By Linda Scales
The timing couldn’t be better for a career in food, especially anything nutrition-related. With an aging population, an increased focus on health and multiple challenges regarding society and its relationship with food, nutrition has become one of health care’s fastest growing fields. The Nutrition Sciences program at the University of Ottawa is proving to be a sure and extremely practical path to a rewarding career.
Alumna Laurence Cousineau-Sigouin agrees. Within weeks of graduating with an honours bachelor in nutrition sciences in 2016, she started working for Dairy Farmers of Canada, where she had completed her last nutrition sciences practicum. She is now working with their national nutrition team composed of registered dietitians as a project manager for consumer communications.
“Professors were devoted to our success,” says Cousineau-Sigouin, who believes their involvement in her education was instrumental in her career’s successful start. “They were committed to helping you to get involved in any program or activity that interested you and to network with professionals working in the area you were interested in.”
Standing above the pack
The School of Nutrition Sciences offers a unique undergraduate program that includes 36 weeks of hands-on experience over a four-year degree. (Other programs in the province that include practica typically take five years to complete, as the practica are not integrated in the program.) It is also the only nutrition program in Ontario offered in French to bilingual students. What’s more, graduates are eligible to write the Canadian Dietetic Registration Examination, a requirement of most provincial dietetic regulatory bodies to work as a dietitian.
Students complete four practica — one of eight weeks in second year and three totalling 28 weeks in fourth year — covering dietetic practice areas such as food service management, clinical nutrition, and community nutrition and population health. These theoretical courses and practica help students prepare for numerous career options, such as food scientist, nutritionist or researcher, working in hospitals, the agri-food industry, private practice, community health or government.
Cousineau-Sigouin believes the practica are key to carving a career path. “I met significant people, especially dietitians, who helped me grow both as a person and as a future dietitian,” she says. “The last seven months (of practica) allowed me to consolidate the theory part of my learning.”
These days, the school is experiencing a surge of activity, including a doubling of its faculty and the hiring of new director Susan Tosh, who brings a rich background in food and nutrition research and a wealth of research management experience. A new state-of-the art laboratory for food and nutrition research will be ready later this spring. Graduate and professional diploma programs are being developed, with the first — a one-of-a-kind food policy and regulatory affairs graduate diploma — launching this fall.
This new energy is enhancing a program that has already found a unique niche. “It’s a small program, so professors know you well and you are not considered a number,” says Cousineau-Sigouin about the School’s not-so-secret selling point. She advises incoming students to “stay open-minded and explore different areas of practice,” which is just what the practica will allow them to do.