June 10, 2014, by Duane Mellor
Graduate Profile – David Johns
Master of Nutrition Graduate 2008
Current Role: Investigator scientist, MRC Human Nutrition Research Cambridge, UK
I currently work as an Investigator scientist at Medical Research Council Human Nutrition Research. This is essentially a post-doc/early career scientist role. I work in epidemiology and on diet and obesity related research. This predominantly involves finding the best way to analyse the data available to us from large population (cohort) studies. However, it also provides the opportunity to work with data from large international intervention trials (eg. Diogenes); help develop new interventions; and help apply epidemiological methods across subject boundaries. I am not a statistician and still a dietitian at heart so this informs my current role, the methods I use and interpretations I make.
As I write this, my most recent project has been funded by the National Institute for Health and Clinical Excellence (NICE), synthesising evidence to inform their guidance for weight management services for adults. While not all projects have this immediate ‘real-world’ impact I am lucky enough to be in a role where I can see my research be used.
Career path (so far!!)
I have already hinted at my university degree. I graduated in 2008 with an MNutr at Nottingham completing my registration as a UK dietitian. Having been drawn towards research by my final year dissertation I was fortunate to be offered the opportunity to work at the university as a research assistant for a short period that summer after graduating. However, prior to this, while on my final clinical placement, I had made a spur of the moment decision to apply for a PhD I had spotted with Cambridge University. I took a 3 day holiday on ending my research assistant job in Nottingham and began my PhD in October 2008. My PhD looked at dietary patterns and cardiovascular disease using novel statistical methods in the Swedish Obese Subjects study control group; a severely obese population. I submitted my PhD in December 2011 completing my viva in March 2012. Since my PhD I have worked at MRC HNR.
What has helped me secure my current role?
My PhD changed me considerably. Both in terms of improving my confidence and providing me with a new set of research skills. For starters, I understand more about statistics/epidemiological methods and also know (a bit better) when to write and communicate like a dietitian and when to write as a researcher. I think it was likely this demonstration of an ability to take on challenges and acquire new skills that played a role in obtaining my current position. Furthermore, having a niche research expertise in dietary patterns where others valued my expertise also helped.
My tips to improve your employability
I think the way to improve your employability is the obvious one; work hard. Put in the hours and be proactive about getting experience and gaining knowledge. This demonstrates more than just a work ethic. Firstly, for this not to be a chore it has to be for a topic you are passionate about. Personally, I am a huge and unashamed nutrition geek, in particular, when it comes to public health. Secondly, it relies on the ability everyone masters as a child; the ability to ask question after question. Why? Because this makes you look beyond the news headlines or an author’s interpretation of results and look into the science/methods and form your own opinion; something of value to any employer. Finally, it often means pushing yourself outside your comfort zone and adapting to new roles and absorbing new skills. Whether it be volunteering; taking on a research dissertation; or taking on a PhD this can sometimes lead to that ‘lucky break’ by being in the right place at the right time. So basically…
…be a geek about a topic you are passionate about and be willing to work hard and take a step outside your comfort zone; the rest will hopefully follow.
If you are a graduate of Nutritional Sciences and would like to share your story, please let us know, contact Dr Jonathan Majewicz, Programme Manager for BSc Nutrition (firstname.lastname@example.org )