The journey from student to research assistant

What started out as a bachelor’s project, turned into so much more. Beyond my wildest expectations, it led to publications, international travel and employment…

Hi, I’m Jodie, Australian, 40-something and a 2014 Global Nutrition and Health graduate, specialising in Public Health Nutrition and Food Policy. Becoming a mother of two during the education, which involves internships, group-work and late nights, was difficult at times, but a real challenge was narrowing down the topic of research for the bachelor’s thesis.

 

 

Reflecting over the bachelor process, the highlights all evolved around an internship with The Danish Cancer Society. In this regard, I share Cathrine’s experience (December 17, 2013 blog) where what was first considered an ordinary internship, turned into an extraordinary journey leading to great personal satisfaction and professional development.

 

The internship – My introduction to menu labelling

During the second of three internships, I teamed up with Cathrine to conduct a literature review of the effects of menu labelling on consumer choice, as well as industry response. So, what is menu labelling? Quite simply, it refers to the display of energy values appearing on menus or menu boards, next to the price. Here is an example from the UK:

 

During the second of three internships, I teamed up with Cathrine to conduct a literature review of the effects of menu labelling on consumer choice, as well as industry response. So, what is menu labelling? Quite simply, it refers to the display of energy values appearing on menus or menu boards, next to the price. Here is an example from the UK:
Menu Labelling example from the UK (Source: https://responsibilitydeal.dh.gov.uk)

 

 

Our review findings and recommendations were used to guide negotiations between the Danish Cancer Society, prominent fast food companies and other major stakeholders at an early stage of implementation of menu labelling in Denmark.

The bachelor’s thesis – Exploring the unexplored

A year later, when it came time for me to write my bachelor thesis, and menu labelling negotiations were continuing, a research gap presented itself. In the absence of any consumer research being conducted in Denmark, I explored, using expert opinion, whether Danish consumers would respond to menu labelling similarly to consumers in other countries. My thesis concluded that the positive effects of menu labelling could be even more profound in Denmark.

Not only was I satisfied with my thesis, but also The Danish Cancer Society. They were able to use the results to pursue menu labelling implementation, and they considered the document worthy of publication. It was extremely rewarding knowing that a thesis document was more than an academic requirement necessary to attain the bachelor certificate.

 

The congress – The bachelor’s thesis goes to Malaysia

The positive feedback from the Danish Cancer Society fuelled my enthusiasm to attend the Workshop offered by GNH to develop a scientific abstract and design a scientific poster, based on the thesis. My motivation was further driven by the 12th International Congress on Obesity in Kuala Lumpur, which was calling for abstract submissions for poster presentations. I found the prospect of displaying my poster at such a large-scale, international event very exciting. It was with great delight that my abstract was subsequently accepted; though it was with some trepidation I accepted, due to the exorbitant costs. The congress fees, flight tickets and accommodation in Kuala Lumpur were going to cost 16,000 DKK.

Feeling that this was a great career opportunity not to be missed, I took some initiative to help manage the expenses. I was granted a student rate (despite graduating 10 days before my poster was accepted, which saved 5,000 DKK) and secured travel funds from various places

Needless to say, it was a fantastic networking opportunity where I met some of the ‘big names’ in menu labelling. I am also grateful to Aileen Robertson for giving me the opportunity to attend the Scientific Advisory Board Meeting (held during the congress) on her behalf. This was an interesting ‘behind the doors’ experience and put me in direct contact with world leaders in obesity prevention.

 

 

Apart from my interest in menu labelling, I also expanded my knowledge on the causes and consequences of obesity and other lifestyle and environment interventions. I left the congress more convinced that we have to look beyond personal responsibility as a cause or a solution to the obesity epidemic. Improving the food environment to help choose less calorific options is important.

The job – Research assistant, Cancer prevention and information

Soon after my return from Kuala Lumpur, I was employed by The Danish Cancer Society to undertake a subsequent review of the effects of menu labelling, due to the volume of scientific articles recently published and the spread of menu labelling across the globe. The contacts I made at the Congress and access to their unpublished work proved extremely useful when undertaking this review. The review is currently going through an internal-review process, with the intention to have it published and presented to the Danish Minister of Food Agriculture and Fisheries. Authorities in Canada and Australia are also interested in receiving a copy of the final document.

At first, menu labelling might not sound very exciting or very important, but two years researching the topic has converted me into a menu labelling advocate. People are eating out more often, and usually underestimate the calorie content of their food and beverage choices. Without menu labelling, consumers would need to make considerable efforts to learn that a tuna sub contains 1½ times the calories than a roast beef sub, that supersizing a burger meal can add ¼ of a day’s calorie-intake or that a coffee and cake can contain more calories than an evening meal. It is an important approach in preventing obesity through informing consumers of the energy content of food and beverages when eating out. It also encourages the food service industry to provide less calorific menu items.

In all honesty, I never imagined that an internship or the topic of menu labelling could have initiated this incredible chain of events. I hope my story can inspire others to take on challenges that present themselves, even if they don’t seem overly remarkable. Dedication and commitment however, can bring about surprising changes in attitude and unexpected personal and professional rewards, especially with the support of great internship hosts and thesis supervisors.

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out / Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out / Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out / Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out / Change )

Connecting to %s