PhD at Columbia Summary!


I’ve received a lot of questions about my PhD in Behavioral Nutrition at Columbia – here’s a little more about it for those of you who are interested!

Many people who go into dietetics are interested in MNT or “medical nutrition therapy”, i.e. helping individuals in a hospital who are sick with a certain disease, such as kidney failure or congestive heart failure.

But I was always interested in mass change – and changing what I felt mattered the most to our nation’s health. Particularly, this focused on decreasing our obesity rate (currently 2/3 of Americans are overweight or obese). Obesity is the leading cause of most of our chronic diseases – heart disease, some forms of cancer, etc.

In order to evoke mass change, I wanted to understand systematic ways to change people’s behavior on the large scale. This drive led me to pursue my next degree in applied nutrition research – to better understand how to develop and evaluate evidence-based programs for changing behavior.

At Columbia, I studied Behavioral Nutrition, which is a mixture of psychology and nutrition. We aim to better understand how to educate different groups of individuals in systematic ways – to help them improve their diet and physical activity habits for the long term. My advisor was Isobel Contento, and I also worked closely with Pam Koch.

Our projects used a variety of methods for changing behavior. I led projects on implementing worksite wellness programs at the University level, poster campaigns aiming to improve water fountain usage, and classroom implemented programs in New York City public elementary and pre-schools.

For most of my time at Columbia, I worked at the Mailman School of Public Health with Heather Greenlee, who is now at Fred Hutchinson Cancer Center in Seattle. We also worked on a variety of educational programs, but her focus is on cancer patients and survivors. These programs combined online and classroom based education. Her NIH-funded grant, which is what I worked on for my dissertation, is a randomized controlled trial with Latina breast cancer survivors. The study is ongoing. I took a small part of the study for my schoolwork. For those of you interested, you can read my dissertation here.


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    Tips for Becoming a Registered Dietitian

    Hi guys! I get a lot of questions on becoming a dietitian. I did my Bachelor of Science in Nutrition and Master of Science in Public Health Nutrition at Case Western Reserve University in Cleveland, Ohio. Here are some of my top tips and resources!

    What is the difference between a Registered Dietitian and a nutritionist?

    Great question. In sum, a Registered Dietitian (also called Registered Dietitian Nutritionist) has gone through extensive training at a university levels, has completed a supervised Dietetic Internship (DI), and has taken and passed a national exam. RDs must complete a number of continuing education each year. Nutritionist, on the other hand, is a general term that can apply to a number of individuals, with no specifications on their training and education.

    Where to Start?

    In order to become a dietitian, you must go through an accredited program. Not all universities and colleges offer an accredited program, so be sure to choose wisely. In addition to nutrition courses, a certain number of science courses are also required.

    Here’s a great article on what is required:

    Top tips

    I highly recommend a number of things to do in your RD training, before and during your Dietetic Internship (DI):

    1.    Talk to as many people in the field as possible. You’ll not only make connections (which can help down the line when you’re looking for jobs), but you’ll be able to see the wide world of nutrition and what job opportunities are available. You have the benefit of being a student here – reach out to different professionals on social media and on LinkedIn and ask for an informational interview.

    2.    Intern & work. Get a variety of actual experiences in a number of food & health-related industries – volunteer at a hospital, work at a restaurant, intern for a public-health agency, etc. The more different experiences you have, the better prepared you will be. In undergrad, I worked as a research intern at Cleveland’s Prevention Research Center, volunteered in University Hospital’s foodservice center, interned at Children’s Hospital of Philadelphia’s Healthy Weight Program, interned at Cleveland’s Department of Public Health (which led me to a TV role as a nutritionist on their weight loss program for government employees), and worked at a smoothie restaurant on Case’s campus.

    3.    Get involved. Serve on your school’s nutrition or cooking club’s leadership team, get involved in your state or city’s dietetic association, or get involved in other related leadership organizations in your area. In undergrad, I was the president of the Student Dietetic Association.

    4.    Get to know your professors. Your professors will ultimately be writing you letters of recommendation. Make sure they know you as a person, outside of your grades alone. Book some of their office hours and ask them about their recommendations for getting ahead in the field of nutrition, and keep them informed of your progress at school.


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