Student & ECR Spotlight – Meet Dr Katherine Livingstone, an NHMRC Emerging Research Fellow investigating the design of personalised nutrition approaches to improve dietary patterns

Please tell us about your career pathway to date.

I am an NHMRC Emerging Leadership Fellow at Deakin University’s Institute for Physical Activity and Nutrition (IPAN). I co-chair IPAN’s Dietary Patterns and Eating Behaviours Group and am co-ordinator for IPAN’s Food, Nutrition and Health research domain.

How would you briefly describe your current research/job to someone who is not familiar with your field of study/work? What is your main research interest?

Put simply, my research aims to understand how tailored dietary advice can improve our overall diet and heart health. Put less simply, my research aims to advance understanding of how to design personalised nutrition approaches that improve dietary patterns and cardiometabolic health.

My main research interesting is understanding and improving dietary patterns in adults. I have expertise in a variety of dietary pattern methodologies, including a priori and empirical dietary patterns, which I have applied to the analysis of randomised controlled trials and population data across Europe and Australia. My research also examines correlates of dietary patterns and behaviours, ranging from biological (e.g. genetic variants) to environmental (e.g. food access) influences. By better understanding the complexity of what influences our dietary patterns, I hope to design more effective and personalised approaches to improve diets.

What are the main barriers you encounter/experience when conducting research, or what information/skills do you lack to conduct high quality research?

In my opinion, the main barrier to conducting research is a lack of consistent funding and job security. I am fortunate to have received three fellowships since completing my PhD in 2013, however, I have had my fair share of rejections. Having moved countries and institutions and transitioned between research and teaching roles, I understand some of the challenges of forging a career in research.

What could help you as a student/ECR to further develop/grow in your current position?

As an EMCR, demonstrating emerging leadership and impact are critical for career progression and securing research funding. Within IPAN, there is a strong support network for PhD students and EMCRs, including opportunities for training, funding and awards. Designing research for impact and creating leadership structures is also a strong focus, so I feel fortunate to have this support.

What do you think will be the next most important development in the nutrition and/or physical activity field?

I may be biased given my research focus, but personalised nutrition! We are seeing an increasing focus on personalisation across scientific disciplines, which is being reflected in national research strategies. For example, the National Institutes of Health Nutrition Research in the US has recently launched their 2020-2030 Strategic Plan, which is centred on precision nutrition.

You can get in touch with Katherine via email [email protected] or follow her on Twitter: @Katmlivingstone