Genesis and kind of re-imagining of that within Leidos, and so we've got that infrastructure, that database, the programming, the IT related to health and storing of health information. So we've got that foundation. And then on top of that is really where we fit. It's conducting research using that information contained within medical records. And as we'll talk about, other ways that we garner information, put putting information sets together again, to answer those research questions for our military customers that we work for. And then you have a nice loop that then follows through with, again, translating that information and those lessons learned, that body of knowledge to the clinicians who then are providing care.
Kevin Kaiser: And then again, it's a very cycle because the lessons learned from our research that's based on that foundational skillset with regards to electronic health record feeds into the clinical care side, but they can also then drive further research questions.
Meghan Good: Wow. That really feeds each other, too. I bet it's somewhat of a virtual cycle once you're collecting all of that information with some of the IT efforts and then being able to see it in action through the clinicians and then to generating those interesting research questions.
Kevin Kaiser: Sure. So we look at improving health, morale, and welfare across the entire deployment cycle from preparing people, training individuals prior to deployment, whether that's physical training, whether that's mental rehearsal exercises, whether that's working with new technology that we then can conduct research on those that are deployed. Gathering lessons learned, whether that's improving the continuity of care for someone that may suffer an injury or may suffer illness within theater and conducting research on the best ways to treat individuals, and then conducting research on those that return from a deployment and focusing on adaptation back to society, working with the stressors of everyday life, whether that's finance or marital issues or health issues. Again, focusing research on that to again, get people to come back healthy, reintegrate back to their families, and then essentially prepare for that next deployment.
Bridget Bell: That's a broad range of areas that you guys work in. Can you give some specific examples of Leidos projects or capabilities in this area?
Kevin Kaiser: Sure. When we talk about research, people say, well, what's that mean exactly? What kinds of research are you doing? So really the two main areas and a little bit of a third, the areas that we focus really are human subjects research or database-driven research studies. As of late, we have some other clinical research that we've just started. We have a growing portfolio in that realm too. And so that clinical work really is focused more on what I would consider bench science.
Kevin Kaiser: So, working in labs, specifically focusing on infectious disease agents. Really the two biggest are, as I mentioned, human subjects research and database-driven research studies. And so when you say human subjects research, that's either going to a military base, working through a research protocol. A lot of times, the fleet will have questions about anything under the sun, from the best way to have personnel exercise? What's the best sleep schedule? What's the best diet for people? Does this technology improve performance? Does this new backpack, is it lighter and make it easy to maneuver with it on? So you're talking about answering research questions that are operationally relevant, and we do that in our warfighter performance line of work.
Kevin Kaiser: And so really what we're talking about is conducting human subject research, really to look at how to maximize performance, both physiologically and psychologically in order to go and perform in theater in the best way possible, basically maximizing that. And it's a rather unique area of study because you can think about all the areas where personnel might deploy, so we're conducting research in heat and in altitude, and doing things with those on submarines that serve under the sea. We're talking about ways to, again, prepare for those operational theaters, assignments. So it's simulation, it's training, it's conducting mental rehearsal exercise, and being able to pair people, not only physically, but mentally for not only stressful deployments, but multiple stressful deployments. And being able to dial down after a very stressful activity level set and being able to go back out or go take on the new challenge.
Kevin Kaiser: And so we use lots of technology in the warfighter performance space, things like EEG and MRI, and we have environmental chambers where we can subject people to different types of environmental conditions and put equipment through these research studies. Or we can put people in these environments and have them execute some of the things that they would likely need to do in theater. We have studies that are bio-mechanically related. So looking at load carriage and load management and anything from lower leg injuries to knee injuries, to hip issues, to lower back, and what types of equipment people carry and how that can impact an individual's overall performance.
Kevin Kaiser: We also have some study, a small sleep lab where we can conduct research, looking at the best types of sleep technology that may be out there that can help individuals maximize sleep. So that would really be more of what I would say, our human subjects-type of work. So it's us traveling to military basis asking people to participate in the research, then conducting those research efforts out in areas.
Kevin Kaiser: The other big area of study is really at what I would call database-driven research studies. So those are things like taking large databases and then using them and the information in them to answer questions for active duty Navy and Marine Corps decision makers. So one of the projects that we have is really associated with, considered to be operational medicine and medical modeling. Looking at combat trauma specifically, and looking at all types of things that you can imagine related to trauma.
Kevin Kaiser: We have access to a particular database that we use for study where we can look at the types of injuries that are suffered in theater. What were the clinical outcomes of that injury? How were the person taking care of along that clinical continuum? Are there things that we can be doing better relative to new treatments and preventing injury or improving an individual's ability to recover and reintegrate, and then essentially be deployed back into doing the job that they were originally assigned? So talking about using databases to answer research questions.
Kevin Kaiser: And then we also have kind of an offshoot of both those where it's really kind of a hybrid. We have some epidemiology work, kind of a study of illness and injury using survey research data. So giving surveys to military personnel and one of our projects, in fact, really is involved in getting people to participate in a survey research effort, the moment that they come into the military and then following up with them over time and tracking them through their entire military career. So it's human subjects research, but it also involves survey related data, which then goes into a database, but then we can answer a variety of research questions as an offshoot to that. So again, human subject research and database-driven research studies, those are really the types of research that we do in this area.
Meghan Good: Oh my gosh, that's so much. And what a span of projects that you guys work on.
Kevin Kaiser: It's so comprehensive, it's ever-changing. Like I said, I've been performing or kind of working in this space for essentially 26 years, really. And you can just see how things have changed over time. There are different research focus. Particularly of interest, it used to be really, you talk about performance, it really was focused mostly on physical performance and a lot of the preparation and things were around not only training and how you do the job that you would do, but how fast can you run? How many pushups can you do? How many pull ups? How much can you lift, can you carry, et cetera? And over time, it's just been fascinating to see this increasing trend in realizing that, wait a second, you could be the most optimally trained physically, but if you have some challenges or ways or deficiencies on ways to improve your psychological performance, that can be just as important.
Bridget Bell: I feel like we could talk about these examples and the different research studies for the entire episode. And it's clear in your voice, your passion and excitement for this topic. So what research areas are you most excited about? Either those that are happening now, some of the ones you told us about, or those that you see looking into the future, the next five years?
Kevin Kaiser: Some of the things that we're doing now are very exciting. And again, we used some of those buzz words earlier, but readiness. Studies of readiness and essentially how prepared are you to do the job that you are asked to do? So what's the training that's needed? What's the skills that you have to obtain to maximize readiness? And that's certainly a part of it. And resilience, too, that is the big deal as well. Not only has, I should say resilience in our construct or understanding, is really that intrinsic ability to bounce back from challenges. We talked about physical stressors, but emotional stressors, psychological stressors, and how all of those things pull and have an impact on overall resilience.
Kevin Kaiser: As far as some things that we're working on and are just starting, of course COVID-19 presents a whole host of interesting opportunities for the military community. Just like any other type of trends in illness or injury, COVID-19 will be a high area study relative to not only short, but long-term health outcomes in military personnel. And those can include not just basically how many people got sick or how many people recovered, those kinds of things, but really what kinds of effects might this have on an individual's career? What will be the military impacts if someone contracts COVID? How would they be received in their community and what effects that might have on their ability to serve?
Kevin Kaiser: I think continuity of care is another big deal or outbreak management. Kind of looking at what types of things happened in a particular military community. Are there ways that we can improve? Are there ways that we can prepare? And then of course the other big aspect that's going to be huge is just around vaccines and therapeutic treatments. We're already doing that relative to other vaccines and therapeutics associated with health related things and looking at the short term and longer term health outcomes associated with those as a means to prevention. So, certainly some things there.
Bridget Bell: So what trends and research do you see coming out of the pandemic we're facing right now?
Kevin Kaiser: Well, I think what you're seeing is a really interesting confluence of things specifically associated with COVID, but really for corporate America, and as people start to return to work, with the pervasiveness of personal technology and things that are out there and all types of data that people are collecting about themselves over time, whether it's the steps that they walk, or what they eat, or their exercise regimen, et cetera, it's always kind of stayed outside of the work environment. But with this COVID environment, you have this confluence where you have health information that's starting to now influence and come into play relative to performance of your job. You are seeing technologies that measure your temperature before you go into the office. You are seeing individuals that are being asked health related questions or attesting to their health status before they can go into their job.
Kevin Kaiser: You're asking about who you've been around and you've been exposed to all in this COVID construct, but could this potentially go to another realm where we're saying, okay, well we ask questions about COVID in the past, but now let's ask if people want to participate or if they would like to provide some input. How are you feeling today? Did you get some rest yesterday? Did you get some exercise? Did you see the sun this morning and get some vitamin D exposure? In corporate America, those things could be used to improve productivity. They could be used to improve sick days or sick time, or being able to prevent injury or more likely illness with regards to corporate environment. They could be used to improve safety if you're in different types of manufacturing jobs. That's why I think in this corporate environment, and in COVID related things, you can make that leap to future related study. Potential research collection of information relative to that.
Meghan Good: So Kevin, with all of these research areas, I imagine you have more that you want to discover. Can you tell us about somewhere maybe you've done some of the initial work, but you're really excited about what could come next?
Kevin Kaiser: One of the other areas, I think, it just is also fascinating that starting to come in the forefront, that I'm excited about would really be about looking at teams and team performance. We do some of that in our submarine related research that we focus on. Looking at undersea performers and looking at teams. I think as you see an increase in operational tempo where you have smaller teams going out more times, rather than large groups, once or twice, I think this idea of human performance started really with the focus on the individual, but there are certain other aspects here that I think are just fascinating and I'm excited to see where they go. Looking at the construct of teams and how teams can function together and what makes up the perfect team, and whether it's being able to physically perform what you need to do, but also psychologically if someone is unable to perform their duty for some reason, and you're in a small team, how does this team function together in being able to execute and what is that team performance? So I think that's also really interesting.
Kevin Kaiser: And then the other sort of aspect, perhaps of something more relative to future is really around, people refer to it as being in the zone or flow and being able to kind of put yourself into the zone, and are there things that you can do to maximize your ability to kind of "get into that zone"? It's a term that's used in the sports world. Everyone's heard that. And we've all experienced that, where you're working on something and you just forget about yourself and time just seems to go exceedingly fast and you stop basically thinking about things and you're just doing. And are there things we can do to maximize performance in a military setting that allows individuals to go in, do what they need to do. And then of course, being able to recover, wind down, reset, rest. So again, lots of things relative to future study, some that we're doing, others that I think would be fascinating within our space.
Meghan Good: That's an amazing range that goes for readiness and resilience and then illness and the stigma around illness, as you said. I love your emphasis on team performance, and that makes me wonder about your team. So originally you mentioned that you have a team of 300 who support all these different kinds of efforts and will do so in the future. Can you tell us a little bit about these scientists and researchers?
Kevin Kaiser: Sure. So, as I mentioned before, we talk about biobehavioral research and what I just find fascinating, too, is there's so many aspects that we're in and kind of skill sets that we're bringing to bear to look at overall performance within the military.
Kevin Kaiser: So our people really come from a wide variety of backgrounds, so they could be epidemiologists, those that are focused on illness and injury, psychologists, physiologists. We have folks that are biomechanics that focus on load management. We have sleep scientists, clinical researchers, and engineers who could include human factors people and signal processing individuals. So I would say as a group, we're probably about 70% science or have had some background in science, and then I would say the other 30% are really performing again in the science realm and as part of our research efforts, but I would say more on the research facilitation aspect, which is just as important.
Kevin Kaiser: That's what's unique with our group because we have people from a variety of science backgrounds that have training in those particular areas that kind of come, but then we also have people that either they have an interest in helping people, they have an interest in the military. We have people that are interested in facilitating the research process. So people that are involved in getting research studies approved and through the process in order to go out and collect that data and make some meaningful change with the military communities. We also have a wide variety of former military. So people that have been in the military and have experience in those military communities. And those are also extremely valuable because they know exactly what those pain points are for those particular communities, and so they know that this is an issue, and if we can solve this particular problem for this community, that would really be meaningful. And so people bring those skillsets.
Kevin Kaiser: And I can tell you that definitely is a huge deal, because if you've got buy in from those military groups to participate, even though they may not see that immediate result, it may not help them specifically in the moment, but knowing that they can do something to contribute to the future health of a Marine or sailor that always is enough for those people to participate. So again, types of people that we have working here at group include those military members that are exceedingly valuable and just as valuable as our scientists that we staff.
Bridget Bell: I keep going back to how you described biobehavioral research as really the science of health and wellness and how you draw from a variety of different disciplines. And that diversity is so apparent in the team you just described. It's diversity of scientific fields, but then also diversity of scientists and researchers and military members and all coming together for these fascinating areas of research. So this question might be a little difficult given that diversity, but what advice would you have for anyone interested in pursuing a career in this field?
Kevin Kaiser: You have to have a passion for it. You have to be driven to get up every day to say, I'm going to make a difference in whatever your job is. I think that is, I would say, a given for any of us. I think a science background is important, but it's not the end all be all. I think the military background is also beneficial for some of those reasons that I've articulated, but really it could include anybody that just has a heart or a passion for helping people, helping populations, working with military communities and intellectual curiosity of ways to use cutting edge technology, doing novel science and work and things that may not necessarily be done in other areas of study within academia or in the corporate environment, research entities.
Meghan Good: It's clear that you've found your niche and what you're passionate about, so it all came together in this field for you.
Kevin Kaiser: Yeah, very true. Like I said, my father is a retired cardiologist and the health and wellness and exercise and diet were all a very big part of my upbringing. And I have always been fascinated in little changes that you can make today that will help you from a health standpoint tomorrow. And that's really what we're doing. And I think the possibilities I think, are infinite. That's just fascinating to me. Are there things that I can be doing today that might improve me in some way tomorrow? And if I don't feel like I'm on my game today, why is that? What happened yesterday that perhaps would have influenced where I am today? And I think sometimes that that's lost on people. I think we just kind of go through life sometimes just kind of reacting to what's next without taking that time or that moment to look at, Hey, how am I feeling today?
Kevin Kaiser: How am I in a good mood? Am I down? You know, I'm my sore. Am I thirsty? Am I tired? And then taking that information and then using that to kind of say, all right, well today I'm going to make a different change and see how I feel tomorrow. And if it doesn't work okay, well, maybe I'll try something else or maybe it does, and the next day you kind of develop some other habits. And the next thing you know, you'll be able to successfully improve your performance over time.
Bridget Bell: Right. How do you maximize performance, not just for a warfighter, but in any environment? And you talked about getting in the zone and that can apply across all fields, like even in a corporate setting. How do you get in the zone, sitting at your desk and make sure that you are delivering and performing at your highest levels?
Meghan Good: And I like how it's that combination of an analytical mindset and these new kinds of sensors, the wearables, that you talk about, and your own mindfulness and it all comes together to help solve this problem around performance, right? Or to optimize that performance? It's very cool.
Kevin Kaiser: Yeah. And I would say too, I think again, this is where Leidos is really setting ourselves apart here. It really is a new mindset relative to human performance. And being able to look at the holistic picture and the overall picture of health in performance optimization.
Kevin Kaiser: If you could imagine, looking at an individual in particular and just kind of looking through a telescope at an individual and you just see a little piece of what that individual is doing. Let's say for physical performance, they want to get stronger and you design an exercise program and say, I'm going to maximize their performance in whatever their job is by giving them the greatest and greatest exercise program. And then they go and do it, and you just don't see a lot of change there. They're pretty much the same performance wise from a physical standpoint, as they were when you started.
Kevin Kaiser: You might say to yourself, well, I guess that didn't work, but the reality is being able to broaden that aperture, and instead of just looking at that one aspect of performance, physical performance, and broadening that out to all of a sudden look at, okay, well, if you knew this individual had been averaging only five hours of sleep for the 30 days of the program that might have given you some additional insight on why this program didn't work. It didn't mean it was a bad program. It just maybe meant that there were some other things that were going on. Or if you knew that the diet could be improved, or it wasn't the best during that time.
Kevin Kaiser: And I think it's funny to see how this trend has occurred over time in the sense that I think in the beginning, people were like, Oh, the Fitbit or a tracker or something like that, that measures your steps. And it's great. I wear this thing and I walked 5,000 steps today. And that's awesome. You walked 5,000 steps, that means you were active. But if you kind of ask the question, well, was 5,000 steps, is that good? Is that bad? Should you be doing more? Should you be doing less? How has that really impacted let's say, your performance or your physical health?
Kevin Kaiser: And I think that's where we've seen, and we see this trend in data and you see all these things, these technologies that collect all this data, and they're kind of neat facts. And it's interesting to track your sleep every night, but then what are you doing with that? And I think that's where Leidos' strength is in the ability to analyze that information and come up with this whole picture of health and performance optimization.
Kevin Kaiser: I know that that's where the military communities want to go for different populations in different ways. And the answer is not going to be the same for every population. There is a phenomenal amount of work that's going on, that's collecting information, but then being able to report out and then eventually building on that to predict injury, to predict illness. I think that's definitely where we're going. I know that's where the military wants to go. And I think Leidos is well poised to do that.
Meghan Good: Thank you for your time today, Kevin.
Kevin Kaiser: Thank you very much. I really enjoyed it. Thank you for having me.
Meghan Good: And thanks to you, our audience, for listening to MindSET. If you enjoyed this episode, please share with your colleagues and follow up at leidos.com/MindSET.