Finding Your Niche – Dr Elena George

Our latest blog is from Dr Elena George, a lecturer from the School of Exercise and Nutrition Sciences.

Her research focuses on the provision of dietary interventions such as the Mediterranean diet, to prevent and manage chronic diseases such cardiovascular disease, type 2 diabetes, and non-alcoholic fatty liver disease.

Elena has been invited to share her research journey.

From passion to profession

I have always loved food and cooking and had a strong philosophy around the concept that everything should be enjoyed in moderation. I had no idea what I wanted to do with my life as a school leaver but knew that it had to be about food. After studying a certificate in food and beverage and working in hospitality, even in my most ‘glamourous’ jobs working the marquees at grand prix and races I knew I hadn’t found my calling. I quickly discovered that I enjoyed science and immersed myself in the study of food. I was lucky to get a job as a graduate in food industry. It was a fantastic and dynamic place to work but it didn’t satisfy my appetite to work with people and in health, so studying dietetics was the obvious next step.

A clinician with too many questions

Working as a dietitian in private practice and community health often I would be seeing over 50 patients a week. The diagnoses I was getting referrals for were often repetitive. Needs to lose weight. Diabetes with poorly managed blood glucose levels. Irritable bowel syndrome. Query FODMAP diet…. and so it went. Still, every patient was different so I tried to personalise each consultation, what was the evidence and how could I balance this with their lifestyle and culture? How could I most successfully fit this in to such short pockets of time? I was so intrigued by what strategies worked and what didn’t, what was everyone else doing? How could I document these strategies and really assess and share them? That was when I grew interested in research, having completed an Honours year before Dietetics, I knew that I wanted to go on and do a PhD.

PhD and teaching- a worthwhile balancing act

I completed my PhD at La Trobe University and my research compared a Mediterranean Diet to a low fat diet in people who had fatty liver disease (the type that is caused by being inactive and poor diet, not the sort from drinking too much alcohol). This project brought together my love for clinical research and dietary patterns. It was fascinating to discover that we can probably improve liver fat and insulin resistance with a Mediterranean diet, even without weight loss. It was also interesting exploring this traditional dietary pattern in a multicultural setting like Australia, and we got such a positive response from the participants about the novelty of the diet.

I was offered my PhD combined with a teaching fellowship. One day I would be working on a clinical trial, then the next day I would be in front of students running workshops, lecturing and cooking. I really enjoyed the diversity in my days and weeks, I was always busy and challenged. The teaching gave me a lot of immediate gratification and I enjoyed working with students and having an impact on the future of the profession.

To be continued…

I completed all of my undergraduate and postgraduate study at Deakin University so was thrilled to return to a Lecturing position in Nutrition and Dietetics after the submission of my thesis. Having really only just started this position I am looking forward to the next steps in building my research which will focus on dietary patterns and chronic disease prevention and management and embarking on new challenges in teaching into the Master of Dietetics course. 

Dr Elena George 

Lecturer in Nutrition & Dietetics 

School of Exercise and Nutrition Sciences, Deakin University



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