Thursday, October 24, 2013

RD 2 Be: Grad School & Applying for Internships

Grad school was sort of accidental for me. To make a long story short, I participated in an undergraduate research program the summer after my junior year and my advisor convinced me to stay on board, continue the research and work towards my master's. That summer I learned about an awesome dual-enrollment type program where I could start my master's degree my senior year (which was really my 5th year anyways). Since I was already a year behind, this was a great way for me to use that 5th year wisely and "catch up." So I filled out the paper work (skipped the GRE's!) and was enrolled 2 days before the start of the fall semester in 2009.

Graduate School

My graduate research initially involved genetic testing and mice... and when the novelty of it wore off I realized I was not at all crazy about it. The project was also going no where and I knew pretty quickly it would take more than 2 years to get sufficient data to complete my project. So, two months into my master's program, with the advice of some professors and mentors, I followed my gut and ditched the project and switched advisors completely. It's not something I would recommend, but it came down to me being miserable for 2 years or following my passion and researching something I actually enjoyed.

My actual master's degree is in Human Nutrition Foods and Exercise with a concentration in Nutrition Education and Behavior. My new research project involved administering a survey called the School Health Index (SHI) and correlating those scores to actual health behaviors among youth in schools K-12 throughout Southwest Virginia. Much of my time was spent traveling to these schools, administering the surveys to students, collecting data for the SHI followed by data entry. Once all the data was analyzed, the schools received feedback regarding their scores and education/tips for improving their overall health environment.

Finishing my didactic coursework in dietetics while completing courses for my master's degree did not turn out to be much of an issue. In my 6th year, as a full time graduate student, I had the opportunity to serve as a Graduate Teaching Assistant (GTA) for the senior level Medical Nutrition Therapy course, which I absolutely loved and really helped me to solidify my clinical nutrition skills! I am thankful for that opportunity!

Just prior to the fall of 2010, I was feeling a bit weary of school and decided to finish my master's early so that I could spent the next spring at home with my family. I was set to be married in the summer of 2011 and wanted to have some quality family time before moving out for good. That decision meant me taking 18 credits (full load) in the fall of 2010, on top of serving as a GTA, finishing my thesis defense and applying for dietetic internships. In all of my years of undergrad I had never taken a full course-load, so I really don't know what I was thinking! That semester I ditched triathlons (too time consuming) and picked up running again (great stress reliever) but nonetheless I was working almost non-stop and I lost a ton of hair from the stress! I guess I was pretty motivated, because in the end I achieved my goal and defended my thesis just prior to the end of the semester!

Scenes from my last semester at Tech.

As a dietitian, I highly recommend a master's degree. It's currently not required, but I'm hearing that it may be in the coming years in order to get an internship. The skills and leadership experience that I attained from completing my master's has paid off in the workplace, both with a higher salary and the ability to adapt to certain situations. It's certainly an individual choice whether you do it before or after the internship, but a master's degree pre-internship will definitely make you more competitive and is one less thing to do after!


Applying For Internships

In the spring of 2011 I moved back home and as I wished, got to spend quality time with my family. My dad and I trained for my 2nd marathon, the Nashville Rock n' Roll Marathon (April 2011), which initiated my return to long distance running! Meanwhile mom, grandma and I worked on wedding planning. Living at home again was tough but well worth it! But let's not forget about those DI's!

Since I don't have pictures of applying to internships, here's some scenes from the Nashville Marathon.
Prior to graduation, I attended a series of workshops through our program aimed towards preparing seniors to apply for internships. The workshops focused on resume building, interviewing skills, personal statements and how to navigate the matching system and general tips on identifying the best DI program for you. I am SO very thankful for these workshops, which I hear is now a mandatory but pass-fail type class for seniors at Tech. Regardless of what resources you have available as a dietetics student, don't go through this process alone! Review your resume and personal statement with several trustworthy individuals or career services and take whatever constructive feedback you can get!

As for my personal application experience, I had limited choices due to the fact that I was getting married and moving to a specific place. I could opt to do a distance internship, where you set up your own rotations in your location of choice, but I honestly was a bit too lazy to put the work into identifying preceptors and the program was WAY too expensive. I settled on applying to one program: the Virginia Tech Northern Virginia Internship based out of Falls Church, VA. By choosing one program only, I was able to focus all my energy on adapting my application specifically to it. DICAS is a complicated system and choosing one program simplified everything! I wasn't able to attend the open house (something I highly recommend) so I made a special trip to Northern VA to meet with the director and decide once and for all if the program would work for me. Turns out it was a great fit and I stuck with my decision to apply to it only. With a Master's degree, I took my chances in getting in and turns out it worked out just fine: I was accepted in May of 2011, married in July and the program started that August.

Students: I hope reading about my experience was helpful for you! If you have questions about the process or getting a master's degree, don't hesitate to email. Next I will write about the actual internship experience!


  1. Kristen,

    I may be biased because I am going through this process right now but THANK YOU for this post. Lesson learned, make sure you are interested in the research and kick butt in school. I know Professor Papillon thinks highly of you :) April 6th can't come soon is stressful not to know where/what I'll be doing!

  2. You're welcome Kailey! I know you'll do great with getting into internships, etc. Just keep working hard, following your passion and the pieces will fall into place :) I certainly get the stress component of not knowing exactly what the future holds though!


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