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American Society For Nutrition

Interview with Dr. Simin N. Meydani, 2014-15 President

Interview with Dr. Simin N. Meydani, 2014-15 President

Excellence in Nutrition Research and Practice
A Conversation with ASN President Simin Nikbin Meydani, DVM, PhD

The American Society for Nutrition (ASN) is excited to introduce our new President, Simin Nikbin Meydani DVM, PhD.  As director of the Jean Mayer USDA Human Nutrition Research Center on Aging at Tufts University, Dr. Meydani is a respected leader in the field. A long-time member, she has also served as ASN's Vice President and Vice-President Elect, as well as in a wide variety of other important roles. In this interview, Dr. Meydani discusses her goals for her presidency and her views on the future of the field. 

Interviewer: What are your goals for your presidency? Are there any specific initiatives planned that you are looking forward to?

Dr. Meydani: There are three areas of ASN's strategic plan that I will focus on.  The first is our efforts to expand international partnerships to new regions, such as the Middle East and South and Central America, where we have budding relationships.  I also want to continue to strengthen those relationships that we have previously launched, such as in China, Korea, Brazil, and Africa. The second area I will focus on is professional development. While we will continue to offer strong professional development programs for our graduate and post-graduate members, I want to grow similar programs for our members who are more advanced in their careers. I think that providing programs for our mid-level and senior members has become increasingly important in recent years as their jobs continue to be more complicated and they are required to fulfill roles for which they have not been formally trained. For example, I think there is a lot we can do to help them prepare to be effective leaders in their departments, as well as effective spokespersons for nutrition as a discipline. The final area I want to focus on is diversifying our membership in terms of professional affiliation, gender, country of origin, and economic status.

Additionally, as we move forward with our plan to hold ASN's first annual meeting independent of Experimental Biology in 2018, I want to ensure that members are kept well informed and are offered ample opportunity to provide input in the process of preparing for the start of that initiative.

Interviewer: What do you see as the most important roles ASN presidents play in guiding the organization? How does the system of future/current/past presidents help that process?

Dr. Meydani: ASN's legacy-building process is special in that we serve one year as Vice-President Elect and one year as Vice President prior to our term as President, and then serve as Past President in the year after that term. This gives us time to orient ourselves to the job and to receive guidance from our predecessors. As Vice President and Vice-President Elect, I gained a better understanding of what issues are most important to our membership and to observe the current President and Past President in their work. Overall, it has been a wonderful learning experience for me that I am sure will serve me well in the year to come. 

Interviewer: What would you say to encourage ASN members looking to take on leadership roles? What advice would you give them as they do so?

Dr. Meydani: I would tell them that ASN is a very welcoming organization for people interested in getting more involved. The key for anyone who really wants to get involved is to find what you are passionate about and volunteer in that area.  One excellent place to start is with the Research Interest Sections. I also encourage them to express their opinions whenever they have the opportunity to do so: in business meetings, committees, and wherever they are volunteering.

Interviewer: Where do you see the future of the nutrition field going in the next five to 10 years? What are the ongoing obstacles or advances that you think will have the biggest impact? What do you expect ASN will do to take advantage of the advances/meet those challenges?

Dr. Meydani: With the growing number of older adults worldwide, the biggest trend in the field in the next several years will be a continued push toward prevention of obesity and chronic and infectious diseases as a way to control skyrocketing health care costs.  In fact, I think the economic viability of many countries will depend on our ability to help populations age in good health, rather than burdened by chronic diseases and accelerated loss of physical and mental function. Nutrition, from fetal life onward, will play a key role in determining the trajectory of how we age.  Our role as a society and as members of the nutrition field is to make sure, through our research and through our outreach, that health care professionals and policy makers appreciate the importance of nutrition in disease prevention. 

Our biggest obstacle, meanwhile, is a lack of understanding and awareness about nutrition issues.  While health care professionals get an introduction to nutrition in medical school, their training in nutrition is minimal. And the general public, while they are exposed to a lot of nutrition information, they are often confused about the information they're receiving and how to act on it. ASN is well positioned to help alleviate that confusion by producing and disseminating the highest quality nutrition research and making recommendations on how to implement those findings in practical interventions.

Interviewer: How did you first discover ASN and what about membership has been most useful to you in your professional career?

Dr. Meydani: I discovered ASN as a graduate student, and the Annual Scientific Sessions in Chicago was the first meeting I ever attended. I submitted an abstract and was selected to present, making it my first-ever professional presentation.  I cannot tell you how valuable that experience was to me.  At the time, I was terrified to speak in front of an audience of professionals in the field. But once I got over that, it was such a wonderful experience.  It helped build my confidence for future presentations and in terms of my ability to communicate my research.  My husband (Mohsen) and I have also enjoyed many of the social activities that ASN has to offer.  It was wonderful to be able to socialize, not just with professors and classmates, but with people whose work I have read and admired.

To hear more about Dr. Meydani's presidency, watch this video.

June 2014