Whether it’s performing her job, clambering over rocks and through mud while racing a bike or volunteering to make sure children get involved with cycling, Jen Malik is emblematic of Battelle’s Solver ethos of making a positive impact and giving it her all.
“I’m a very competitive person,” she said. “If I do something, I’m 100 percent. Full gas. My friends joke that I’m running at an 11.”
Proof of this can be found in her winning the 2018 Collegiate Club Cyclocross National Championship in Reno, Nevada while studying to earn her PhD in biomedical engineering at Ohio State University. Cyclocross is a style of off-road biking on courses that feature grass, dirt, mud, gravel and physical barriers that challenge riders in ways other forms of biking do not. “You have to get off your bike and carry it over obstacles, that kind of thing,” she said.
As a child growing up outside Cincinnati, Malik competed in just about every team sport available. But she had never been into bicycling until 2014 when some friends encouraged her to attend a clinic. “I was a runner and swimmer,” she said. “I thought about triathlons, but biking didn’t come easy for me.”
Like everything else in her life, a challenge caused her to flex. “I joined an all-women’s team in cycling and there was a cyclocross clinic. I went to the clinic and found out you can run with your bike. I like running. So people loaned me a bike and shoes, and they knocked down every barrier for me to participate. I loved the muddy part of it. Two weeks after the clinic, I did my first race.”
She turned professional in 2016 and still races professionally today, holding a top-15 ranking in the United States. In the Fall, she goes to Europe to races representing the U.S. Last year, she worked remotely from Belgium. “It was great that Battelle let me do that,” she says.
Jen Malik riding her bike through mud during a cycling race.
Malik said the Union Cycliste Internationale has races around the world with open international competitions. “In order to compete in World Cup races, you have to be in the top 50 in the world,” she said (she was 11th in the U.S. last year). “My long-term goal is to compete at the world championship, but I have to get into the top four from U.S. in order to qualify. I’ll keep working at it.”
She has placed in the top three in U.S. races but says she’s “middle of the pack” internationally. “I’m ok with that,” she said. “The racing is for fun and not a full-time job.”
In her full-time job, Malik is a Data Scientist in Battelle’s CBRNE Division calling on her doctorate based on fluid dynamics and computational modeling. “She’s applied her extensive math and engineering talents exceptionally well on our chemical and biological modeling projects that we work on for the Department of Homeland Security,” said Manager Barrett Richter. “She’s been taking on significant leadership roles while also conducting her own micro-internal R&D.”
But she may be most passionate about having a positive impact on children. When she learned about an organization called the National Interscholastic Cycling Association, she brought a chapter to Ohio and is also the Executive Director of the Ohio Mountain Bike League. “I want to get kids involved in mountain biking,” she said. “I love the lessons that it teaches, of self-reliance and gives them a welcoming community. There are no try-outs and everybody is welcome to compete.”
Malik said she lets an acronym guide her efforts. “It’s about creating a safe space for kids to experience adversity,” she said. “It’s so important for kids. I’m really passionate about it. It’s FIERCE: fun, inclusivity, equity, respect, community, and enthusiasm.”