My Research Journey – Dr Catherine Milte

Our next blog is from Dr Catherine Milte, a researcher and lecturer from the Institute for Physical Activity and Nutrition (IPAN) in the School of Exercise and Nutrition Sciences. Dr Milte lectures in the areas of lifespan nutrition and research practice, and her research is primarily focused on understanding dietary behaviours and how these impact the physical and mental health of our older generations. Dr Milte has been invited to share her research journey.

The Early Years…

I grew up in Adelaide, South Australia. After I finished school, I completed a Bachelor of Biomedical Science at the University of Adelaide, as I was interested in understanding the mechanisms behind health and disease. After I graduated in 2005 I applied to study Postgraduate Medicine, however I didn’t get in. I was unsure of what to do next, but I had enjoyed studying and completing a couple of mini research projects during my Bachelor’s degree. So I decided to enrol into an honours year instead.

For my honours year, I completed a research project at the Nutritional Physiology Research Centre at the University of South Australia. It was a randomised controlled trial investigating the effect of fish oil supplementation on cardiovascular disease risk markers in adults. Under my supervisors’ guidance, I coordinated the project, which included organising the recruitment of participants, booking in participants for visits to the research clinic for data collection, and data collection and analysis. I received valuable experience and practical skills in all stages of conducting the project, from explaining it to participants and recording consent, to taking blood samples and physical measurements in the clinic, to processing, storage and laboratory analysis of biological samples, data entry and statistical analysis. It was a busy year, but I learnt a lot and loved every minute of it!


The PhD years…

After that I immediately signed up to do a PhD at the UniSA. Completing a PhD allowed me to extend my research skills, but more importantly it was where I discovered my research passion. For my thesis, I investigated the effects of fish oil supplementation on mental health in two very different population groups – young children with Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder and learning difficulties, and older adults with poor memory. I found working with the older adults particularly rewarding and enjoyed chatting with them during their clinic visits. I also found the research interesting and became fascinated by how our diet can affect our brain function, memory and emotions. These interests have remained with me and have become the main focus of my research ever since.

Another thing I enjoyed during this time was being able to travel to conferences and hear from other researchers about their latest research (and present some of my own). This was a big perk for me as I love travelling to new places, and by the time I had finished my thesis I had visited London, The Netherlands and Vancouver, and was even able to take some time off to travel around Europe.


The postdoc years and beyond

When I finished my PhD in 2011, I knew that I wanted to continue working in research, and started working as a casual researcher at the Department of Rehabilitation, Aged and Extended Care at Flinders University in Adelaide. Although this work still had a focus on older adults, it was quite different compared to what I had done before, as the research was mainly conducted in hospital and clinical settings.

However, I found that I really wanted to bring the nutrition focus back into my research, and felt that it was time to move away from my home town. So I asked around my colleagues for research groups that would be good for an early career researcher (ECR) in nutrition to go to, and the Institute for Physical Activity (IPAN) at Deakin was suggested. I contacted them, and Associate Professor Sarah McNaughton and Professor David Crawford were very supportive. I then applied for an Alfred Deakin Postdoctoral Research Fellowship, a highly competitive fellowship which recognises early career researchers with outstanding track records, and got it!

So, in early 2013, I moved to Melbourne to start my two year Postdoctoral Fellowship and new program of research. My research focuses on dietary patterns and how these influence our physical and mental health and cognitive function at an older age. I started working on epidemiological studies with large datasets, and even attended a training course in Nutritional Epidemiology at Imperial College London.

When my fellowship finished, I applied for a position as a Nutrition Lecturer at Deakin. In this role I have continued my research into dietary patterns and healthy ageing, but now I also get to teach students in our undergraduate and postgraduate courses. Nutrition is such an interesting subject to teach – I still love learning about it and it is a privilege to share this with students and find out what interests them too!

Dr Catherine Milte
Lecturer in Nutritional Sciences
Deputy Course Director – Postgraduate Human Nutrition
Institute for Physical Activity and Nutrition (IPAN), School of Exercise and Nutrition Sciences, Deakin University

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