The COVID-19 coronavirus has shaken our world to its core. The transitions came suddenly as individuals had to uproot from their traditional learning and working environments, and move towards digital platforms. And although parts of Canada and the world are starting to loosen restrictions and re-open businesses, this new sense of normalcy may feel very different to how things once were.
Since starting my Instagram page in late January 2020, I’ve been sent dozens of direct messages asking me about my experience in Ryerson’s MHSc Nutrition Communication program and the steps I took to get into the program. But in the months following the start of the pandemic, I began to see a different theme of messages with students expressing their concerns over gaining valuable experiences during a pandemic and creating a resume that will stand out during the internship application process.
Now, I completed my undergraduate degree in 2018 - where things looked a lot different than they look now. I understand that because of COVID-19 coronavirus traditional undergraduate nutrition experiences have evolved. With that being said, I want to highlight some areas (that you may already be doing) that have the potential to be valuable nutrition experiences.
Online Webinars, Courses, Conferences, Mentorship Programs, and Facebook Groups
Take the opportunity to explore areas of nutrition that you have a keen interest in. If there is anything that I have learned from my university experience is that you have the power to take ownership of your education. The learning doesn’t stop in the classroom - in fact, it may only brush the surface of certain topics! Taking the time to learn something outside the classroom in the form of a webinar, online course or through a conference shows initiative and paints a picture of what your passions are in dietetics.
Here are some examples:
Dietitians of Canada Online Courses and Learning on Demand. With a student membership, you have free access to Learning on Demand (presentations from previous DC Conferences). You also can take online courses on topics like WHO Growth Chart, Pediatric Nutrition 101, Critical Care, Renal Nutrition 101, and more at a discounted price.
Canadian Nutrition Society. With a student membership, you have free access to webinars and presentations on emerging research topics in nutrition. In addition, Canadian Nutrition Society offers students the opportunity to participate in poster presentations and infographic competitions at their national conference, along with an annual mentorship program where you can be paired up with a like-minded researcher or nutrition professional.
Nestle Nutrition Institute. By simply signing up with the Nestle Nutrition Institute, you have access to many of their e-learning courses and presentations! As someone who has a passion for pediatric nutrition, I was thrilled to see the variety of pediatric nutrition content available. Beyond pediatric nutrition, there are also e-learnings on topics like malnutrition, critical care nutrition, enteral nutrition, and more!
Have an interest in diabetes care? Diabetes Canada offers free webinars delivered from health care professionals (like dietitians!) that dive into diabetes related topics.
There are tons of great Facebook groups and communities to be a part of and learn about special topics in dietetics, including eating disorders, unconventional dietetic jobs, writing jobs as a dietitian, Diversify Dietetics Canada, Dietitians in the Garden, and much more!
**I am mindful that online learning can be pricey. I have tried to include webinars, courses, and conferences that were free, at a discounted price, or ones that I found valuable (aka worth the price)!
Reach out to a private practice dietitian
During these times, many private practice dietitians are looking for ways to build up their online platform and continue to provide services that meet their clients’ needs...and more importantly, they are probably in need of help! I know that reaching out to a dietitian as a student may seem like a daunting task, but the worst thing that can happen is that they say no.
When inquiring about volunteering with a private practice dietitian make sure you highlight:
Why you would like to volunteer with them (e.g., Does their practice align with your interest? Are they doing some really interesting work that you would love to be a part of?), and
What skills you can offer (e.g., are you a great writer and have had experience blog writing? Do you have a passion for building resources? Are you a social media guru?).
Be specific in your email about your skill set and fire off your resume and examples of your previous work as proof.
Similarly, if you are already volunteering with a dietitian, don’t be afraid to pitch ideas that may add value to their work - whether that be developing a blog post on a trending topic, creating a new resource for their practice, or reviewing and updating presentations for them. Pitching ideas shows initiative and that you value being a supportive team member for their practice.
Start a Blog or Dive into the Social Media World
Don’t be afraid to put yourself out there!
Throughout my undergrad, I wrote many, many blog posts through organizations like the Bariatric Centre of Excellence, the Canadian Association of Foodservice Professionals, and through my private practice dietitian mentor. Although I sometimes look back at my first few blog posts mortified, it was my starting point, and I got so much out of it! Being able to write blog posts allowed me to explore and learn more about areas in dietetics that I was passionate about, and practice my writing and editing skills outside the classroom, (which also made me a better writer IN the classroom).
My biggest regret is that I didn’t start my own blog or social media account earlier.
Having a blog or social media account is a living and breathing portfolio of your work. It can highlight your research skills and your ability to critically appraise and analyze nutrition information. It can also demonstrate your communication and knowledge translation skills - that is, your ability to take complex nutrition research and put it into a document that is understandable and applicable to your target audience.
With businesses and organizations slowly starting to open up across Canada, the need for students has become rampant. Use key search words like food, nutrition, health, research, and health promotion, to help you scan jobs that you may be interested in applying to!
But don’t be hesitant to apply to jobs that may not fit the “nutrition bill”. You never know what these opportunities will turn into!
After finishing my third year, I started my summer job as an administrative assistant at my local public health unit. I went into that role with no expectation that I would be using my nutrition background, but was pleasantly surprised on my first day that the department had lined up projects for me to work directly with the nutrition team! I learned so much that summer from the dietitians, and I was even more thrilled to be offered a summer student role again with the nutrition team the following year. To this day, I consider the three dietitians (and our “honorary dietitian” nurse) invaluable to my undergraduate experience, and some of the best mentors I’ve crossed paths with.
Finding opportunities to build your resume and dietetic internship application can be an overwhelming experience! Remember to be gentle with yourself and that all experiences are valuable and make your resume unique.