American Society For Nutrition

Interview with Dr. Regan Bailey, ASN Member

Interview with Dr. Regan Bailey, ASN Member

Excellence in Nutrition Research and Practice
Dr. Regan Bailey has come a long way as a member of ASN--from a promising young doctoral candidate at her first ASN Scientific Sessions and Annual Meeting at Experimental Biology, to a leader in dietary assessment at the National Institutes of Health (NIH).  As a nutritional epidemiologist at NIH's Office of Dietary Supplements, Dr. Bailey researches the implications of combining nutrient intakes from foods and from dietary supplements in nationally representative populations.  She is also an executive board member of ASN's Nutrition Epidemiology Research Interest Section, where she recently helped orchestrate a series of webinars to help members stay updated on the latest nutritional epidemiology research. 

Dr. Bailey has published several articles on nutritional epidemiology, dietary supplements, and geriatric nutrition.  Her most recent publications can be found in the August issue of The American Journal of Clinical Nutrition (AJCN).  The first article, “Total Folate and Folic Acid Intakes From Foods and Dietary Supplements of US Children Aged 1–13,” can be accessed here. The second, “Unmetabolized Serum Folic Acid and Its Relation to Folic Acid Intake From Diet and Supplements in a Nationally Representative Sample of Adults Aged  60 y in the United States,” can be found here. Dr. Bailey was kind enough to speak with us about the two articles while also offering us some insight into how ASN has aided her career development.

Interviewer: How did your academic background lead you to a career in nutritional epidemiology?

Dr. Bailey: I started my undergraduate education at Penn State, which is a very research-oriented institution. I was exposed to various types of research because Penn State is unique in that they offer a wide spectrum of nutrition research--from bench science to applied science.  After I graduated, I completed a dietetic internship.  Through that internship I began coursework towards a Master's degree.  It wasn't originally my intention to stay on for a Master's, but I thought it was silly to get halfway through one and not finish.  After I received my Master's, I worked as a clinical dietician in a long-term care facility in an Alzheimer's and dementia unit.  However, I never lost touch with my contacts at Penn State or with my mentor there, Helen Smiciklas-Wright.  She was looking for a Ph.D. student with experience working with the elderly, which I was currently doing.  Maintaining those contacts brought us together, and I went back to Penn State for my Ph.D. work.

Interviewer: What were your first experiences with ASN like? What convinced you to join the organization?

Dr. Bailey: I was very fortunate as a first-year graduate student because Dr. Wright sent me to an Experimental Biology meeting.  That was a luxury that a lot of graduate students don't have.  That experience was wonderful exposure and a great networking opportunity for me. 

I was actually on a bus to attend the graduate student breakfast when I met Krisitn Carnegie, who was leading the research interest section (RIS) for graduate students.  She introduced me to what the RIS groups are and how to get more involved.  I was just looking for a ride (laughs), but she talked me into applying to be on the board for the student interest group.  That was how I got introduced to ASN: through Experimental Biology and through this serendipitous meeting.  Working with a RIS group is a great experience for a graduate student because you interact with so many different people through ASN.  I made several professional contacts that, without my involvement with the organization or going to Experimental Biology, I would not have. 

When I went that first year, a senior-level graduate student said to me, “You will learn more in this week than you will the entire year.” And it was true!  It was cutting-edge research, it was exposure to all different types of research, and it was fabulous networking.  I haven't missed a meeting since!

Interviewer: What aspects of ASN membership have you found most helpful in your career?

Dr. Bailey: Through the membership you are exposed to a lot of unique opportunities.  One of the things that we did this year in our Epidemiology RIS was to host a Webinar series.  There are a lot of perks that come with ASN membership that I find rewarding.  There's so much going on.  I get a lot out of ASN beyond the journal.

Interviewer: How has your experience with ASN changed as you have made the transition from being a student to a postdoctoral member?

Dr. Bailey: Well, not a lot has changed in that transition in relation to ASN.  It really comes back to the networking and what you use it for.  You can meet people in the organization that you would want to do a post doc with.  For example, my mentor at NIH is Mary Frances Picciano, who is very active in ASN.  She's been the treasurer for a number of years.  It's really the connections you make and the people who can help you with your next career steps.

Interviewer: Tell us a bit about your upcoming article in AJCN and your experience working on this investigation.

Dr. Bailey: This month, we have two articles in AJCN.  Both of them explore folic acid exposure in different ways in non-target populations.  Folic-acid fortification is targeted for reproductive-age females.  But in my first paper, we look at how folic acid relates to un-metabolized folic acid in the blood of older adults, while the second paper looks at exposure in children.  So, we are studying both ends of the spectrum and the possibility of concerns associated with excess folic acid levels.

Interviewer: What aspects of your research do you foresee being most important for ASN members?

Dr. Bailey: A lot of the work that we are doing is looking at total nutrient exposure.  That's really what I've spent much of my postdoctoral work doing.  Many studies up until this point have only looked at nutrient intake from the diet in relation to health outcomes.  What we're doing in my research group is looking at how supplements are in the United States.  Do people use supplements to meet dietary recommendations?  Are they exceeding them?  So really for the first time we are examining total nutrient exposure in United States.

Interviewer: Ideally, what is the next step you'd like to take in further investigations?

Dr. Bailey: I think what we are doing--and what I'd like to keep on doing--is to determine the best ways to assess dietary intake and nutrient exposure.  We know that dietary assessment is fraught with errors because people don't accurately report what they eat.  I think that the logical next step of these types of investigations is to reduce measurement error in nutrition research. 

Interviewer: Is there anything else about your work or your experience with ASN that we haven't covered that you feel is important for your fellow members to know?

Dr. Bailey: I just want to stress the value of having good mentors.  They are so important. I think that is where a lot of ASN members can help: by reaching out to students interested in our field.  I have been so lucky to have Helen Wright and Mary Frances Picciano guiding me along.  I think that ASN members have a great opportunity to help guide students the way these two women have done for me.