American Society For Nutrition

Interview with Dr. Stephanie Atkinson, ASN Spokesperson

Interview with Dr. Stephanie Atkinson, ASN Spokesperson

Excellence in Nutrition Research and Practice
ASN Spokesperson Dr. Stephanie Atkinson is passionate about what she does, but she serves in several other roles for the organization as well.  In addition to her duties as a spokesperson, Dr. Atkinson is the chair of ASN's Development Committee.  She also serves on the Strategic Operations Committee and on the Publication Management Committee.  

Dr. Atkinson's dedication to ASN should come as no surprise to anyone who knows her history with the organization.  She served as ASN's first president following the merger between the American Society of Clinical Nutrition and the American Society for Nutrition Sciences, after being a member of both organizations since the early 1980s.

The commitment that Dr. Atkinson shows ASN is also evident in her work as a professor and an Associate Chair of Research at Canada's prestigious McMaster University.  Her current research focuses on the concept that nutritional exposures during fetal, neonatal and early childhood life program metabolic regulation that can alter growth and development and also the risk of adult-onset diseases.  Dr. Atkinson recently took time away from her many commitments to speak with us about her experience with ASN as well as what we might expect from the newly formed ASN Research Foundation.


Interviewer: What first drew you to the field of nutrition? Is there an experience that stands out as the moment you “knew” this was the path you wanted to pursue?

Dr. Atkinson: I began my career as a dietician, working in a large children's hospital.  As a member of the pediatric renal-dialysis medical team I was exposed to research being conducted by the physicians in this field. This exposure ignited my interest in medical research, and influenced me to learn more about doing research related to nutrition. Thus, it was the clinician-scientists at the Hospital for Sick Children in Toronto whom I credit for inspiring me to pursue graduate training in research. Subsequently, I returned to do a Master's, completed a PhD, postdoctoral training in pediatric endocrinology, and I've been a researcher ever since!

Interviewer: When, during that time, did you decide to become a member of ASN?

Dr. Atkinson: I became a student member because my advisor in graduate school was very involved in what was, at the time, two separate organizations- the American Society for Nutritional Sciences (ASNS) and the American Society for Clinical Nutrition (ASCN).  As my own research was focused on pediatric clinical research, I became more involved in ASCN because their mandate was more relevant to my research area.
 
Interviewer: What part of ASN membership do you find most valuable professionally?

Dr. Atkinson: It's so hard to pick just one! First of all, ASN's Scientific Sessions and Annual Meeting at Experimental Biology is, for me, the scientific nutrition meeting to go to.  I don't think I've ever missed one.  The focus on advancement in science is pre-eminent, and it's a wonderful forum to take graduate students to “cut their teeth” in the big nutrition research world.  ASN has also always had graduate student competitions that allow opportunities to present their research and to win some very prestigious awards.  Exposure of graduate trainees to ASN meetings serves to foster careers in research for young people in training.

More recently, ASN has expanded opportunities for educational resources online, through workshops, and through our publications.  These resources are extremely valuable for academic professors and clinicians involved in teaching whether in the classroom or to clinicians at the bedside, as well as being a fountain of current science information for students. 

Another reward of being an ASN member is the networking opportunities on an international level.  I'm Canadian, but it's not just the Canadians and Americans that the society is bringing together.  Many nutrition scientists come from Europe, from Scandinavia, from the U.K., and from around the world to attend meetings. Such exposure fosters collaborations and professional interactions at the international level.

Interviewer: What achievements from your time as ASN president are you most proud of?

Dr. Atkinson: This question requires the context that I was the first president after the two societies (ASCN and ASNS) officially merged to become the American Society of Nutrition (ASN) as we know it today. With the amalgamation of two groups who have been working in different ways there are challenges, as you might imagine.  One of the specific achievements that I am very proud of was hiring John Courtney.  John has proved to be an outstanding executive officer who was extremely capable of integrating the best of the two former societies into the new enterprise of ASN.  Together with the ASN Board we were able to work through the challenges facing us, and take the first steps towards ASN's current success- expanding and improving our Web offerings, developing new education platforms, and offering new research opportunities.  In addition, we worked to enhance the role of the sustaining members associated with ASN. The integration of industry and academic scientists through a professional society has many rewards – and we have good evidence of such success within ASN.

Interviewer: Tell us a bit about your position as ASN's Development Committee chair and the new ASN Research Foundation.  What are goals is the foundation currently working towards?

Dr. Atkinson: This is an area that has to move somewhat slowly.  The research foundation is ultimately working towards an endowment that can provide substantive funding, whether for startup grants, international professorships, bridge grants, or other community outreach.  The endowment can only be realized through private donations. Such donations from our members have significantly increased over the last few years, but it takes a lot of money to build a sustainable endowment. We are currently trying to work on ways to approach people, to let them know that this is a new opportunity by which they can make a difference to nutrition science. We're interested in hearing from members about ways we can begin to grow seed money for the endowment and how to develop opportunities that would be attractive to donors.

Interviewer: Is there anything else about your experience with ASN that you'd like to share with the membership?

Dr. Atkinson: I want to convey the importance of taking an active role in ASN.  While there is considerable personal commitment to be president or past-president, the rewards are many.  The opportunities and professional connections I discovered are ones that I will cherish for a lifetime, so much so that I have stayed involved in ASN.  So my final message to members is to consider making the time to take on one of the many volunteer roles ASN has to offer whether as a committee member, RIS chair or a leadership position.  The society needs strong volunteers and leaders, and the rewards will most certainly outweigh the effort expended – I promise!!

For more information about the ASN Research Foundation and opportunities available for members to support these important efforts, visit http://www.nutrition.org/contribute/ or email contribute@nutrition.org.
 
April 2011