Alwyn has recently joined Mater Health Services in a conjoint position with Griffith University as a Senior Research Dietitian. In addition to undertaking her own research her role also includes strengthening dietetic research collaborations between Mater and Griffith, supervising Griffith student dietitian research projects based at the Mater, providing support to clinical dietitians who are involved in research and a 0.3 clinical load.
Alwyn is an Accredited Practising Dietitian (APD) and a member of the Dietitians Association of Australia and Dietitians’ New Zealand. She has 7 years’ experience in research, clinical dietetics, foodservice and private practice in New Zealand, Australia and the United Kingdom. Alwyn completed her PhD at Otago University (NZ) in 2010 in the area of dietary sodium and arterial function. She has received a number of research related awards including the Unilever Post-graduate Research Scholarship, Neige Todhunter Award, and Baxter Best Paper Award from Dietitians New Zealand, and travel grants from the National Heart Foundation, International Society of Hypertension and the University of Otago to attend national and international conferences.
Tell me a little bit about your job and/or describe a typical day for you?
As I work for two organisations, each day is different. I’m based at the Mater but spend one day a week at Griffith’s Gold Coast campus. You may find me hiding behind a computer reading journals or writing a paper, discussing the merits and perils of research with student researchers, attending a meeting at Mater Research, dreaming up ways to win research funding or seeing patients in a clinic.
What do you most enjoy about your role?
I love how variable my role is, I get to do a little bit of everything I enjoy – undertaking research, seeing patients and giving the odd lecture. It’s also rewarding watching students undertake research, and seeing them grow and develop expertise in a field of research.
Tell me a little bit about your career in dietetics thus far and/or why did you choose dietetics as a career?
I started my career in dietetics cooking in a boarding school and a private hospital. In the first few years I ran a private practice and contracted to rest homes to provide menu reviews and clinical dietetic services. Since then I have spent 2 years in the UK, where I locumed and worked at the West London Renal and Transplant Unit at Hammersmith Hospital, and 2 years in Australia undertaking research and teaching clinical dietetics to university students.
I chose dietetics as a career as my mum saw a dietitian when I was 12, and following that I ate pasta, lentils and olive oil for the first time in my life. Growing up on a dairy farm consuming a meat and 3 veg diet supplemented with plenty of dairy products meant all these new foods were strange and took a while to become accepted. I always loved science but it wasn’t until I was 18 and sitting in university lab staring at critters in the water down a microscope that I decided I wanted a science career that involved working with people. I liked the idea of being a dietitian, working in a sunny clinic overlooking the ocean and helping people to eat well. One day I may get there, perhaps when there is no more research left to do!
· Nutritional Assessment
· Weight Management/Type II Diabetes
· Cardiovascular health/Hypertension/Kidney Disease
· Malnutrition in Oncology, Cystic Fibrosis and Dialysis
How did you get into research?
I undertook a small research dissertation as a student dietitian, and my supervisors encouraged me to stay on and undertake a PhD. Initially agreeing to undertake a Masters project instead I had no idea how large the planned research was, or of the planned PhD upgrade my supervisors later talked me into. It was a push in the right direction I am now very grateful for.
Why do you undertake research?
I’m drawn to research as it enables you to grow as a professional, and gives you a good understanding of the evidence base for clinical recommendations you may make. I enjoy learning about the research underpinning different areas of dietetic practice, identifying a gap in the research and formulating a research question then conducting research to answer the question. Research also requires team work, and if you’re lucky you may get to work with some amazing and very knowledgeable people, which is always exciting.
What would be your number one tip to someone starting their career in dietetics?
Don’t underestimate the importance of networking. Take every opportunity you get to meet other dietitians and work with them. If someone asks you to do a presentation of your research project, don’t say no. You never know who might remember it in the future and offer you a job.
What is one interesting fact about you?
I enjoy going scuba diving and reading books on maritime archaeology in my leisure time. I love conducting research but think it’s nice to be able to escape on the weekends, so I find diving is great way to relax and clear the mind.