In the Fall of 2016, I began my journey to become a Registered Dietitian (RD) in the Coordinated Program in Dietetics. It was a busy semester—a full course-load plus my introduction to supervised clinical practice in a long-term care facility. As the semester kicked into gear with exams and projects, I—like many students—put all my focus into simply studying and getting good grades.
In October, all of the students in my program were encouraged to attend the Food and Nutrition Conference and Expo (FNCE) in Boston. It was a treat that the conference that draws nutrition professionals from across the country was going to be held so close to UConn. As the conference approached, we all worried about the time taken out of our studies. When were we going to study for that microbiology exam? When is that lab report going to get done?
On the first day of the conference, I watched the President of the Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics speak. She spoke of how far the field of dietetics has come since its advent, and the importance of the work that dietitians do. It struck me how proud I was to be entering a field dedicated to helping people become healthier in diverse ways—whether counseling a diabetes patient in the hospital, encouraging children to try new fruits and vegetables, or helping people eat healthfully on a budget. At this moment I decided to leave my studies behind and to learn as much as I could in one short weekend. After all, I was surrounded by the experts.
I spent the next two days going to sessions with my classmates and on my own. I learned about designing nutrition interventions that teach people how to eat healthier by teaching them how to cook, and current issues related to food insecurity and hunger. I became familiar with how food allergies are handled in schools, some of the barriers to safety, and how policies that protect children with food allergies were developed. I also went to a session on low-FODMAP diets and how to use them to help patients with digestive issues. Though I did take away some content and familiarity with certain nutrition topics, what will likely stay with me longer was the inspiration I gained from the speakers. These dietitians—mostly women—were extremely accomplished; they had PhDs, they were professors and researchers, and they held sway in the policy-making arena. These people took their nutrition knowledge and ran with it. I saw a world of possibilities opening up in front of me as I realized that there is no one “right” career path.
In addition to the sessions, there was a huge expo hall filled with all kinds of food and health vendors. We picked up everything—nutrition education materials, free aprons, tote bags with avocados on them, and lots and lots of food samples. I was able to bond with my fellow dietetics students going from booth to booth eating and picking up free stuff. Nutrition majors won’t lie to you—we’re at least partially here for the food.
Aside from the fun I had and the free food I picked up, I left FNCE with something really important: inspiration. As a student, it’s easy to get wrapped up in coursework, get obsessed with your grades, and lose sight of your goals. The reality is that school is a lot more fun when you are excited about what you are working towards. I would encourage all students to grasp any opportunities they have to interact with their future fields, build their leadership skills, or explore their career interests. Being an undergraduate is about a lot more than just taking classes—open your eyes, explore your interests, and learn for the sake of learning. You’ll get it all done, I promise.