Written by Jessica Bayes, UTS Doctor of Philosophy (Public Health) student
I originally trained as a massage and skin therapist after finishing Year 12, and loved being able to make people feel good about themselves. However, I had to reconsider my career after sustaining some injuries.
Food and health had always been a passion of mine, so I decided to enrol full time in a Bachelor of Health Science (Nutritional and Dietetic Medicine) – and from day one, I was in love!
I was shocked at how much I enjoyed it. I had never really thought of myself as particularly smart and, like a lot of people, didn’t really enjoy school. But I was finally in a supportive environment surrounded by like-minded people learning about something I was really passionate about.
I decided I didn’t want to stop there. I originally considered various Masters degrees, but decided to enrol in the Honours program. The Honours year was incredibly intense – but it was the best decision I’ve ever made!
It was such a huge learning curve. I learned so much about research skills and methodology, but also so many important life skills such as how to effectively communicate and present my research, project management and handling constructive criticism.
Doing a PhD was a natural extension of this. Being in the health field – we obviously want to help as many people as we can. Although I love working in private practice as a Clinical Nutritionist, research is a way we can have an even greater impact and help a much wider audience. I actually love combining the two!
I think working in research makes me a better clinician – I know how to keep abreast of the latest research and determine its quality. But I also think that being a clinician makes me a better researcher too. I’m able to really listen to the patients and hear what they want and need – which really helps when designing research projects and patient-centred approaches.
I was also so lucky to have the most incredible supervisor for my Honours year. She was, and still is, a huge source of inspiration for me. Having that supportive network of mentors and fellow students helped me to build confidence in myself. I was determined to follow this path but also wanted to investigate a project close to my heart, that would have impact and could potentially help many people.
My research is in the field of nutritional psychiatry which looks at the effect of food and diet on mental health. The majority of the research done in this area has been observational with only a small handful of intervention studies so far.
I wanted to look at the effect of the Mediterranean diet on the symptoms of depression. I chose to investigate this topic in a demographic which is hugely underrepresented in the current literature – young men aged 18-25. We know that the majority of metal illnesses occur before the age of 25 and we also know that only 13% of young men seek help for their mental illness. Research also shows that men tend to have poorer diets compared to women. My PhD will hopefully shine a light on how diet and nutritional education can help young men with depression.
As I’m based in Melbourne, I approached a few academics in Melbourne about doing a PhD, but without much success. However, my Honours supervisor had connections here at UTS and put me in touch with my current supervisor, Professor David Sibbritt.
Plus, the Australian Research Centre in Complementary and Integrative Medicine (ARCCIM) really appealed to me. I didn’t even realise I could do a PhD long distance and the more I read about the centre and university, the more I had my heart set on it! It aligns so perfectly with my research interests and by working with experts in the integrative medicine field, it can open up so many doors for future projects and collaboration.
I’m in my second year now and there have already been some pretty rewarding moments. Getting my literature review published and being awarded a research grant were definitely both very special moments. But I also really enjoyed analysing the data from my first survey – being the first to discover something new, interpreting that data and then sharing it with the world… now that’s pretty rewarding! I also love traveling up to Sydney to attend workshops and talk all things research with other students. That’s sometimes where you get the best ideas!
But I think the thing that makes this whole journey so rewarding is knowing that it’s going to help people. That’s what drives me forward every day.
My end goal is to help people. Yes, publishing in peer reviewed academic journals and presenting at conferences is a big part of that, but it’s really important to me that this research reaches the young men I’m aiming to help.
So, writing articles aimed at this demographic and pitching to news outlets and online forums, where this demographic can easily find it, is a key part of my plan. I’m sure that this project will also raise a number of other research questions and new avenues to explore and I hope to continue working and researching in this field once I graduate.