Nutrition Futures 2019 - Conference overview

Nutrition Futures studentship winners

This year’s Nutrition Futures conference – designed by students, for students - was hosted in partnership with the University of Nottingham at the East Midlands Conference Centre on the 4-5 September.

90 delegates from across the UK and Ireland attended; a mix of both undergraduate and postgraduate students in addition to new graduates at the start of their nutrition careers. With a focus on research presentation and transferable skills, Nutrition Futures provides attendees with an opportunity to develop essential skills to help build their career, as well a chance to meet, collaborate and share ideas with other like-minded nutrition students and researchers. 

Day one

Day one began with an overview of an innovative new project combining artificial intelligence and big data in an attempt to fully automate the vexed issue of collecting accurate dietary intake data. Dr Haibin Cai, Imperial College London, discussed the Innovative Passive Dietary Monitoring System Project’s use of smart wearable devices to accurately detect the quantities and types of foods eaten by individuals. With a long-term aim of using the system in low- and middle-income countries to reduce the burden of malnutrition, the project remains a work in progress, although preliminary results are promising with automated methods performing favourably in comparison to conventional methods for estimating volume intake.

13 Oral Communication sessions followed, offering students (including this year’s Summer Studentship winners) and PhD researchers the opportunity to present their findings to their peers and other topic experts. Presentations covered a wide range of nutrition related topics, including a qualitative study exploring agricultural sustainability and the lived experience of farmers, to a review of the sugar content in UK yogurt products between 2016 and 2019.

Day one finished with Nutrition Futures’ popular Careers Panel, showcasing the diverse range of nutrition-related careers available to graduates. Stephanie Baker, Danone UK, began with an overview of graduate schemes open to nutritionists in industry, emphasising the broad range of roles available within the food sector from Regulatory Affairs through to Research and Development. Dr Beckie Lang, a public health nutritionist now working in the charity sector (Chief Executive, Parent-Infant Partnership UK) described the ‘twists and turns’ of her career which includes roles in research, science communications, and industry. Providing delegates with her three top tips for career success, Dr Lang urged delegates to grab any opportunities that present themselves, focus on making connections, and be adaptable throughout the course of their careers.

Mark Hollingsworth, the Society’s CEO, emphasised the importance of finding one’s passion, taking risks, and undertaking every job (however menial) with enthusiasm and energy. Next, Professor Philip Calder (University of Southampton) and Dr Vimal Karani (University of Reading) provided delegates with an insight into the life of an academic, focussing on the need for external collaborations and grant applications in addition to publishing high-impact research. Finally, Diane Lee, Barnsley Metropolitan Borough Council, spoke about the impact a career in public health can have, with nutrition policy at a local level now a key part of national initiatives to encourage healthier environments. The panel agreed on the importance of thinking outside the box when job hunting. Putting ‘nutritionist’ into a job search may not always be the best strategy, but focussing on your skills as a nutritionist many be a more successful tactic.

Day two

The final day of the conference started bright and early with a 5 km run around the University campus before the Society’s President, Professor Philip Calder, opened proceedings with a thoughtful session on scientific publishing. Noting that PubMed has only existed since 2006, the internet era has ushered in significant changes to the nature of academic publishing that are only set to continue with plans for open access publishing (Plan S) currently underway. Outlining both the opportunities and challenges of the new era of publishing, Professor Calder urged delegates to remain focused on having a real, positive impact on health and society through their research.

Aoife O’Reilly, Safefood, followed with a practical session exploring the potential benefits of digital and social media. Aoife outlined both the opportunities and potential pitfalls of social media, making the case for having a clear strategy when using social media. With practical hints and tips for using different channels, Aoife urged delegates to be their honest, authentic, and relevant selves when using social media and to focus on building trust and making connections.

Day two saw a further 12 Oral Communication presentations, with topics including a systematic review of the effect of vegan and vegetarian diets on iodine status, and research examining the effect of adding a soluble fibre supplement to commercially available fruit juice on blood glucose response.

The conference closed with an interactive workshop led by the Society’s archivist showcasing the past century of nutritional science discoveries and pan-European collaborations in the field.

Congratulations to Ben Narang and Grace Holden, winners of the best oral communications on days one and two of the conference respectively, and to Phoebe Wood for taking first place in the Archives Quiz.

Many thanks to the local organising team from the University of Nottingham for their excellent work in helping the conference to run so smoothly, to the Student Section for their input in the run-up to the conference, and to Nadege Ndzogoue, outgoing Student Section Chair, for her work leading on the organisation of the conference.

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