Conference overview - the Irish Section Postgraduate Conference 2019

The 2019 Irish postgraduate conference

The popular Irish Postgraduate Conference was held at Magherabuoy House hotel in Portrush on 13-15 February. Hosted by Ulster University – celebrating the 30th anniversary of nutrition at Ulster – the two-day conference was attended by 90 postgraduate students and early career nutritionists from across Ireland and the United Kingdom.

After a welcome reception on the Wednesday evening, with heart-shaped biscuits thoughtfully provided by the hotel to celebrate Valentine’s Day, the conference began with the first of 38 scheduled original communication (OC) sessions. The OC sessions were all of a very high standard and covered a wide range of topics; from hidden hunger in Camden, to the potential biofortification opportunities of meat, to the role of pre-natal vitamin D status in cognitive development. One of the main highlights was the number of first year PhD researchers presenting their work, with the postgraduate conference having evolved over the years to better enable first year PhD researchers to provide a brief overview of their research plans; a great opportunity to present to a scientific audience.

Throughout the conference there were several excellent keynote speakers representing a diverse range of experience across the nutrition sector. Ms Frankie Douglas, Director of Scientific and Regulatory Affairs for Nutritics, began by reflecting on her career path from industry into public health, before taking up her current role at Nutritics. She emphasised the importance of setting career goals and pursuing objectives. The second speaker, Dr Aileen McGloin, Interim Director of Marketing and Communications at Safefood, discussed the breadth of careers open to nutritionists, reflecting on her own career journey from academia into health-related digital communications. With a talk focussed on the importance of using social media to build a personal brand, Dr McGloin suggested several tips for nutritionists to promote their work, including scheduling posts on social media channels and astute use of relevant keywords. Noting that ‘it isn’t a career ladder, it’s a jungle gym’, Dr McGloin left delegates with much food for thought.

Mr Norman Hagan, employability and careers consultant at Ulster University, followed with an entertaining talk covering CV and job application best practice. Stressing the importance of tailoring your CV and cover letter for each individual job application, Mr Hagan discussed the need for nutritionists to highlight their relevant skills on applications rather than simply listing out achievements. For example, instead of citing conference presentations, use this to illustrate public speaking and presenting skills. Professor Mary Ward, Professor of Nutrition and Dietetics at Ulster University, gave the last keynote session where she discussed her career path from dietetics into research and academia. Focussing on the many benefits of networking, Professor Ward spoke about the value of presenting research findings at conferences and collaborating with different external groups. She also emphasised the importance, to early career researchers seeking their first position in a competitive environment, of turning their PhD into publications.

Putting these words of advice into action, the conference provided several opportunities for delegates to network. Engagement with the conference on social media saw close to 100 tweets sent using the #nsirishpost19 hashtag, with people sharing science and career tips from the conference. The Conference Dinner was a resounding success, with a lively after-dinner speech from Professor Sean Strain, Ulster University, reflecting on the evolution of nutrition research at Ulster and across the Island of Ireland. Dr Clare Corish, chair of the Nutrition Society’s Irish Section, spoke on behalf of the Irish Section committee to thank all those who had participated and acknowledged the high standard throughout. The team were delighted to welcome Professor Julie Lovegrove, President Elect, and wish to thank her for her words of encouragement to all early stage researchers. The after-dinner speeches were followed by dancing into the night, with the usual suspects making an appearance on the dancefloor.

The Society would like to thank the local organising team – led by Orlagh Feehan, Toni Spence, Anna Monaghan, and Michelle Clements – for their excellent organisation and for hosting such a well-attended and vibrant Irish postgraduate meeting. The team, all current PhD students from Ulster University, highlighted the broad career skills the experience has provided them with, offering a chance to hone their organisational and public speaking skills. They particularly enjoyed the opportunity to meet new acquaintances and expand their professional networks, and would recommend conference volunteer roles to other students involved in the Society.

“As the local organisers we thoroughly enjoyed the excellent networking opportunity at the conference and were delighted with the great turn out from postgraduates across the UK & Ireland. The wide range of presentations were excellent and it was a great way to see emerging research from future leaders in the nutrition field. Having the chance to develop our communication, leadership and professional skills was an added benefit of both organising and presenting at this year’s Nutrition Society Irish Section Postgraduate Conference.”

Finally, the Society would like to congratulate Holly Neil from Ulster University for the best tweet of the conference, and Gina Lynch from University College Dublin for the best question.

A collection of tweets and photos sent during the conference using the #nsirishpost19 can be accessed online.

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