HQP Success Stories

A-HA has engaged a number of students in HQP (highly qualified personnel) training over the years. Below are three stories highlighting some of these experiences and how they contributed to career growth and development.

  • Katarina Doma
  • Megan Racey
  • Sydney Withers

Stories written by Kristian Partington

Katarina Doma

Participated in A-HA as a Masters student in 2015-2016

It was during the fourth year of her undergraduate studies that Katarina Doma realized her hunger for knowledge was far from satiated. Her education, she realized, had only just begun when the opportunity to pursue a master’s degree through the University of Guelph’s Department of Human Health and Nutritional Sciences presented itself.

Under the guidance of her advisor, Dr. Alison Duncan, Katarina worked closely with the Schlegel-University of Waterloo Research Institute for Aging’s Agri-Food for Healthy Aging (A-HA) program throughout the pursuit of her MSc degree. This experience helped shine a spotlight on future academic opportunities leading her to her current PhD studies at the University of Guelph.

As part of her MSc studies, Katarina played a significant role in the development of a series of info-graphics designed for older adults alongside A-HA’s, Hilary Dunn, and fellow student, Sydney Withers.

“These info-graphics were created in an effort to bridge the gaps between Ontario agriculture, food, nutrition, and health,” Katarina explains. Through the process, Katarina not only learned about the connections between a strong, localized agri-food sector and a healthy society, she also developed new skills that have contributed greatly to her current academic success.

“I have been exposed to several skills that I am using now and will definitely also use in the future,” she says. “I was able to strengthen my written and oral communication skills through written reports, papers, and presentations. I was also able to improve my understanding and interpretation of the scientific literature and improve my ability to connect articles to better understand a specific area of research.”

She adds that her understanding of knowledge translation, or the ability to relay scientific information to the stakeholders in a clear and concise manner, improved greatly thanks to her time under Dr. Duncan’s guidance within A-HA.

“The A-HA program has really exposed me to several areas of nutrition in relation to aging and health,” Katarina explains. “It was truly an enlightening experience that I think helped with my decision to continue my research into the PhD program. I was also exposed to several career opportunities during my involvement with A-HA, which I think has helped me to shape what I hope my career will look like.”

She may not currently be able to define exactly what her post-doctoral career will be, but she can safely say she intends to focus on the correlation between food, nutrition, and healthy living.

Megan Racey

Participated in A-HA as a Masters student in 2012-2013

As a Masters student within the University of Guelph’s Human Health and Nutritional Sciences department in 2012-13, Megan Racey had the opportunity to work alongside the RIA’s Agri-food for Healthy Aging (A-HA) team. Her advisor as a graduate student, Dr. Alison Duncan, is a core member of the A-HA team and introduced Megan to the concept of knowledge translation and transfer (KTT) through multiple projects.

During those two semesters Megan worked directly with the A-HA’s Hilary Dunn to disseminate information about the work of the RIA, and A-HA specifically. She visited long-term care and retirement homes, helped to organize a Health Professionals Day, and created a video about the project to be shared widely.

That experience helped shape her current academic path and she is now in the midst of a detailed research process in pursuit of her PhD in the area of knowledge translation and transfer. Specifically, she’s looking at how best to relay information about healthy nutritional choices for an often-difficult age bracket to reach – adolescents.

“A-HA was the first place where I was introduced to knowledge translation and transfer – getting research to the public or appropriate stakeholders in the best format to suit their needs and create change,” Megan says. “It opened my eyes to a new world of science and research. I didn’t like the idea of doing ‘typical’ science or lab-based work, so to see the potential of working with the community to try and evoke change was motivating as a young student.”

She admits that she never pictured the pursuit of a PhD in her academic path, but a specific MSc project surfaced that aligned with the KTT experience she gained with A-HA, and the path showed itself.

“My time with A-HA really opened my eyes to the struggles of bringing research to the public,” Megan says. “It was really rewarding to have events right in the retirement homes, where we could interact with the residents. As well, the practicality of the projects the RIA worked on was inspiring and only furthered my need to continue to learn.

“I don’t think at the time, I truly understood all that A-HA did and all the work and projects the RIA was involved in,” she adds.

Aside from grasping the true importance of knowledge translation and transfer, Megan also learned how to appropriately plan and coordinate multiple projects at the same time and manage those involved with the projects.

“This has already helped,” Megan says, “and will continue to help in the management of my PhD where I have multiple research projects on the go and up to four students at a time helping with these projects.”

With her sights set on a potential career in either industry or government, this knowledge will continue to serve Megan well as she strives to effectively share new health and nutrition findings with the public.


Sydney Withers

Participated in A-HA as an Undergraduate student in 2015-2016

Sydney Withers has always been passionate about food. She loves preparing and cooking it and reaping the rewards of all the culinary delights when she enjoys a meal with family and friends. The pursuit of a career as a registered dietitian is a logical extension of her passion for food, science and the intricacies of human physiology, she says, and she hopes to share these passions with others to help improve their health.

She recently reflected on the added education she received during her time with the Agri-food for Healthy Aging (A-HA) team at the Schlegel-University of Waterloo Research Institute for Aging (RIA). In early 2015 she was just beginning to specialize her focus in the field of nutrition after broad studies during the first year of her undergraduate degree. That’s when she introduced herself to A-HA’s Dr. Alison Duncan. At the time, Dr. Duncan and the A-HA team were in the beginning stages of developing the Recipe Resource for Healthy Aging and Sydney was eager to get involved. For one of her first contributions she sat in on a focus group at a senior’s community centre where the team discussed with older adults which types of recipes would be most beneficial, and in what format people would prefer to see the guide. She then supported the team in refining recipes and researching facts about the agri-foods chosen as ingredients, and she was proud when the guide was formally released.

That experience led to additional work with Dr. Duncan when Sydney enrolled in a course called Teaching, Learning and Knowledge Transfer, which she completed in early 2016. The main project was a collaborative effort with A-HA team members to promote “agri-foods as a food-first strategy for healthy aging.” The team chose to promote specific agri-foods – apples, beans, soy, berries, and eggs – through infographics. Throughout the course, Sydney had regular discussions with the team to design and refine the content.

“Despite this being an independent research project, I met weekly with the team and communicated regularly via email to share ideas and discuss the course of the project,” she says.

“The most memorable experience I had working with the A-HA team was watching the final product I created using Piktochart become finalized by the graphic design artist,” Sydney says. “It was rewarding watching everything the team and I worked on come together and look so professional.”

Perhaps it is the professionalism that stands out most when Sydney reflects on her time with the A-HA team. “My work with Alison was supportive on both a professional and personal level,” she says. “The project itself and working with such a close-knit team gave me an appreciation for the research and ‘resource design’ side of dietetics.”

The collaborative nature of the team was something she hadn’t experienced in other academic settings, she says, and “this allowed me to take constructive feedback about my infographics and writing and use it to improve my work.”

The project encouraged her to explore her own creativity as a means of educating others, and this is something she’ll be able to apply to any future career. “Being creative and multi-media savvy is a very important part of being a nutrition professional,” she says, and the A-HA team helped her reach this important conclusion.