By Vicky Santoso
In February 2012, Karin Lapping was promoted to Senior Nutrition Director at Save the Children (SC). She has 14 years of experience in international nutrition including, nutrition program assistant in Pakistan, global coordinator for Positive Deviance informed programs, nutritionist on emergency response teams in Ethiopia and Darfur, and Viet Nam Country Coordinator for the Mainstreaming Nutrition Initiative and Asia Area Nutrition Advisor for Save the Children. Karin holds an MPH from Emory University in infectious disease and will receive her PhD in Food Policy and Applied Nutrition from the Friedman School later this year. I had the opportunity to speak to Karin on March 12th, 2012.
What inspired you to work in the field of international nutrition?
It came from my work in Public Health. I was an Anthropology and Religious Study major while in undergraduate school and was given the chance to study Buddhism in Nepal. During my time there, I realized what an important issue public health was and that experience led me to pursue an MPH at Emory University. While at Emory, I learned more about infectious disease and nutrition building on some of my prior field experience was in nutrition. About a year after I graduated from Emory, I decided to pursue a doctoral degree program and that’s what brought me to Tufts.
What inspired you to choose the Food Policy and Applied Nutrition program at Friedman?
The FPAN program at Friedman was unique. There are not many programs with of the depth on policy, biological and program side to nutrition as the one at the Friedman School.
How do you think your time at Friedman prepared you for work in the international nutrition field? How did it complement your MPH from Emory?
In terms of coursework, my MPH from Emory was in infectious disease with a focus on nutrition which I found to be helpful in my work at the Friedman School. But for me, the value of getting a PhD is not as much from the coursework, but more from the time I worked with my committee for my doctoral dissertation. Having the experience articulating and proposing an idea to then analyzing the data and writing about what I was studying was a valuable experience. I also really value the relationships I built at Friedman.
Would you say a PhD is necessary to have a good position in International Nutrition?
No, I actually don’t think that you necessarily need a PhD to be doing nutrition work or for technical assistance. I think for some positions you do need a PhD but there are many people who don’t have one and have a successful career in nutrition. While I think my PhD program is terrific, I really don’t think that it’s a necessity, and a master’s degree will put you into a good place, as well.
What classes are the most important in your opinion?I think taking as many hard skills classes as possible, such as statistics and epidemiology, is very important. There are not many people who can really incorporate that into their work. And even if you hire a statistician, knowing statistics will help you to understand. Also, try to also look outside Friedman for classes. In my case, I really enjoyed the classes I took when I cross-registered at the Fletcher School.
What are your favorite memories from your time as a Friedman student?
My best memories from Friedman are in a variety of different settings. When I was there, Friedman was in Medford and I really enjoyed the setting. However, what I value the most from Friedman are the friendships that I made with other students and with faculty. The international nutrition community is small and you make a lot of good friends at Friedman.
As the Senior Director in Nutrition, what is your job like?
I am in charge of the ensuring the quality of nutrition programming in Save the Children. So, I help to ensure that our nutrition programs in different countries, such as Nepal, fit with Save the Children’s strategic plan. I love working collaboratively with different partners (country staff, government staff, etc) to bring change to country nutrition programs. I also do a lot of technical support for our program overseas. I manage a team of nutritionists which is a big part of my job as is policy and advocacy work.
Do you have any future plans? Where do you see yourself in 5 years?
I have been at Save the Children for over a decade because I think it is a tremendous organization. There are a lot of opportunities here. I just started in my current position so hopefully in 5 years I will be a successful Nutrition Director meaning that we will have a lot of successful programs that have impacted women and children in developing countries and have seen real improvements in nutrition. After that, I think I would like to retire early after that and you’ll find me on a beach in a secluded spot.
Why retire early?
That was a joke! It’s just that we have to be careful in international nutrition or any development work because there is a very high level of burn out with the pace, the stress, and the travel. We have to keep trying to remember why we are doing what we are doing. This is also an important thing for any student to consider because they are going to a line of work with a very demanding career path.
What do you think is in store for the field of international nutrition in general?
It is a very exciting time to be in the international nutrition field. Donors are realizing the importance of improving nutrition in development efforts and currently want to contribute to those efforts. I think it is very important for the international nutrition community to be competent in seizing this window of opportunity and really deliver.
Any final advice for current Friedman students?
Be aggressive and pursue any opportunity, anything and everything that sounds interesting and try to utilize the Friedman community. It’s a small community, but I am always astonished by how many Friedman graduates are all over the place. Friedman has a very strong alumni network and being a Friedman graduate puts you in a unique position in the nutrition world. I would definitely advise students to take advantage of the networking opportunities the Friedman community provides.
*This interview has been edited and condensed
*Photo source: Karin Lapping
Vicky Santoso is a first year FPAN student looking to improve the nutrition status of children everywhere. Youtube videos and a bowl of ice cream are two of her favorite things. Sometimes, she doesn’t understand sarcasm.