Academic conferences are crucial for early-career researchers who face the significant added challenge of needing to build up a reputation alongside a full research workload. Yet it’s important to keep in mind that conferences aren’t the only venue to build a reputation. Every once in a while, the right study makes its way into the limelight, which can be very powerful for researchers who are working towards securing a permanent academic position. This is exactly what happened for Yashvee Dunneram, a newly-graduated PhD student from the University of Leeds, whose studies on nutrition and women’s health made an impact that reverberated outside of her field and were even covered by the likes of Reuters and the New York Times. Her research from the Nutrition Society Summer Conference is discoverable on Morressier. We recently had the chance to catch up with her about the impact of the exposure on her academic career, the value of conferences, and what’s next in her research.
Morressier: What part of your personal or academic experience first got you interested in nutrition, and after that, the links between diet and menopause?
Dunneram: I first started with home economics as a subject at lower secondary level, which sparked my interest in nutrition. I was very excited and fascinated to learn about the whole process of digestion in the human body, along with cooking methods, storage processes and so on. I found the subject very relatable and thus the learning part came very naturally to me, which helped me maintain my interest in this field. Subsequently, I majored in nutritional sciences at the University of Mauritius. One of my initial research projects involved looking at the effect of running a nutrition education program among women of reproductive age, which made me aware that there’s very little research conducted that focuses on women’s diet and health, in particular when they reach menopause. Given that menopause is an inevitable event for women and its timing can impact future health outcomes, I found this a very interesting research topic.
Morressier: A lot of scientific journalists were interested in your research advising women to avoid certain foods to slow menopause. One year on, do your continued studies confirm this? Can you briefly explain the significance of your findings beyond their practical implications?
Dunneram: Following my first published paper on diet and the timing of menopause, I explored the relationships between dietary patterns and the onset of menopause. As people normally eat foods in combination, rather than individual components, it was very interesting to find that specific dietary patterns were also associated with the timing of menopause. This paper is yet to be published. I believe that the huge amount of media attention will surely prompt researchers to further explore the links between diet and menopause in other populations and also using other research methods to further contribute to this area of study.
Morressier: When did you first present your work? At the Nutrition Society Summer Conference?
Dunneram: The published paper was first presented as a poster at the Nutrition Society Summer Conference in 2017. In 2018, I presented the findings for the relationships between dietary patterns and the onset of natural menopause.
Morressier: What effect did the publicity have on your academic career?
Dunneram: The media attention primarily helped me translate the scientific findings into common layman terms. It also helped me to further develop my spoken and written communication skills as I gave interviews via email, by phone and also in a live radio interview for BBC Africa. The publicity also made it possible for the paper to be read by a wider range of people such as members of the public, scientists, health practitioners and science communicators from around the world.
Morressier: You are a PhD student. Have you attended conferences prior to the Nutrition Society, or was this your first experience? What value do you think they have for an early-career researcher such as yourself?
Dunneram: Yes I attended conferences prior to the Nutrition Society in Mauritius. I believe that these conferences are extremely important to share your research findings among other scientists. It gives you the opportunity to communicate in a quick but effective way to the audience. The Q&A session further allows for feedback and suggestions, which can potentially improve your current work or provide ideas for further research work. Networking opportunities are another asset of these conferences, you can make contacts that can later develop into research collaborations.
Morressier: What more do you hope to do with your research, and what other topics have you been exploring since last year?
Dunneram: I have currently completed my doctoral degree and looking for post-doctoral opportunities to continue this research in other cohorts. I would also like to explore the effect of other reproductive factors such as age at menarche and parity on the relationship between diet and menopause. Moreover, I would consider diet at different time points and the timing of menopause. Besides the timing of menopause, I have also investigated the association between diet and the risk of hormone-related cancers such as breast, endometrial and ovarian cancers. These findings have been published in the British Journal of Nutrition.