MEET THE TEAM

EVENTS

The Nutritional Sciences Graduate Students’ Association (NSGSA) aims to represent the Department of Nutritional Sciences (DNS) graduate students body by supporting and engaging students, both at the university and community level. These are some of the events that happened in the DNS this semester:

Social

DNS Alumni Association

Career Night
Spring Mentorship Event


Keep posted for future events at the NSGSA website

CONFERENCES

Throughout the past year, DNS faculty and students have continued to represent the department, sharing research findings at national and international conferences, symposiums, and meetings to further promote evidence-based nutrition practices. The following notes a few of these opportunities.

CNS Meeting 2018 EDEG Meeting 2018 36th DNSG UPCOMING
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DNS

THE DEPARTMENT OF NUTRITIONAL SCIENCES –
A Brief History

By: Rodney Au-Yeung

This year, the Department of Nutritional Sciences said goodbye to the FitzGerald building and found a new home on the fifth floor of the Medical Sciences Building, marking over 40 years of Departmental history on the cultural heritage site. In commemoration of a successful transition, we want to briefly celebrate the history of the Department during its time on the corner of College and University Avenue.

The Department of Nutritional Sciences we know today began in 1975, when our predecessors (the Department of Nutrition and Department of Household Sciences) were dissolved and combined into the Department of Nutrition and Food Sciences under the Faculty of Medicine. The decision to include nutrition as part of the Faculty of Medicine, is largely accredited to Dr. Earle W. McHenry and his large contributions to medicine during his time as the Head of the Department of Nutrition in the School of Hygiene. Our other predecessor, the Department of Household Sciences, resided in the Lillian Massey building on Bloor and University Avenue and would not be completely moved into the FitzGerald building until 1978.

The re-organization of the Departments would signal concern in our first chair, Dr. George H. Beaton, who was previously head of the now defunct Department of Nutrition. The two departments had operated independently, on different ends of the University, and some thought a clash of cultures would surely ensue. However, it was during this time that the Dean of Medicine received a reassuring remark from the University’s long-range planners that would shape our future: “We are impressed that this Faculty has in its various divisions the potential to make the University of Toronto a world leader in Nutrition, and that its Department of Nutrition and Food Science will play a key role in this development.”

In the following few decades, the Department would become home to some of the world’s most accomplished and innovative researchers, thanks to strategic recruiting of faculty members and cross-appointments. The opportunity to collaborate closely with the various teaching hospitals under the Faculty of Medicine, such as St. Michael’s Hospital and The Hospital for Sick Children, would only widen the breadth of research at the basic, clinical, and public health level. Today, the Department of Nutritional Sciences has faculty members that are global leaders in nutritional genomics and epigenetics, the relationship between diet and disease, childhood nutrition, and public health nutrition policy, providing an academic environment that does not exist at any other Canadian department of nutrition.

In realizing the vision that was presented to the Dean of Medicine back in the 1970s, we would like to recognize the collective contributions of the Departmental Chairs (listed below) over the years. It is through their guiding hands that the Department of Nutritional Sciences have found success, and may our success continue as we usher in a new place to call home.●

Earle W. McHenry Professor and Chair of the Department of Nutritional Sciences:

Dr. George H. Beaton 1962 to 1981
Dr. Margaret J. Baigent (Acting Chair) 1987 to 1988, 1992
Dr. G. Harvey Anderson 1981 to 1991
Dr. Heather M. Maclean 1992 to 1996
Dr. Michael C. Archer 1997 to 2009
Dr. Thomas Wolever (Acting Chair) 2003 to 2004
Dr. Mary R. L’Abbé 2009 to 2018
Dr. Carol E. Greenwood (Acting Chair) 2014 to 2015
Dr. Deborah L. O’Connor (Acting Chair) 2018 to Present

The above information was obtained from the following sources:
– Shorter, E. (2013). Partnership for excellence. University of Toronto Press.
– Department of Nutritional Sciences (2018) About Us | History. https://nutrisci.med.utoronto.ca/history. Accessed: 2018-08-17.

Rodney Au-Yeung is a PhD student in the lab of Associate Professor John Sievenpiper at the Department of Nutritional Sciences


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1907

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Foundation of the Faculty of Household Sciences located at the Lillian Massey Building

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Fitzgerald Building construction began

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Fonds 1266, Item 10360
Toronto’s School of Hygiene founded

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First Edna Park Lecture

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Department of Nutrition and Department of Household Sciences dissolved and combined into the Department of Nutrition and Food Sciences under the Faculty of Medicine

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DNS Moves to the Medical Sciences Building

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Panel 1

BUILDING A LEGACY:
Fitzgerald

By: Rodney Au-Yeung

Building the Legacy is a new feature to NutriNews which will explore the many historical buildings at the University of Toronto and the individuals they are named after.

On the corner of College Street and University Avenue, obscured by tall glass buildings of modern architecture, lies a modest Georgian four-storey building: the FitzGerald building. Like many buildings at the University of Toronto, it holds some historical significance. The building was constructed in 1927 and is presently a cultural heritage site. However, what you may not know is that this building was originally the School of Hygiene, built with a generous $1.25 million donation from the Rockefeller Foundation. It was in 1975, when the School of Hygiene was dissolved, that the building was renamed to honour its first Director and Canadian public health visionary, John G. FitzGerald.

Dr. FitzGerald was born as the eldest son to a pharmacist. His drive for medicine would lead him to attend the University of Toronto Medical School at the age of 16, where he would soon graduate in 1903 as the youngest in his class.

While Dr. FitzGerald’s career began in psychiatry and neuropathology, the success of scientists like Louis Pasteur fueled his interest in bacteriology and preventative medicine, which would prove to be pivotal in his career. Most notable is his time working at the Pasteur Institute in Paris and Brussels in 1910, where he would learn how to make vaccines and antitoxins that would cement his role in Canadian health.

Returning to Toronto in 1913 as an associate professor of hygiene at the University of Toronto, Dr. FitzGerald founded the Connaught Laboratories in 1914 and produced the first safe and effective Canadian-made rabies vaccine and diphtheria antitoxin in cooperation with the University. By 1920, all provinces were distributing Connaught vaccines to the public for free, paving the way for the Connaught Laboratories (now Sanofi Pasteur Limited) to become the world leader it is today in vaccine and antitoxin production.

The years after would mark the incredible productivity and work of Dr. FitzGerald, laying the foundation for provincial and federal health programs across Canada. It was his work and the Connaught Laboratories that drew the attention of the Rockefeller Foundation, helping establish the University of Toronto’s School of Hygiene, which was only the third of such North American establishments at the time (the others being John Hopkins and Harvard). He would serve as the Dean of Medical from 1932-1936 and would be the first Canadian to become Scientific Director of the International Health Division of the Rockefeller Foundation from 1931 to 1934.

Dr. FitzGerald’s drive and foresight for preventative medicine helped eradicate the diseases that plagued Canada at the time, saving countless lives. He was posthumously inducted into the Canadian Medical Hall of Fame in 2004 where he would be remembered as Canada’s public health visionary.●

The above information was obtained from the following sources:
– Shorter, E. (2013). Partnership for excellence. University of Toronto Press.
– FitzGerald, J. (2002). The Troubled Healer. UofT Magazine, Spring.
– Canadian Medical Hall of Fame. (2004) Dr. John FitzGerald Canadian Medical Hall of Fame http://www.cdnmedhall.org/inductees/dr-john-fitzgerald Accessed: 2018-08-17.
– Friedland, ML. (2002). The University of Toronto: A History. University of Toronto Press.

Rodney Au-Yeung is a PhD student in the lab of Professor John Sievenpiper at the Department of Nutritional Sciences

Panel 2

THE CANADIAN FOOD GUIDE: Past, Present, & Future

By: Jordan Mak

As the food guide turns 76 years old, Health Canada continues to work on the next iteration of Canada’s Food Guide. Along with the dramatic changes in nutrition knowledge since 1942, so too has the diversity of Canadian stakeholders. Health Canada has faced significant pressure on producing a strong tool to combat Canada’s rising obesity and chronic disease epidemics. With what began as 10 simple rules known as the Official Food Rules, the following reflects on what challenges have been encountered and can be expected in producing a guide that most positively impacts the health of Canadians?

The Past: Canada’s food landscape has changed dramatically since the first food guide

Canada’s Official Food Rules were first published during World War II when Canadians needed to ration food while preventing nutritional deficiencies. Malnutrition, poor food access, and financial constraints were widely prevalent, inspiring the development of dietary guidelines. A group of scientists, medical experts and welfare workers were recruited by the Nutrition Division within the Department of Pensions and National Health to develop recommendations on tackling nutritional deficiencies.

During a time of fewer food choices, these official rules provided plain instructions on a strict diet to adhere to with little flexibility. For example, in addition to your 1 serving of potato daily, a portion of tomatoes or citrus fruits were also needed to prevent nutritional deficiencies. This contrasts strongly with today’s food environment, where globalization, modern agriculture, advances in manufacturing, and cultural diversity has significantly expanded food choices. Each iteration of the food guide since 1942 has slowly reflected diversifying food landscapes with more and more examples of different foods within each food group. While acknowledgement of increasingly diverse food landscapes and the many determinants of nutritional intake is positive for Canadians, this presents new challenges in providing a comprehensive food guide in 2018. 

The Present: Evidence on healthy eating – A lack of consensus amongst the nutrition community

Our current Canada’s Food Guide was released in 2007. This food guide aimed to help Canadian’s choose foods that “improve health”, “meet nutrient needs”, and “reduce risk of nutrition-related chronic disease and conditions”. Yet, with over a decade since the last update to the Food Guide, nutritional evidence and opinions have accumulated over the years. In order to better meet the needs of diverse Canadian audiences and address challenges in understanding and applying the guidance, Health Canada decided to undergo revising Canada’s Food Guide.

In preparation for an overhaul of the food guide, Health Canada underwent a systemic approach to summarize evidence called the Evidence Review Cycle for Dietary Guidance. This was followed by consultations with stakeholders and Canadians to gather additional input, to which 20,000 responses were received. This culminated in the creation of the new guide’s guiding principles and considerations.

One of the guiding principles developed for the 2018-2019 food guide includes “vegetables, fruit, whole grains, and protein-rich foods – especially plant-based sources of protein” (2). This general messaging allows for flexibility within a large-range of evidence-based dietary patterns like the Mediterranean and DASH diets. These broad recommendations also allows for diverse groups of Canadians to meet their sociocultural needs.

Despite the evidence for these dietary patterns in the proposed food guide, controversy remains, with a group of 3500 physicians and allied health practitioners petitioning against some of the food guide’s messages through a group called the Canadian Clinicians for Therapeutic Nutrition. This group has criticized Health Canada’s messages against saturated fat and focus on plant-based proteins. The group cites a lack of evidence on reducing saturated fat and argue that a whole food animal inclusive diet can be equally effective at combating chronic disease. This vocal group of clinicians have caught the ear of politicians such as Liberal MP John Aldag, who suggested he may bring this issue to the House of Commons. Despite the broad messaging promoting a variety of fruits, vegetables, whole grains and protein-rich foods, Health Canada has not evaded criticism from these health professionals some groups, highlighting the challenges of finding a consensus in today’s literature-rich environment.

Modern-day agricultural and environmental considerations

The reduced focus on meat and dairy in Health Canada’s guiding principles has received heavy criticism from the agricultural industry such as the Dairy Farmers of Canada. The potential power of the food guide to shift dietary intakes in the Canadian population may affect many agricultural industries from meat and dairy to peas and lentils. Groups such as the Canadian Senate have strongly recommended that the revision of the food guide occur without representatives of the food and agriculture industry. Despite Health Canada’s great efforts to distance itself from the food industry, Agriculture and Agri-Food Canada have voiced to Health Canada the anticipated negative implications for the meat and dairy industries. This has led to conversations about the potential impact on agricultural workers in the meat and dairy industries and whether or not the food guide should be mindful of potential changes in dietary intakes on different economic sectors.

The environmental impact and sustainability of Canada’s Food Guide continues to be of significant consideration in the upcoming food guide. These considerations have been taken into account since the 1946 food guide, which promoted messages such as ‘Buy less, use less, waste nothing’. Many environmentalists have welcomed the focus on plant-based proteins citing the need for greater awareness on issues such as climate change in 2018 and beyond (3).

The Future: One tool of many to combat Canada’s public health needs

When the newest iteration of Canada’s Food Guide is released after a 6-year process, it is anticipated to continue receiving heavy scrutiny. It will be difficult to summarize the body of nutritional evidence in one document and please all stakeholders while meeting the goal of being evidence-based, meeting public health needs, combating chronic disease and preventing economic disruption for those in the agricultural sector. However, finding significant improvements in the guide while boosting other public health measures to combat Canada’s nutritional challenges remains long overdue. The food guide is one of many tools within Canada’s Healthy Eating Strategy to improve the food environment and promote the health of Canadians that includes changes to food labeling, regulation and legislation. Part 1 of the new dietary guidelines are expected in 2018 consisting of general healthy eating recommendations and Part 2 is expected in 2019, which includes recommendations on healthy eating patterns. ●

References:
1. Government of Canada (2007). History of the Food Guide. Accessed 22/06/2018 from: https://www.canada.ca/en/health-canada/services/food-nutrition/canada-food-guide/background-food-guide/history-food-guide.html
2. Government of Canada (2017). Guiding Principles. Accessed 22/06/2018 from: https://www.foodguideconsultation.ca/guiding-principles-detailed
3. IRPP (2017). Canada’s Food Guide update needs to address sustainability. Accessed 22/06/2018 from: http://policyoptions.irpp.org/magazines/january-2017/canadas-food-guide-update-needs-to-address-sustainability/

Jordan Mak is a MSc student in the lab of Professor Valerie Tarasuk at the Department of Nutritional Sciences


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Canada's Official Food Rules
Source: Government of Canada, 2007 (1)

Panel 3

CLOUD COMPUTING SERVICES FOR SCIENTISTS:
Compute Canada

By: Paraskevi Massara

New technologies and innovations are changing the way research is being conducted, with cloud computing coming recently into the limelight. From the days of storing data on hard paper copies in filing cabinets to hard drives on a computer, cloud computing now enables the delivery of computing services, including servers, storage, databases, software, analytics and more, over the internet. Companies offering these services are called cloud providers, and one such provider is Compute Canada.

Compute Canada (CC) is a research cloud infrastructure, which offers computation and storage resources and services to support research in Canada. Among the available services, CC offers flexible cloud resources for intensive experiments, web presence, software infrastructure support and big data storage. Additionally, CC offers “Rapid Access Service”, a serverless computing service, to support fast and high-availability execution of analytics tasks that do not require persistent resources. You can find additional practical notes and more information to access this service here.

Four regional organizations (ACENET, Calcul Québec, Compute Ontario and WestGrid) and 37 partner universities consist CC and provide state-of-the-art advanced research computing systems and support the research teams. One advantage of CC is that it provides computational resources, support documentation and access to world-renowned expertise to a wider variety of scientific fields including the medical, engineering and mathematical sector at no cost for the Canadian Institutions. The users can also apply for additional computational resources based on the specific needs of their projects.

The main benefit of cloud computing to conduct research is the minimization of cost. In order to conduct experiments, one requires hardware resources for computation and storage of data. Given the often-uncertain duration of the experimental process and the required flexibility to share and partition resources, the acquisition of hardware may not be the optimal action for a small research group. CC provides this flexibility through cloud computing. CC owns and maintains the hardware, which leverages the cost responsibilities from the research team. The hypervisor, in simpler terms the manager of the virtual infrastructure, can partition the large-capacity hardware to flexibly create computation resources (called virtual machines), which can then be used by the team. For instance, CC offers prepackaged virtual machines of 128 GB RAM, 256 GB RAM, 512 GB RAM or 3 TB RAM. The team is free to set up the best combination of resources for their needs. Throughout the duration of the project, the team can modify the number or size of resources at will and on-demand to cover their evolving needs. After the termination of a project, the team can release the resources, which are then integrated back into the pool to become available for the next project or for another team.

Among other benefits of cloud computing is the multi-tenancy and security. Thanks to multi-tenancy, the hardware can be shared by multiple teams and users in complete isolation with respect to data and computation. Once a team releases its resources, they immediately and automatically become available for another team or user by the hypervisor. Moreover, thanks to secure shell (SSH) authentication, security is guaranteed. Each user or team has access to their own data and software, even if the underlying software is shared. In fact, this is what makes multi-tenancy possible and makes cloud computing a beneficial option both economically and practically. However, for storing clinical data, security and privacy requirements should be discussed with the corresponding institutions.

More specifically, each PI from our Department can have free access to the Rapid Access Service of CC . RAS implements the serverless computing paradigm. Serverless computing is a conceptual subset of cloud computing. It is still based on virtualization of resources and offers similar levels of flexibility and cost efficiency. A major difference is that serverless computing does not include the creation and management of virtual machines. This leverages the effort and time required to manage the infrastructure. In practice, the team submits the data and the analytical tasks pertinent to the experiment, the infrastructure then decides on the optimal set up for the computation resources, on which the tasks are executed, and the results are eventually returned to the team.

In an era of increasing digitization and increasing requirements for speed, accuracy, and volume, cloud computing can prove an invaluable tool to progress knowledge, science and the well-being of society. As a matter of fact, one should not view cloud technologies as something new or emerging, but rather as something that is very much established and is already mainstream in many fields of science, health, education and engineering. Compute Canada provides a ready-to-use, powerful and secure platform to facilitate large-scale research. Its cost benefits can in fact release funds to be used in other crucial resources including personnel, material and others. On the other hand, like any other technology, prudence and caution should be exercised when using such platforms, especially when it comes to private and sensitive data. At the very least, one should see cloud as useful tool to know and one that is already a required skill both in industry and academia. Therefore, whether or not cloud computing is right for your research project data management, knowing it is a resource available can help inform decisions for conducting future research.●

Resources:
Compute Canada Website
Practical Notes

Paraskevi Massara is a PhD student in the lab of Professor Elena Comelli at the Department of Nutritional Sciences


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Given the often-uncertain duration of the experimental process […] the acquisition of hardware may not be the optimal action for a small research group.

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Each user or team has access to their own data and software, even if the underlying software is shared

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[…] one should not view cloud technologies as something new or emerging, but rather as something that is very much established and is already mainstream in many fields […]


Panel 4

INTERVIEW:
Meghan McGee, the 3MT Competition UofT Finals Winner

By: Stephanie Nishi

Congratulations to Meghan McGee, a Nutritional Sciences PhD candidate with Dr. Deborah O’Connor, on winning the UofT Three Minute Thesis (3MT) competition and representing the department and university at the 3MT Provincial Finals. The 3MT competition offers a unique opportunity for graduate students to showcase their research to a wider audience, including across disciplines within the University and to the broader public as the competition is open and advertised to the greater community. Meghan has kindly shared her experiences and insight regarding the competition and what has led to her current research below:

Question: I understand you attended McGill for your undergraduate studies and the University of Ottawa for your masters. Can you briefly describe your experiences and what has led you to do a PhD at UofT with the Department of Nutritional Sciences?
Meghan: “I was always interested in maternal and child health. In my Master’s, I learned how nutrition during pregnancy can affect fetal and newborn health and, in my PhD, I get to explore how early nutrition can affect childhood health. I chatted with my supervisor, Dr. Deborah O’Connor, over the phone nearly a year before I started as a PhD student and she explained this project with donor milk and body composition. I just thought it was so cool and innovative. Her research lab is an exceptional place to work and I feel privileged to be surrounded by leaders in my field.”

Q: What inspired you to participate in the Three-Minute Thesis competition?
M: “Honestly, I received an email from U of T and thought it would be a fun experience. I love a good challenge and explaining my research in 3 minutes to a lay audience was just that. I think scientists are useless unless we can communicate our ideas effectively. If you can’t explain it simply, you probably don’t understand it.”

Q: How did you prepare for the 3-minute thesis competition?
M: “I watched videos online from previous competitions and I practiced my speech over and over and over again. Both out-loud and in my head. On my commute, in the car, before bed. I had it memorized and timed out to perfection. Once I was comfortable with what I was going to say, I did something kind of silly. I would do 30 or so jumping jacks or push-ups, just enough to put me slightly out of breath, and then try to deliver my 3-minute speech. People say try to ignore your heart pounding and suppress your nerves and anxiety when giving a presentation, but how can you do this if you don’t practice it? I tried to recreate what it felt like to be nervous – the shaky, breathy voice, the pounding heartbeat, the sweaty palms – and then I tried to deliver my speech.”

Q: It was mentioned that you practiced with your family to gain perspective from an audience outside of the sciences, based on their feedback what were some of the key things/approaches that may have been modified from the original draft to make the delivery more effective and understandable?
M: “That’s correct. My lab members never heard my speech before the competition. I thought their expert opinions would cloud the simple idea I was trying to communicate. I only recited it to non-experts. My boyfriend, an engineer, heard it for the first time on one of our long runs. My family, none of whom are scientists, vetted it for strange-sounding words and unnecessary complexity. I was treated to lunch with the previous 3MT winner and a member of the School of Graduate Studies and was told to take out words like ‘double-blind’ and ‘randomized clinical trial’, which are what, from a scientific perspective, make my study novel, innovate, and impressive. But to the non-scientist, this research is already impressive and grant-worthy vocab is just confusing.”

Q: Can you describe the Three-Minute Competition experience and what was going through your mind during the lead up and on the day of the competition?
M: “The competition hosted a dinner for all the competitors and deans of the competing schools the night before and there was a lunch after the competition. It was a very friendly and supportive environment. Basically, a bunch of nerdy academics sitting around tables, eating good food, and talking about our research. My sister kept me company the day of the competition and members of SGS were also there to cheer me on. The competition was in a theatre, so you literally emerge from backstage, walk to centre stage in the spotlight, and start talking. There’s a backstage crew to help you attach the microphone and wish you a final good luck. There’s a lot going on. The photographers are snapping photos, the videographer has his camera pointed straight at you, the judges are listening and writing notes, and the huge timer is counting down. It’s pretty cool. It was inspiring to hear the innovative projects graduate students are working on in Ontario and I felt honored to be a part of it.”

Q: What advice would you give other students interested in participating in events like the Three-Minute Thesis competition?
M: “Do it. It’s a great challenge and a wonderful experience. You get 3 minutes, 1 slide, no notes. You first compete in the preliminary divisional heats, and then the U of T finals, where the winner goes on to 3MT provincials. You can talk to the judges afterwards and ask for their feedback. It’s a fantastic opportunity to improve your communication and public speaking skills. I went into it because I thought it would be a fun experience and I had nothing to lose. It was only after I won that I found out about the prize money!”

Q: Given a focus of the competition is to effectively translate and communicate research to a general population, based on your experience how do you see scientists disseminating their research to the public in the future, especially given the potential for misinterpretation.
M: “This is a great question and raises an important issue. Effectively communicating science is necessary to get others interested in your idea, but we can’t go too far as to oversimplify. It frustrates me to see poor science reporting in the media or celebrity culture promoting pseudoscience and non-evidence-based “medicine”. I ended up creating a website, Healthenly, where I explained the latest scientific pursuits in layman’s terms. I hope other scientists will push back against the trends – especially in nutrition! – and question the evidence.”

Congratulations again to Meghan on her success and in representing UofT at the 3MT Provincial Finals. You can watch a video of her participation here.
If you are interested in sharing your research via the annual 3MT competition in the future stay tuned through the School of Graduate Studies website. ●

Stephanie Nishi is a PhD student in the lab of Dr. John Sievenpiper & Dr. Richard Bazinet at the Department of Nutritional Sciences / Photo by Jason Krygier-Baum obtained from the SGS website.


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“If you can’t explain it simply, you probably don’t understand it.”

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“I tried to recreate what it felt like to be nervous – the shaky, breathy voice, the pounding heartbeat, the sweaty palms – and then I tried to deliver my speech.”

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“I hope other scientists will push back against the trends – especially in nutrition! – and question the evidence.”


 

Panel 5

STUDENT’S CORNER

By: Stephanie Nishi

Welcome to Student’s Corner where we interview Departmental of Nutritional Sciences (DNS) graduate students to gain their insights and hear their stories.

For this issue we spoke with Laura Vergeer and Dandan Li. Laura is a first-year MSc student in the L’Abbé lab and her thesis project is focused on examining the nutritional quality of the product portfolios of major food companies in Canada. Dandan is doing her MSc in Dr. Vuksan’s lab at St. Michael’s hospital, and her research focuses on the effect of dietary nitrate on blood pressure and cardiovascular disease risk factors through a long-term clinical trial. Here, they shared their thoughts about why they choose this department for their master’s degrees and their experiences as being the First Year Representatives for the Nutritional Sciences Graduate Students’ Association (NSGSA).

Q: Why did you choose the DNS?
Laura: “My positive experiences with the DNS during my undergrad strongly influenced my decision to pursue my graduate studies there. Through my involvement in two DNS labs, membership of the Nutritional Sciences Student Association Executive Team and participation in the DNSAA Student-Alumni Mentorship Program, I had developed a real sense of familiarity with the Department as I got to know several fellow students, faculty and alumni. In my fourth year, I also completed an undergraduate thesis in the L’Abbé lab and decided that I wanted to continue doing research in the area of food environment policy. I had really enjoyed working with my supervisor and labmates as well. So when it came time to apply for graduate studies, I just knew that was where I wanted to be”.

Dandan: “I chose the DNS because I was always interested in the power of nutrition and how it can change our physiology as well as alter disease states. After completing my undergraduate studies at UofT majoring in Nutritional Sciences and Health & Disease, I decided to further my knowledge and dive deeper into an area of research that has the potential to be impactful. Ultimately, I chose this department because I was interested in the project, which looks at cardiovascular disease through a clinical perspective, and because I enjoyed being in a supportive and tight-knit group of students and professors”.

Q: What resources/opportunities have you found useful during your first year of graduate studies?
Laura: “There are so many great resources and opportunities for new graduate students in the DNS. I think my experience is somewhat unique as I had already been part of the L’Abbé lab as an undergraduate student, which helped make for a particularly smooth transition into graduate studies. My supervisor and labmates have also been really helpful and supportive along the way. Outside the lab, I’ve really enjoyed getting involved in different organizations within the DNS. In addition to the NSGSA, I also joined the NutriNews Executive Team, the DNS Alumni Association and the intra-mural volleyball team this year. These experiences have enabled me to build new relationships and feel more at home in the Department”.

Dandan: “From my experience, the most helpful resource was connecting with upper-year graduate students and hearing about their journeys and how they overcame hurdles that I may encounter. I attended department events and joined mentorship programs where I had the opportunity to discuss my questions with my mentor. Another resource that I made use of were the graduate workshops offered by UofT, which were useful for improving skills that are not formally taught in labs and graduate courses, such as giving oral presentations or writing effectively”.

Q: Why did you decide to join the NSGSA?
Laura: “I decided to join the NSGSA to get more involved in the DNS and meet new people. I also thought that it would be a great opportunity to take on a leadership role and develop new skills”.

Dandan: “I thought it would be a great way to stay connected with other graduate students and become involved in events that are both fun and helpful for my graduate career”.

Q: Could you please describe your role and experience with the NSGSA?
Laura: “As a First Year Representative, my primary role is to act as a liaison between new graduate students and the DNS. This involves informing first-year students of the various events that the NSGSA hosts throughout the year and encouraging them to attend. I also worked closely with other NSGSA Exec Team members to help plan several of these events. My experience with the NSGSA has been very positive and rewarding, and I hope to continue serving on the Exec Team again next year”.

Dandan: “My role for this past year as one of the first-year representatives involved engaging with the first-year graduate students, promoting events to the department and planning events with the other executives. It allowed me to contribute to the surrounding community and learn more about my own strengths and weaknesses in a leadership position”.

Q: What did you enjoy most regarding being the 1st Year Representatives?
Laura: “One thing that I liked about the 1st Year Representative positon in particular was that I was able to be part of the organizing committees for various events that were held by the NSGSA this past year. I think working closely with other NSGSA members to plan these events is what really helped me to get to know them better. I also gained some exposure to different roles and responsibilities within the NSGSA”.

Dandan: “The most enjoyable part was meeting new friends! I was really able to connect with the rest of the NSGSA and the first-year graduate students who are all going through a similar transition from undergraduate to graduate school”.

Q: What advice would you give to a graduate student thinking of joining the NSGSA, in particular for those interested in becoming a 1st Year Representative?
Laura: “Do it! It’s such a great opportunity to get become a more active member of the Department, meet new people and gain some leadership experience. Even if you don’t know many of the other students in the NSGSA, everyone is very friendly and welcoming so you get to know them pretty quickly. I would also encourage students to not be put off by the time commitment that comes with being a 1st Year Representative (or any other NSGSA position). I think the time and effort that’s expected from you is quite reasonable and the many benefits that you get from this experience make it worth your while”.

Dandan: “Definitely consider joining the NSGSA! It’s such a great way to become familiar with the department and realize that it’s a supportive and enjoyable community to be a part of”.

Thank-you Laura and Dandan for sharing your experiences and insights, and all the best with your degrees and future careers! ●

Stephanie Nishi is a PhD student in the lab of Dr. John Sievenpiper & Dr. Richard Bazinet at the Department of Nutritional Sciences


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“quote”

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Laura Vergeer
dandan
Dandan Li


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PUBLICATIONS

By: Laura Vergeer
It has been a productive year with the department leaving its mark with over 60 peer-reviewed publications.



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AWARDS