Many of you will have recently graduated or are entering the final year of degree studies and so that awkward question of what comes next may be uppermost in your mind. It’s a tricky time, making that transition from undergraduate study to the next stage of life and it isn’t uncommon for students to question what they have studied and have second thoughts about their future career path. Back in the mists of time when I finished my degree I had no idea what I wanted to do, but was pretty sure that I didn't want to do any more studying or be anywhere near a university. Now 2 more degrees later I am firmly wedded to the academic life and to be honest still don't really understand how I got here.
So if you’re finishing a degree in dietetics or nutritional sciences, what are your options?
You may have started your university course with a particular career in mind. For those of you studying dietetics this will have undoubtedly have been clinical practice working in the NHS in a variety of settings. However three or four years down the line, your dreams may have changed, become more ambitious or even evaporated. The good news is that a background in nutrition is more relevant than it has ever been and the opportunities available in the food industry, public health and research are wide and varied. The Nutrition Society have produced some really useful careers-related materials that you may find useful https://www.nutritionsociety.org/membership/students/careers-support, including interviews with people at different levels of their careers and dietitians who have changed direction.
Further study isn’t something that I would enter into lightly. Postgraduate courses are expensive and tough going and so real commitment is necessary to make it a worthwhile experience. In the area of nutrition there are many opportunities available to study to Masters level. For somebody who already has a nutrition or dietetic background these will generally provide greater depth in specific areas of nutrition such as clinical nutrition, animal nutrition, public health nutrition or advanced dietetic practice. The latter is especially useful for registered dietitians who want to enhance their knowledge and skills, often studying part-time alongside clinical practice. A Masters can be a great way to stand out from the crowd and distinguish yourself from rivals in the job market who have BSc degrees.
If your ambition is to go on to a research career then a Masters of some sort may not be the way to go unless your first degree is not at 2:1 level or better. With a good degree direct entry to PhD programmes will be possible. However, if you are tempted by a PhD but unsure whether it really is for you, then you might want to consider a Masters of Research degree. These are generally one year courses in which there is little or no taught element and the time is spent on a major research project. This gives good training and experience in the whole process of data collection, lab or fieldwork, data analysis and writing and can help make that decision about whether research is your thing.
There are many good reasons to do a PhD. If you love research (maybe your final year project at undergraduate level was a great experience and you caught the research bug) and like the idea of contributing brand new, advanced knowledge to society then this is the way forward. A PhD gives you the opportunity to become THE world expert on your area of study and at the same time develop great transferable skills in communication, IT, time-management and self-organization. Many PhD opportunities are now offered as part of a Doctoral Training Package which includes specific training in these sorts of skills and gives you a lot more choice over what specific project you will take on. If you want to work in research either in an academic setting (which brings with it amazing freedom to think and try out new ideas) or in industry, then a PhD is essential if you want to climb the career ladder.
Doing a PhD can be tough. Doctorates don't come easily and it can sometimes be a lonely time of hard work and extreme stress, but with the right project, the right supervisors and the right colleagues, you can also have a lot of fun and emerge from the process happy, fulfilled and able to have the title Dr printed on your credit cards!