This year, The Nutrition Society’s Irish Section annual Postgraduate Conference returned for the 31st time on 9 – 11 February 2022. Hosted by the Nutrition Innovation Centre for Food and Health (NICHE), Ulster University, Coleraine, and led by the local organising team: Lauren Devine, Shane Gordon and Erika Rosbotham; the three day event welcomed over 80 delegates from across the island of Ireland and the United Kingdom to the Magherabuoy House Hotel, Portrush.
Following a welcome and networking reception on the Wednesday evening, the first Keynote Speaker of the event, Dr Kirsty Pourshahidi (Ulster University), opened the conference. Dr Pourshahidi provided delegates with an informative talk on leadership via the European Nutrition Leadership Platform (ENLP). Afterwards, delegates were given the opportunity to socialise with old friends and colleagues.
The Nutrition Society’s CEO, Mark Hollingsworth, opened the conference on the Thursday morning, with an inspiring welcome talk focusing on two key areas for attendees: collaboration and leadership. These are two essential skills required in academia and industry. Conference attendees were then treated to three- or ten-minutes talks, on a wide range of research topics from 39 postgraduate researchers. These talks were split across four symposium sessions throughout the Thursday and Friday and chaired by the students themselves. Topics ranged from gut microbiota to vitamins, minerals, biofortification and sustainable diets which informed attendees of research currently taking place across Ireland and the UK.
Emma McDonald, Food Innovation Project Manager at Devenish Nutrition gave an industry focused first talk on her career and work involving the bio-enrichment of foods with vitamin D and omega-3, whilst providing key employment advice for students such as ‘be open-minded’, ‘don’t be afraid to contribute and make suggestions’ and to ‘enjoy your role.’
Keynote speakers Mr Lee McCusker (ANutr), Dr Josh Williamson (SENr) and Dr Kirsty Porter (RD and Owner of Nutrition4Kids NI) followed, giving an entertaining panel discussion with detailed insight into their respective freelance work. While this freelance panel all have a clear passion for evidence-based nutrition advice, they primarily focus on different clients which gave delegates a flavour of the different career paths a self-employed nutrition consultant may take.
The final career talk of the day came from the much-respected Professor Julie Lovegrove, The Nutrition Society President. It was an honour to hear Professor Lovegrove’s career which was told through the use of pictures of many familiar faces, some of whom were in attendance!
Professor Lovegrove closed day one with some key take home messages such as ‘to take opportunities and work outside of your comfort zone’, ‘have resilience and learn from your mistakes’ and ‘to work hard and never stop asking questions’ to name a few.
The Gala Dinner that took place on Thursday evening was also a highlight, allowing attendees an additional opportunity to network and continue discussions on the research currently taking place across the island of Ireland. The Nutrition Society Irish Section Chair, Professor Mairead Kiely, welcomed all attendees to the gala dinner before introducing Professor Alison Gallagher as the newly appointed Irish Section Chair.
The high standard of presentations from Thursday continued through to Friday. The final day of the conference started with Oonagh Lyons, Food Safety Authority Ireland (FSAI). Oonagh provided attendees with an overview of her educational background, her current role within the FSAI and the importance of the work that she carries out, alongside her part-time PhD at Ulster University. Oonagh also provided key guidance to the postgraduate students on the importance of maintaining a work-life balance and ‘celebrating the small achievements’ during your studies. This talk was then complemented by the next Keynote Speaker, Dr Aoibheann Dunne, Food Standards Agency Northern Ireland (FSA NI), who provided an interesting overview of the health promotion work carried out by the FSA NI which stimulated a lot of discussion amongst delegates. This combined session with the FSAI and the FSA NI also emphasised the importance of cross border collaboration.
To end a successful and very enjoyable event, Professor Helene McNulty, Director of the Nutrition Innovation Centre for Food and Health (NICHE), Ulster University, closed the conference, providing postgraduate students with invaluable advice going forward into their studies and emphasising the importance of ‘being passionate about your research.’
The Irish Section would like to thank Yakult, the National Dairy Council, The Dairy Council NI, safefood, ENLP and Randox for supporting the conference and are looking forward to meeting again in Cork on 15-17 June for the Society's Irish Section Conference.