Young nutrition professionals are entering the field at a time when public interest is reaching new heights, even as public funding remains uncertain. In this landscape, full of both promise and problems, it is important that professional organizations reach out to young investigators and clinicians. At the American Society for Nutrition (ASN), much of that outreach is coordinated by the Young Professional Interest Group (YPIG), led by chair Eric Ciappio, PhD, RD. A scientific leader at DSM Nutritional Products in New Jersey, Dr. Ciappio is an active member of ASN dedicated to helping his fellow young professionals advance their careers and get more involved in the organization. In this interview, he discusses his role as YPIG chair, some of the group's upcoming activities, and his experience with ASN.
Interviewer: Can you tell us a bit about your role as chair of the Young Professional Interest Group?
Dr. Ciappio: As the YPIG chair, my primary responsibility is to represent the interests of young nutrition scientists and clinicians to the ASN leadership and to provide career development programs for our members, particularly at the annual ASN meeting. For example, at Experimental Biology (EB) this year we held a great young professional networking event, career development symposium (“Successful Scientist: What's the Winning Formula?”), and the annual Postdoctoral Research Award Competition, supported by DuPont Nutrition and Health. We also co-sponsored a speed mentoring event with the Student Interest Group. Furthermore, we are currently trying to work with ASN to help continue career resources for young professionals as ASN prepares to launch its first annual meeting independent of EB in 2018.
Another goal as chair is to expand YPIG's development of educational materials for young professionals that focus on career development and the transition from graduate student to entry-level positions and junior faculty posts. YPIG develops material such as our quarterly newsletter and a recent publication in ASN's review journal Advances in Nutrition. That article included advice presented during the EB 2013 career development symposium, “Navigating the Current Job Market—Grab Hold of Your Future Now!” We plan to publish a similar article about the symposium held at the 2014 meeting and we also are trying to develop a webinar on laboratory methods targeted for young professionals.
Interviewer: Why is the YPIG so important to the organization? What would you tell individuals interested in getting more involved in the group?
Dr. Ciappio: YPIG is so important to ASN because it helps to prepare the next generation of ASN leaders. Supporting young members in ASN is absolutely essential for keeping ASN strong in the years to come!
Young professionals constantly hear that the most important thing to advance one's career is to network. Being involved in YPIG is a great way to connect with so many people, including the organization's more senior leadership and even members of the Board of Directors. The annual meeting can be very intimidating for young members, and YPIG offers them the chance to have conversations with people they may not otherwise have the opportunity to approach. I would also love to encourage more senior ASN members to be involved with YPIG activities in a mentorship role, because it offers them the chance to meet bright and talented young professional members who might be future collaborators or candidates for jobs. We need the support of those bridge builders who help young members jump over career hurdles.
Interviewer: How did you initially get involved with ASN and with the YPIG in particular? How has ASN been helpful to you professionally?
Dr. Ciappio: I initially got involved with ASN during my time as a graduate student at Tufts University. Tufts has been, and still is, very active within ASN. Case in point, current ASN President Dr. Simin Meydani is a member of the Tufts faculty. After graduate school, I continued to be involved with ASN, which has been so gratifying for me. It has given me the chance to meet so many new people in the field and a way to keep in touch with old colleagues. I joined YPIG both because I saw it as a chance to advance my career and to give back to the organization that has helped me so much, and to give others similar opportunities.
Interviewer: What are the biggest challenges facing young professionals? How does YPIG help them meet those challenges?
Dr. Ciappio: The job market out there is not an easy place to be right now. We are in an era with reduced federal funding that can make it more difficult for young professionals to enter traditional academic settings, and there is a lot of confusion about some of the other options like industry, government, etc. ASN and YPIG in particular, help prepare young professionals for that difficult landscape by giving them tools to help them make sense of it, like the educational programs at the ASN annual meeting. YPIG also gives young professionals the chance to network and meet new people, which is the probably the most important step anyone can take to help their career!