Research & Development Manager at Hort Innovation
Director of the Dietitians Association of Australia
I think my upbringing had a lot to do with my current interest in food and nutrition. My mum was a member of Nutrition Australia, and having an interest in nutrition, she always provided healthy lunches for my brother and I, and on the odd occasion tried to sneak boiled eggs and cheese into my sandwiches (even though I didn’t like them at the time). I really owe it to my mum for teaching us kids healthy eating habits. We used to have super healthy lunches during the week (some days I would attempt to swap my banana with a friend’s rollup with little success) but on Fridays we would receive a little treat in our lunchbox – a muffin, a mini apple pie or a bee sting from the local bakery. It kept us away from the tuckshop and taught us valuable lessons about the difference between everyday foods and sometimes foods. Mum also enforced the habit of having a glass of milk with our dinner every night, and we would always sit at the table as a family with the TV off. Mum also had me in the kitchen cooking from a young age, I loved to bake cakes, muffins and all sorts of desserts, and licking the bowl was by far the best part. As I grew older and started to understand the importance of nutrition, I started experimenting with different recipes and how I could make them healthier. Some days I would sit in front of the TV watching cooking shows and writing like crazy to take down all the notes. We were also very active children. We had trampolines, cubby houses, and one day back in grade 1 I even broke my arm running around the deck with my brother chasing me and slipping over the edge. I also remember going to our friend’s house as kids and for the first time trying ‘coke’. I must admit I wasn’t a bit fan of this brown sweet tasting drink that made me burp all night, I much preferred my glass of milk! At our friend’s house we were also treated to play the ‘Nintendo’ whilst snacking on a bowl of potato chips. Never were we allowed such things at home, we didn’t even own a Nintendo!
Tell me a little bit about your job and/or describe a typical day for you?
My role at Hort Innovation involves overseeing a range of different research projects across the horticultural sector, particularly in the areas of nutrition, health, food safety and the value chain. As cliché as it is, no day is ever the same. Some days I’m out on the farm, meeting with our project teams, while other days I’m in the office reviewing contracts, budgets and proposals for future investments. I love that every day is different and it keeps things exciting. I have met the most AMAZING people working in horticulture, there really is a sense of family working in this industry and it’s an absolute honour to be delivering back to our customers – Aussie farmers.
I am also a media spokesperson for Hort Innovation, so I work closely with our marketing gurus to help amplify our key messages. After all, we have so much to shout from the rooftops about when it comes to our locally grown produce.
What do you most enjoy about your role?
I could never work in a role that I didn’t love. And to me this is a dream job for a dietitian. To be able to commission research and promote the goodness of fruit, vegetables, nuts and olive oil, I couldn’t think of a better opportunity! It has also been so valuable to better understand how our food is grown and every step of the journey from planting a seed to stocking that produce in the supermarket. I take my hat off to farmers, they really do an incredible job.
Tell me a little bit about your career in dietetics thus far and/or why did you choose dietetics as a career?
After finishing high school I wasn’t sure what I wanted to do career wise so I decided to embark on an arts degree with a range of different electives. I majored in psychology and journalism, but it was one subject, Physical Activity and Nutrition, that I enjoyed the most, and at the end of that year I applied to study Nutrition and Dietetics at QUT. While I was studying at uni, I gave up my casual job of being a gymnastics coach and took on 2 nutrition-related jobs – working at Brisbane Private Hospital as a Diet Monitor (distributing, collecting and processing menus, talking to patients, working in the foodservice on the tray line) and at the Royal Childrens Hospital as a Nutrition Assistant (making up formula, stocking the wards, delivering and collecting menus). Once I graduated I was lucky enough to secure a full time role at Sodexo in Brisbane as the QLD Dietitian working with the aged care segment, and after 11 months I was asked to move to Melbourne to work as Sodexo’s national dietitian. Being a Brissie girl I was very fearful of Melbourne’s weather, but could not let go of such an amazing opportunity to progress my career with this global organisation. So I moved down to Melbourne, and before I knew it, I fell in love with the food and coffee culture that exists down here. I had to replenish my wardrobe (I now have over 20 scarfs) and purchased many sets of jeans, tights, boots and thick winter coats.
After working for Sodexo in Melbourne, I decided I was ready for an extra challenge. After meeting Carolyn Creswell, Founder and Director of Carman’s Fine Foods at a networking event, I took the opportunity to arrange a time to meet with Carolyn and discuss the value that a dietitian could add the business. Luckily for me Carolyn saw the benefit and I started consulting to Carman’s on a casual basis, as well as continuing my role at Sodexo. Three years later, my role extended from what was originally proposed as writing a nutrition blog and assisting with their social media channels, to working on product development, nutrition and health claims, nutrition communications and marketing. This was a fantastic stepping stone for me into the role of Nutrition and Product Development Manager at Jenny Craig & Curves, and most recently then applying my skills of managing teams and project management into my current role at Hort Innovation.
What would be your top 3 tips to someone starting their career in dietetics?
My number one tip would be to find a job or volunteer in a nutrition-related area whilst you’re still studying. Without working in the foodservice at the two hospitals I worked at in Brisbane, I doubt I would have landed my first job with foodservice company Sodexo. This was a big selling point for me and put me ahead of my peers. I also didn’t wait for those jobs to come up. Instead, I was proactive and sent my cv around to almost every hospital in Brisbane. I didn’t get many responses back, but those that did I grabbed onto. It was the same for my role at Carman’s. There was no job advertised, I created my own role. So my tip for students entering the world of dietetics is don’t wait for jobs to come up, go and seek out jobs before they are advertised. You never know who might be looking. If there is an availability and your resume is up to scratch, you have a good chance of getting the job as you won’t have the competition that you normally would in a lengthy interview process.
My second tip would be to make the most of every opportunity that comes along. And remember, some opportunities will only come along if you create them for yourself. Volunteer wherever you can, find nutrition-related work experience, and start talking to other dietitians to find out how they got to where they are today. Attend as many professional development sessions that you can and aim to meet at least one person at each event.
This brings me to my final tip. Having a strong network of peers is so important. Engage with a mentor that works in the area of your interest, and make lots of friends in the dietetic profession. Be friendly, kind and warm, and give back to your profession by being involved in its activities such as interest groups and advisory committees. The more you put yourself out there, the more people you will meet, and the more you’ll be able to build on your own personal brand. Social media channels such as LinkedIn are great ways to stay in touch with colleagues and maintain your relationships, but remember to also make time to catch up with colleagues in person – nothing can replace one-on-one contact.
What is one interesting fact about you?
I used to be a competitive gymnast, and when I ‘retired’ I coached for many years after. It taught me a lot about motivating others, pushing myself to my limits, and never giving up. Plus I have never done so many push ups in all my life.
Jemma also has a regular column in Fitness First Magazine – check out her articles and recipes in club.