Hi friends and readers! Today I am so excited to continue my latest blogging venture on Just a Pinch: The RD to Be Series.
In case you missed my first interview with aspiring Registered Dietitian Amanda Spoden, here is the gist of the series: I will be interviewing fellow dietetic students and/or career-changers to show you that FOLLOWING YOUR DREAMS IS POSSIBLE! The nutrition community is absolutely wonderful and filled with supportive, encouraging people who are all working to make the world a healthier place.
Today, I’m thrilled to introduce you to Shannon Hartley. Shannon just graduated from West Virginia University’s DPD (Didactic Program in Dietetics) program in May. She is headed to Colorado State University this summer to start a graduate program in the Food Science and Human Nutrition department. If you remember, CSU’s program was at the top of my list, and I can’t wait to live vicariously through Shannon! Shannon is also going to work as a teaching assistant while she is in school – a highly sought after position for many graduate students.
One thing I really like about Shannon’s story is that she listened to her heart when choosing her school. Curious for more details? Make sure to check out her interview below!
Tell us three unique things about you:
- I have a cat named Buster, and his favorite food is bananas.
- I love to run, but I struggle with it most days because I have poor feet. Bunions + fallen arches = unhappy feet.
- My nickname amongst some of my college friends is “mom”.
Your perfect Saturday looks like:
Brunch + something outdoors (hike/long bike ride/swimming) + drinks with my friends.
When did you decide you wanted to become a Registered Dietitian (RD)?
I’m going be completely honest here. During my first semester at West Virginia University (WVU), I was a biology major with every hope and dream of one day becoming a doctor. Soon, I found out that I did not enjoy biology classes or labs. I immediately switched to my back-up major, which was nutrition. It wasn’t until my sophomore year did I really know what an RD was or that it was what I wanted to be. I was honestly in the dark for a while, but the more I found out about the career, the more I wanted to be an RD.
What factors influenced your decision?
I have always loved to cook and loved to know exactly what is in the food I’m eating. Reading food labels is a blast for everyone, right?! Something else that I’ve always loved is the medical field. There is so much to learn and know about the human body, and it amazes me everyday how our body will reward us for treating it right and punish us for treating it poorly. So, nutrition is truly a perfect mix of something I am very passionate about and something that is of great interest to me.
Tell us more about your grad school plans and why you chose to go to CSU:
This fall I will be attending Colorado State University (CSU) to start graduate school in the Food Science and Human Nutrition program there. I have also taken a graduate teaching assistant position at CSU.
Being offered a teaching assistant position is what really pushed me to choose CSU. While CSU was always my first choice for graduate school, I was actually matched to another Masters of Science and Dietetic Internship program in Boston, MA. The program in Boston was one year shorter, and I was guaranteed to sit for RD exam when I finished.
For a couple of weeks, I was actually planning on attending the program in Boston before CSU called me with a teaching position. I was extremely torn at first because CSU is where I always imagined myself going, but I did not want to let down the program in Boston. Overall, I decided to do what I knew was best for me, and I am extremely happy to say that I’m moving to Colorado at the end of July!
Tell us more about your teaching assistantship:
My job as a teaching assistant is split into two parts. One is teaching a food science lab twice a week. This is pretty exciting for me because I’ve always wanted to try out teaching, but the only issue is most of my students will only be about two years younger than me! The other half of my job is to assist another professor with two of her classes, which will be more grading papers and helping to organize the class.
As far as securing the assistantship, there was a point this spring I was almost positive that I would not be getting an assistantship at CSU. This is because after inquiring a lot with the program director, I was told that I may or may not even get into the program. He told me that I qualified to be accepted into the program, but they had a lot of other great applicants (like Lauren!), which was making their decision hard. I definitely believe that being persistent about knowing the status of my application and talking with the program director helped my situation a lot. Also, I would highly suggest trying to volunteer as a teaching assistant as an undergrad student for credits or just experience. The more experience the better, right?
What was your greatest challenge you faced when applying to graduate schools?
Definitely my personal statement. I still cringe at the thought of writing one. I don’t mind writing about myself EXCEPT when everything I’ve ever worked for feels like its riding on 1,000 words. Granted a personal statement is not your entire application, but at the time I really felt as if it was the only way they could set me apart from other applicants.
Describe your dream job.
Owning my own business that provides nutrition counseling and cooking classes is what I usually tell people. I truly believe that if people have a better understanding of what goes into their food, then they will make better choices in when it comes to deciding what to eat.
Eventually, I would like to work in policy. Issues such as sustainable food systems and reimbursement for dietitians are very important to me, and I would love to help change the policies surrounding these two issues.
What resources did you find particularly helpful while you were applying to schools?
Honestly, I could not have gotten through the application process without the faculty at West Virginia University and my friends within my major. Being surrounded by people who were also applying to internships was truly a lifesaver. Also, I was never scared to ask the director of my nutrition program at WVU or even the graduate dietetic internship director for help. My advice is to find a mentor or a friend that knows the in’s and out’s of the process. Having a support system made me feel so much more comfortable while applying to schools.
How did you find balance during especially busy times?
Running was a big stress reliever for me during my junior and senior years at WVU. Also, I always made sure that I was having fun. Having something to look forward to at the end of the week motivated me to get my work done. I am still very young, and I want to enjoy as much of my life as possible, while still being successful!
What advice do you have for aspiring RD’s?
Everyone says this and it really is the best advice: get experience! There are so many different ways to get experience in the field of nutrition. You just have to put yourself out there and not be afraid to ask for help. Also, do not let anything or anyone let you feel defeated. You always have the power to do better and get more experience, but it up to you to be motivated to do it. Be your own self-motivator!
A big thank you to Shannon for agreeing to participate in this series! Make sure to follow her instagram to stay up-to-date on her Colorado adventures.
Are you interested in being featured in the RD to Be Series?
Please send me an email and I’d be happy to share your story!