I grew up in England and moved to Melbourne with my family in 2006. I have always been very shy, but knew that I wanted to do something with my life that helped others. I originally trained as a massage and skin therapist after finishing Year 12, and I loved being able to make people feel good about themselves. Unfortunately, from that line of work, I developed a few injuries and had to make an important decision about my career.
After some research, I came across a course in nutritional medicine. I had been plant-based for a few years and had always been really interested in health and food, so I decided to take the plunge and enrol full-time in a Bachelor of Health Science (Nutritional and Dietetic Medicine).
From day one, I was in love! I had never really thought of myself as particularly smart and, like a lot of people, didn’t really enjoy school. So, I was shocked at how much I enjoyed it. I was finally in a supportive environment, surrounded by like-minded people, learning about something I was really passionate about.
About halfway through the degree, I decided that I wanted to do further study. I was looking into a number of options including a Master in Public Health or Dietetics. In my final year, I attended a presentation about the new Honours program that had just been rolled out. I left feeling incredibly determined. It sounded like the most incredible opportunity and I knew from that moment on, I wanted to pursue a career in research.
The Honours year was incredibly intense, but it was the best decision I’ve ever made. It was such a huge learning curve and I learned so much about research skills and methodology but also so many important life skills, such as how to effectively communicate and present my research, project management and handling constructive criticism.
Doing a PhD was a natural extension of this. Being in the health field – we obviously want to help as many people as we can. Although I love working in private practice as a Clinical Nutritionist, research is a way we can have an even greater impact and help a much wider audience. I actually love combining the two!
I think working in research makes me a better clinician – I know how to keep abreast of the latest research and determine its quality. But I also think that being a clinician makes me a better researcher too. I’m able to really listen to the patients and hear what they want and need – which helps when designing research projects and patient-centred approaches.
My research is in the field of nutritional psychiatry which looks at the effect of food and diet on mental health. The majority of the research done in this area has been observational with only a small handful of intervention studies so far. I wanted to look at the effect of the Mediterranean diet on the symptoms of depression.
My PhD can be broken down into several projects including a literature review, two online questionnaires and the main intervention study, which is a randomised control trial testing a Mediterranean diet in young men with depression. We’re currently at the recruitment stage for the trial [opens external site].
At first, finding a supervisor was challenging. I’m based in Melbourne, so I originally approached a few academics at various universities in Melbourne – without much success. However, it was my Honours supervisor [opens external site] who really got the ball moving for me. She had connections here at UTS and put me in touch with my current supervisor, Professor David Sibbritt.
The Australian Research Centre in Complementary and Integrative Medicine (ARCCIM) also really appealed to me. I didn’t even realise I could do a PhD long distance and the more I read about the centre and university, the more I had my heart set on it! It aligns so perfectly with my research interests and by working with experts in the integrative medicine field, it can open up so many doors for future projects and collaboration.
I’m in my second year now and there have already been some pretty rewarding moments. Getting my literature review published and being awarded a research grant were definitely both very special moments. But I also really enjoyed analysing the data from my first survey: being the first to discover something new, interpreting that data and then sharing it with the world – now that’s pretty rewarding!
I also love traveling to attend workshops and talk all things research with other students. That’s sometimes where you get the best ideas! But I think the thing that makes this whole journey so rewarding is knowing that it’s going to help people. That’s what drives me forward every day.
If you’re thinking of doing higher degree research at UTS, just jump in and do it! Don’t let self-doubt hold you back. There are so many amazing resources online and on campus, such as workshops and courses. You’re not expected to know how to do everything straight away; it’s a learning process, so take a deep breath and enjoy the ride. You’ve got this!
Find out more about Higher Degree Research at UTS.