by Katie Mark
The Friedman School of Nutrition Science and Policy at Tufts University is one-of-a-kind. Friedman is the only graduate school entirely devoted to nutrition in the United States. The school unites biomedical, social, political and behavioral scientists to provide a comprehensive approach to all things nutrition: education, research and community service. The collaboration of internationally renowned faculty and graduate students solidifies Tufts as a leading institution in the mission to improve the nutrition status of the United States and the world.
So who would say “no” to an acceptance letter from Tufts?
Upon receiving my acceptance letter to the Nutrition Communication (NutCom) master’s program, I was ecstatic. It only took one step into the Jaharis building during Open House to know – Tufts is where I want and need to be to continue my studies in nutrition so I can reach my career goals.
Below are my 5 reasons as to why Tufts is the right – and the best – choice for graduate studies in nutrition:
A Nutrition Communication Degree Is Unique
The MS in Nutrition Communication (now changed to Nutrition Interventions, Communication and Behavior Change) grabbed my attention while investigating graduate programs in nutrition. Tufts’ NutCom degree is unique. It’s not offered elsewhere, and it addresses the major communication challenges for nutrition throughout media. Magazines, television and the Internet are the top sources for nutrition information. But because everyone eats, everyone also believes they’re a “nutrition expert,” which leads to the proliferation of misleading nutrition “facts.”
Nutrition science is complicated and constantly evolving. The NutCom program bridges the gap between the nutrition scientist and nutrition communicator. We graduate with the training that enables us to translate science in accurate and practical ways. It is our service to help the public better understand nutrition for optimal health.
Additionally, simply educating the public about nutrition is not enough. Creating behavior change is equally as important. The NutCom curriculum accounts for this and subsequently prepares us with the skills needed to help people change their behavior to make more healthful choices (i.e., the Theories of Behavior Change course).
Key Point: Nutrition Communication is a critical degree for nutrition scientists to become effective nutrition communicators, which will help reduce the challenges of conveying accurate nutrition information to the public.
My Recommendation: Explore all of the graduate programs – especially the curriculum – and choose one you believe will enhance your career the most.
The Faculty Is Accomplished and Internationally Renowned
The unparalleled faculty is incredible. First and foremost, many of the most highly respected nutrition scientists conduct research at the USDA Human Nutrition Research Center on Aging (HNRCA) at Tufts and teach courses at Friedman, so students get plenty of one-on-one time with professors.
Below are a few professors who stand out in my mind as I reflect on my Friedman courses.
Jeanne Goldberg, PhD, RD, was my advisor and professor for Communications Strategies in Nutrition and Health Promotion. Jeanne created the NutCom program, served as the principal investigator on the study that resulted in the selection of the USDA Food Guide Pyramid and served as the co-investigator of many research projects, including Shape Up Somerville, a CDC-funded obesity prevention program for elementary school children and their families.
My professors for Fundamentals of Nutrition Policy and Programing: How Science and Practice Interact were Eileen Kennedy, D.Sc., RD, and Patrick Webb, PhD.
- Served many senior roles in the Clinton administration. She founded and served as first Executive Director of the Center for Nutrition Policy and Planning at the U.S. Department of Agriculture
- Created the Healthy Eating Index – used as a single summary measure of diet quality
- Served as a member of the High Level Panel of Experts on Food Security and Nutrition of the UN Committee on World Food Security and the World Economic Forum’s Global Council on Food Security and Nutrition
- Worked for the United Nations’ World Food Programme as Chief of Nutrition until 2005
- Serves as Director for USAID’s Feed the Future Nutrition Innovation Lab (fieldwork ongoing in Nepal, Uganda, Malawi, Bangladesh, Egypt, and Cambodia)
- Leads the U.S. government’s Food Aid Quality Review
Alice Lichtenstein, D.Sc. (teaches Applied Nutritional Biochemistry)
- 310 peer-reviewed publications and is continually quoted in the press whenever nutrition science is debated.
- Vice-chair for the 2015 Dietary Guidelines Advisory Committee for the U.S. Department of Agriculture/U.S. Department of Health and Human Services.
As a student, I had the opportunity to work as a research assistant for Jennifer Sacheck, PhD, who is at the forefront of research on children’s physical activity levels. Before I decided to attend Tufts, I searched for professors whose research interests aligned with my interests (nutrition and physical activity). I reached out to Jen regarding a job and after meeting with her, I knew she would be a great mentor.
Jen’s research focuses on impact of diet and physical activity on health. Her research has highlighted the importance of reducing sugar-sweetened beverage consumption among children and adolescents, as it results in favorable outcomes on blood lipid levels. She also conducted a large clinical trial on vitamin D deficiency and its associated health risks in kids with the intent to identify a safe supplemental amount of vitamin D for youth. Currently, her Fueling Learning through Exercise (FLEX) study is examining the impact of physical activity on cognitive health and academic achievement in school districts across Massachusetts. Jen also co-authored a book on nutrition, fitness and health: Thinner This Year.
Working with Jen was an eye-opening, rewarding experience. She and I have similar nutrition interests – specifically sports nutrition. Whenever the opportunity arose, she would connect me with an opportunity or someone involved in sports nutrition.
I saw a whole different perspective of the academia world – even though my work was more managerial. I witnessed the demanding world of nutrition research and learned how to balance everything when you’re involved in so many great, important projects. I also learned how it’s okay to take a step back and reduce the amount on your plate as long as everything you’re doing is meaningful.
Unfortunately, Jen was unable to teach her Physical Activity, Nutrition and Health class (my favorite class) this semester, so I didn’t have her as a professor, but I know she has a reputation as an enthusiastic and amazing professor, and I wish I were lucky enough to experience that.
Jen introduced me to other nutrition professionals, such as her PhD advisee Nicole Schultz. Meeting Nicole led to a friendship outside of Friedman and, interestingly, to the boxing ring at The Club by George Foreman III. Now, Nicole may become my preceptor for my Applied Learning Experience for the Master in Public Health because I found my interests align with her work. So what does this all mean? Working with a professor led to making connections at Friedman that may not have occurred and led to larger opportunities.
Note: This only skimmed the surface of the accomplishments of these professionals at the national and global level of nutrition and the breadth of distinguished professors and researchers at Tufts nutrition.
Key Point: Students are exposed to highly accomplished, internationally and nationally renowned nutrition professionals. Learn about their experiences, which may develop your interests, by taking their classes or simply meeting with them to pick their brains.
My Recommendation: Explore the research profile of each faculty member and then reach out to those whose research align with your interests…and get involved! It’s a networking opportunity.
The Course Offerings are Eclectic
The NutCom curriculum offers 30 courses in nutrition, study design and analysis, and communications and behavior change. One of my favorite courses was Physical Activity, Nutrition and Health because it closely aligns with my career goal to become a registered dietitian working in sports nutrition. Exercise and nutrition go hand-in-hand, and this course taught us how exercise and nutrition interact and how to apply nutrition to exercise. As an athlete, the best part was the opportunity to complete a VO2Max test at the HNRCA.
The Principles of Epidemiology course was fascinating to learn how diseases spread, and it was taught by the entertaining Mark Woodin. The subsequent course, Design of Epidemiologic Studies for Nutrition Research, gave us the opportunity to design and write our own study. I was able to further learn about my interest in a very low carbohydrate ketogenic diet (VLCKD) and its effect on sport performance. It was an opportunity to take what I knew about the VLCKD and sport performance and design a study to answer a question that I desperately wanted to know and that the science world has not yet answered: what are the long-term effects of a very-low carbohydrate ketogenic diet on aerobic performance in female cyclists? This class heavily influenced me to consider a PhD in exercise physiology following Tufts…
Another valuable class was Communications Strategies in Health Promotion. We learned various communications strategies to promote health campaigns/interventions – critical skills needed for us to be effective in the community. We chose a health campaign, selected a client in the surrounding community, and designed a health communication initiative for the client. My group focused on reducing sugar-sweetened beverage consumption and increasing water consumption during the afterschool youth sports program at a local Chinatown school. This project taught me the importance of gaining a thorough understanding of a target population and how simply asking the target population questions can help develop an intervention that intends to cause behavior change.
As you can see, most of the courses require a semester-long project. The best part is you choose your project’s focus so there’s always an opportunity to work with your interests. Many of the courses assign group-based projects, which was critical because most nutrition work is collaborative, and everyone lends a different expertise in nutrition.
Key Point: All courses enhance each other to provide students with a well-rounded nutrition education.
My Recommendation: Take advantage of your education by adding an extra course each semester. It’ll be worth the workload.
The Flexibility Means No Limits on YOUR Education
It’s inevitable that your plans will change, and Tufts gladly accommodates your changes. After a few months at Tufts, you’ll learn about other graduate programs or other educational certification opportunities. Many students will begin in one program and switch to another because they realized their interests aligned better with another program.
Tufts is great about being flexible with student needs, and they will work with you to make sure you meet all your requirements. In some cases, you may have to add a semester to your studies, but there’s no better place to have to spend another semester. For example, after my first semester, I decided to add the Master of Public Health, so I had to apply to the School of Medicine. It was a straightforward process, and the Friedman administration was helpful in making sure I had everything set.
Tufts also offers students the opportunity to concurrently enroll at Simmons College to earn the Didactic Program in Dietetics Certificate – allowing students to pursue a dietetics career as a registered dietitian. Occasionally, coordinating the required courses at Tufts and Simmons can be challenging, but Simmons and Tufts work together to ensure the student is able to fulfill their needs. Many Tufts students take advantage of this opportunity, including myself, because the Master’s degree may not be enough depending on your career goals.
Do you want to take a class at the Harvard School of Public Health? You can do that. Tufts allows students to cross-register (one course each semester) at:
- Tufts – Arts, Sciences & Engineering
- Tufts – The Fletcher School of Law and Diplomacy
- Tufts – School of Medicine Public Health and Professional Degrees
- Tufts – Sackler School of Graduate Biomedical Sciences
- Boston College
- Boston University
- Brandeis University
- Harvard School of Public Health
Needless to say, cross-registering is an opportunity to maximize what you get out of your elective courses.
Ultimately, I pursued two master’s degrees and the dietetics certificate – all were manageable in five semesters. Was it stressful taking a full course load each semester, including summers? Of course. But in the end, the work and experience is worth it, especially when Tufts lets you shape the education you want.
Key Point: Tufts acknowledges the experience is the student’s education, and there are no limits on how you want to enhance your experience.
My Recommendation: Investigate other educational opportunities at Tufts and ask former and current students how they managed it all. Once you graduate from Tufts, it’s tough to return to school – so maximize your education now.
Students Are Your Colleagues and Best Friends With Different Nutrition & Food Interests
All Friedman students bring different backgrounds, perspectives from all parts of the country, and nutrition/food interests to the student body. Some students just graduated college and others are older with children. The collective academic interests of the students include:
- Agriculture, Food and the Environment
- Biochemical and Molecular Nutrition
- Food Policy & Applied Nutrition
- Nutrition Interventions, Communication and Behavior Change
- Nutritional Epidemiology
- Dietetics – both those in the dietetic internship program and those pursuing dietetics
Even though we all study different aspects of nutrition – and more students focus on nutrition/food policy – we all bring together different components in the nutrition/food field. Everyone lends an expertise, leading to a collaboration that further enhances each other’s understanding of our larger goal to improve the nutritional health and well-being of populations throughout the world.
Aside from academics, students get together outside the classroom. Some unite through the 13 Student Organizations and Activities. For example, I participated with other students in Jumbo’s Kitchen, a program that teaches nutrition to elementary students at a local school in Chinatown. Even though I didn’t participate in Student Council, the students involved do an incredible job serving as the liaison between the students and the faculty. They coordinate countless social and organizational events and ensure the student voice is represented at the administrative level. For example, Student Council organizes a ski trip every year for the students, which Friedman, kindly, partially funds.
The students mesh together so well that I wonder how the Tufts Admissions committee does such a great job at selecting students…
Most importantly, I found my best friends at Tufts. When I moved to Boston to attend Tufts, I did not know anyone. You could say #TeamNoFriends. My academic, work, and social experiences at Tufts were even better because some of my peers became my closest friends. My fondest memories will be of the times spent outside the classroom with the students who became my best friends, some of which included coffee-shop-work-dates.
Key Point: Friedman students are your colleagues who represent many different food and nutrition expertise. We all come together academically, professionally and socially. Better yet, some of your peers become your best friends.
My Recommendation: The students are not just your peers. Make friendships. And then prepare for the hardship when time comes to decide what to do following graduation. The friendships you develop may be the ultimate factor as to whether or not you move away from Boston.
Tufts University Friedman School of Nutrition Science and Policy Was The Best Decision I Made
My experience at Friedman is highlighted by a major theme: how the school exposed me to the greater nutrition field. The opportunity to learn from and network with the top nutrition professionals in academia was a rewarding experience. I am fortunate I received and seized the opportunity to earn my graduate degrees from Tufts. Working hard led to the acceptance at Tufts and working hard continued while at Tufts.
It was the best decision I’ve made. And I’d do it again.
Katie Mark is a second year MS/MPH student who will graduate in December 2016. Her experience at Tufts equipped her with the knowledge and skills and exposed her to the people that will help her pursue her career goal to become a registered dietitian working in sports nutrition with professional athletes.