Career Advice from Professionals in Nutrition and Global Health

Nutrition and Global Health is an interdisciplinary field dedicated to solving nutrition challenges in global contexts. The Nutrition and Global Health Program recently hosted a Nutrition and Global Health Career Panel featuring experts in the field, including Doctors Christine McDonald, Yarlini Balarajan, Ramadhani Abdallah Noor, and Habtamu Fekadu. Panelists shared their career experiences and advice for current students interested in pursuing careers in this field.

Work in nutrition and global health involves contributing to efforts aimed at improving nutrition status and health on a global scale. Professionals in the field are tasked with advancing solutions to nutrition-related challenges, such as malnutrition and rising burdens of chronic disease, through quantitative and qualitative research approaches to investigate practices and policies that impact health, as well as designing programs to deliver population-level nutrition aid. The field is broad and rapidly evolving, and according to panelists, emerging areas of interest include the impact of climate change on nutrition, sustainable agriculture and food assistance program development, and the double burden of undernutrition and obesity.

All the panelists are leaders in the global health nutrition field, each with diverse experiences and varied career paths:

  • Dr. Christine McDonald trained as a dietitian before earning a doctorate in Nutritional Epidemiology from HSPH. She conducted fieldwork in Bangladesh and Rwanda and currently serves as an Assistant Professor at UCSF School of Medicine and Director of IZinc Group, an organization that designs strategies to address global Zinc malnutrition.
  • Dr. Yarlini Balarajan earned her PhD in Population Health Sciences at HSPH. She participated in health systems training in Chile and China and now works as a Nutrition Specialist at UNICEF.
  • Dr. Ramadhani Abdallah Noor, a trained physician, earned an MPH in Quantitative Methods before pursuing a doctorate in Nutritional Epidemiology at HSPH. Formerly, he worked on clinical trials aiming to alleviate malaria in African countries, and is currently a consultant for the World Bank tasked with developing nutrition programs in Tanzania.
  • Dr. Habtamu Fekadu, a trained pediatrician and nutritionist, formerly served as Director of nutrition programs for UNICEF in Ethiopia and currently is Senior Director of Nutrition at Save the Children US in Washington, DC.

In addition to sharing their career stories and experiences managing nutrition programs in developing countries, panelists offered the following advice for students about to join the nutrition and global health workforce:

  • Gain as much fieldwork experience as possible during graduate school and early in your career. Engaging in fieldwork provides valuable perspective on current nutrition and health-related social and political issues.
  • Cultivate a well-rounded skill set including not only nutrition and research expertise, but also data analysis and presentation, communication, coding, and programming skills to make yourself a well-rounded candidate.
  • Be flexible and open to opportunities that might differ from your original career vision. For example, short-term consultancies or fellowships can lead to fruitful partnerships and potential full-time job opportunities in the future.

For all job seekers, a supportive professional network will be highly beneficial in the job search process. Unanimously, panelists shared their gratitude for the knowledge, skills, and professional relationships they acquired through Harvard Chan. They acknowledged that the colleagues and mentors they gained through the graduate school experience provided them with support throughout their careers, including during important milestones like grant applications, publications, and career transitions. According to the panelists, students entering the workforce should focus time and energy on building their professional networks. In order to accomplish this in today’s world, with most interactions happening virtually rather than in-person, the panelists recommended that students:

  • Take advantage of opportunities to attend virtual conferences and meetings to gain exposure to professionals around the globe.
  • Initiate conversations with others in the field by speaking up and sharing ideas at conferences, which could foster the development of meaningful connections.
  • Connect with people who share your interests by reading current literature and reaching out to investigators for informational interviews, both domestic and international,.

Overall, panelists underscored that a supportive professional network and a well-rounded skill set would be beneficial to anyone pursuing careers in nutrition and global health. Additionally, they emphasized that students should not worry about having a non-linear career path, and that the importance of pursuing positions that align with your values and goals should take precedence. By readily capitalizing on opportunities for growth, you will build a career with a range of meaningful and rewarding experiences.

Learn more and watch a recording of the panel here.