Congratulations! Today is your day. You’re off to Great Places! You’re off and away!
You have brains in your head. You have feet in your shoes. You can steer yourself any direction you choose. – Dr Seuss
Commencement speakers at universities are fond of quoting from the beloved Dr. Seuss poem (above), “Oh, The Places You’ll Go!” And for good reason: the poem leaves listeners with the exciting notion that the world is their oyster. So why let that thinking change when Uni is left behind and you settle into a career in dietetics?
Maree Ferguson always knew she wanted to travel and see the world. She also knew she wanted to be a dietitian. Today, Maree is in the role of her dreams as director and founder of Dietitian Connection. She travels the world regularly, visiting bucket-list destinations that she’s longed to experience — all, as part of her job.
We chatted to Maree about her recent trip to India — where she was an invited presenter at a dietetics conference, while visiting World Heritage Sites in her free time. Bucket list: tick, tick, tick!
Infuse: Maree, when you began your career in dietetics, did you envision yourself at the Taj Mahal in 2017 – on business?
Maree Ferguson: Not in my wildest dreams! More than 20 years ago, I was a new graduate dietitian. Back then, I never would have thought I would visit the Taj Mahal — let alone for work purposes. The opportunity unfolded when one of my PhD graduates, Dr Ekta Agarwal (Assistant Professor at Bond University), is from Mumbai. Ekta connected with Dr Bhuvana Shankar, Vice President [dietetics] and Group Chief Dietitian of the Apollo Hospitals Group, via LinkedIn. This connection ultimately led to my invitation to speak in Mumbai, and is just one example of the importance of fostering relationships. I’m a strong advocate for joining LinkedIn and building your network – especially overseas.
Infuse: In your exchange of ideas with Dr Shankar, what key learnings did you take away?
MF: Dr Shankar is an inspirational dietetics leader. She has a vision for her dietetics team to be world class. As a result, she started the annual Apollo International Clinical Nutrition Update in 2008, with the aim of upskilling her dietetics team in clinical nutrition practice and research by bringing local experts and overseas speakers to present. Each year the meeting gets better and this year, in Mumbai, it had more than 600 participants from 10 countries.
Dr Shankar’s dietetics team work tirelessly behind the scenes. From what I observed, she has created a wonderful team environment for her staff. It was great to see them “work hard” and then “play hard” at the post-meeting dinner.
I witnessed all the qualities of a true leader in Dr Shankar – qualities that I myself strive to emulate and to promote:
- a vision for greatness;
- a clear understanding of the importance of research and professional networks;
- the ability to motivate her team to greatness , and to recognise a job well done;
- support for ongoing professional development; and
- a strong emphasis on lifelong learning.
Infuse: What were your top takeaways from this trip on a personal level?
MF: India is truly breathtaking, and photos do not do it justice. This was my second trip there. It is an infusion for the senses, and served as inspiration for the very name of this magazine! I was overwhelmed every day by sights, scents and sounds. I was often out of my comfort zone (including sitting atop of an elephant, hanging on for my life). And yet I embraced this. It was a was a good challenge for me to get comfortable with being uncomfortable.
Infuse: How far along were you in your career when you first found a way to travel while enriching yourself professionally?
MF: Judy Bauer, my first dietetic manager and associate PhD supervisor, shares my passion for travel and lifelong learning. She encouraged me to submit an abstract on my PhD research, malnutrition screening, to the American Dietetic Association (now AND) conference. As a result, I was offered a position to work in a nutrition company in the USA, where I worked in research, product development and marketing for eight years. This “dream job” then led to many other trips around the globe.
Infuse: What are some of the other incredible destinations that your career has taken you?
MF: I’ve been invited to present or speak on five continents. Because of this, I’ve visited destinations such as Singapore, Thailand, India, New Zealand, Portugal, Scotland and much of the USA – and of course, Australia.
Infuse: What advice would you give to a dietetics student who wants to follow in your career footsteps?
MF: Definitely consider doing a PhD; you can get paid to see the world. There are so many opportunities to present your research at an international conference — and then take extra time for holidays. Alternatively, seek out a job overseas, and then explore that part of the world on your weekends or short holiday trips, which are less expensive than travelling from Australia. And remember, while your starting salary as you first establish your career may not be high, you can balance this by seeking out ways to get “paid” in life experiences!
Infuse: How important is it to commit to lifelong learning, as your career advances and your responsibilities increase [and your time seems to decrease]?
MF: I have the same commitment to lifelong learning today as I did as a new graduate. We need to continue to learn and grow. What I am learning today is vastly different from what I was learning as a new graduate. These days, my learning is focused on business and technology innovations, rather than dietetics.
I take every opportunity possible to learn something new. This could be by reading a business book, attending a blogging or overseas conference, or travelling to another country (who would have thought travel is an acceptable form of PD?). Travel takes you away from your usual everyday activities, and opens you up to new experiences and novel ways of doing things. After an overseas trip, I come home refreshed and buzzing with new ideas. It’s a combination of my mind being free to think, combined with observing new ways of looking at the world.
Infuse: Congrats – Dietitian Connection is celebrating its fifth birthday this year! If you could go back in time and offer advice to yourself five years ago, what would you say?
MF: Have faith and confidence in yourself that you can do this – whatever your “this” might be. Just put one foot in front of the other each and every day, and look ahead to where you want to be in five years. It will be a roller coaster, but enjoy the ride. You’ve got this!
Infuse: What destination remains atop your bucket list that you’re working to make a reality through your career path?
MF: Even though I have travelled to many amazing destinations, there are still quite a few places I haven’t been that remain on my bucket list. The one that is more likely to have a possible dietetic connection (pun intended!)is Ireland. Irish dietetics is world class, and many great Irish dietitians now work in Australia. So if any Irish dietitians are reading this, I would love to connect with you!