A Conversation With ASN President Sharon M. Donovan, PhD RD
ASN's president, Dr. Sharon M. Donovan, has not been at the Society's helm for long, but it is already easy to see how her knowledge and dedication will serve the organization in the coming months.A professor of nutrition at the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign, Dr. Donovan has many years of leadership experience, serving as the Director of the Division of Nutritional Sciences between 1999 and 2009, and the Director of the Graduate Dietetic Internship in the Department of Food Science & Human Nutrition since 2008.She has also held a number of leadership positions at ASN, including serving as Vice-President, Councilor, Secretary, member of the Transition Board, Chair of the Lactation Research Interest Section, and member of the Strategic Oversight Committee.Dr. Donovan recently shared some details of her history with ASN, her goals for her presidency, and her advice for members who might also be considering leadership positions in the society.
Interviewer: What first drew you to the study of nutrition? What factors contributed to your decision to pursue a career in the field?
Dr. Donovan: During my undergraduate career, I had initially planned to become a veterinarian and was majoring in zoology at UC Davis. Then, my junior year, I took a nutrition course that really sparked my interest, leading me to change my major.I began working in Bo Lonnerdal's lab as an undergrad, whichmotivated me to go to graduate school for nutrition.
Interviewer: When in your journey did you discover ASN? What made you decide to become a member?
Dr. Donovan: The organization, which was AIN at the time, first caught my attention during my second year of graduate school when I submitted an abstract for Experimental Biology. However, I did not become more involved in the organization until I was an assistant professor. There were not the same opportunities then that we have for graduate students now.Since that time, ASN has done an excellent job developing opportunities for graduate students and postdoctorates in the organization to become involved in the society at an early stage of their career.
Interviewer: What aspects of your membership do you continue to find most useful?
Dr. Donovan: My very first major assignment in the organization came from then-President Connie Weaver, who asked me to join the graduate education committee. I have remained consistently involved with those issues throughout my time with ASN. In fact, further developing the educational materials offered to our members is one of the major goals of my presidency.
Interviewer: How has your time as president, thus far, shaped your view of nutrition issues (research, policy, involvement of industry, etc.)?
Dr. Donovan: I have only been president for about a month, but in that time I have come to see the vital importance of our interactions with other professional societies.I recently visited Ireland to participate in the first joint conference between ASN and The Nutrition Society and ASN also sponsored a joint symposium with the Animal Science (ASAS) and Dairy Science (ADSA) societies prior to their annual meeting in New Orleans. These are just two examples of how ASN can leverage relationships with other organizations in order to best serve the interests of our members and ensure that we become more efficient in our efforts to broaden ASN's influence as a source of nutrition knowledge for physicians, policymakers, and the general public.
Interviewer: What aspects of ASN leadership do you most enjoy? How would you encourage members considering taking on a more active role in the organization?
Dr. Donovan: I have always enjoyed working with others to develop new approaches towards achieving a goal – whether it is through forming new teams of researchers or working on new curricular approaches. Participating in ASN over the years has been one of the most rewarding aspects of my professional career. ASN offers many opportunities for members to be involved in leadership positions at various levels. My first advice to members considering a leadership role is to start small and to focus on something that you feel very passionate about, whether it is graduate education, public policy, research funding, etc. Our Research Interest Sections provide an excellent opportunity for members to retain that focus. One of the major goals of the organization right now is to make sure that our members can be involved regardless of what stage they are at in their career. The fastest-growing segments of our society right now are students and young professionals, so it is very important for us to build a society that actively engages them. Our Student Interest Group and Young Professional Interest Group in particular are doing an excellent job working towards that goal. Each year we put out a call for people who are interested in volunteering, and I encourage all of our members to consider responding to that call.
Interviewer: What current (or upcoming) ASN initiatives are you most excited about?
Dr. Donovan: There are many exciting initiatives that we are working on right now.First and foremost, we are currently revising our Strategic Map.On June 30th, a group of ASN members and staff met in Chicago to review accomplishments towards meetings the goals and objectives of the current map and to suggest revisions for the upcoming version.Robert Russell and Edward Saltzman (incoming MNC chair) are members of committee. We will be continuing to build on the suggestions from that meeting over the next several months.We are also going to be carving out and highlighting certain areas of our portfolio of educational materials for members.
Interviewer: In your opinion, what are the biggest challenges facing nutrition researchers and clinicians? How is ASN working to help them address those challenges?
Dr. Donovan: The first is, of course, how do we fund our research in the current economic climate?In order to help our members continue their work at a time when federal funding is dwindling, ASN is providing opportunities for our younger members to improve their grantsmanship in order to help them to put together the most competitive applications possible.We also hope to help them look for alternative sources of funding.With that goal, we must consider how best to partner with industry more extensively in a way that can benefit our members without subjecting them to criticism for those interactions.
The other major challenge we face is to make sure we continually demonstrate the relevance of nutrition and help policymakers, healthcare providers, and the public understand that it can be a very powerful tool for the prevention of disease.Our members are at the forefront of the creation of nutrition knowledge.One of our goals now is to translate that knowledge.Right now, we are concentrating on materials for physicians or dieticians to distribute to their patients.In the future, we hope to get to a point where we can translate information so it can be disseminated directly to the public.
Interviewer: Is there anything else that you'd like members to know?
Dr. Donovan: Just that, if they have questions, comments or suggestions or if they would like to volunteer, they should feel free to contact me directly.