Dietitian and Emeritus Professor Caryl Nowson

Our next blog is from Emeritus Professor Caryl Nowson. Deakin recently conferred the title of Emeritus Professor on Caryl in recognition of her significant contribution to Deakin over an extended period. We invited Caryl to write a blog in celebration of this fantastic achievement.

Career Opportunities Then and Now

When I graduated in 1980 as a dietitian, from the University of Sydney, after having completed a BSc in nutrition from Deakin University in 1979, life was quite different and the career opportunities much more limited than today. The population of Australia was only 14.4 million and at that time there was only one university in each of the States offering training courses in dietetics and dietitians teaching into these courses generally did not have a PhD.  I think at that time; I only knew of two dietitians who had completed a PhD.  Teaching in a university was not really a career option. The overwhelming majoring of dietitians were employed in hospitals and there were very few community-based positions or dietitians in private practice or industry.

Therefore, on graduation I embarked on finding a clinical dietetic job.  This also was a time when most of the established chief dietitians were of the view that any female with children would not be a suitable fit for a full-time dietetic position, as they would require time off to deal with children issues.  I recall being asked at interview for a clinical position in a hospital, that if one of my children was injured a school would I have to take time off to attend to my child at the school?#@#! I had completed my BSc and dietetics courses as a full-time student with more than 30hrs contact time, for much of that time with 2 young children (and yes, they have survived, and both obtained their university qualification from Deakin University: early childhood programming, I suspect). At that time, I was the only student with children completing a science course at Deakin University, (I think there was one other mother doing arts).

First dietetic positions: everything!

I did manage to secure a full-time clinical dietetic position (they had difficulty filling the position!) at Western General Hospital, Melbourne where the two of us, plus a sessional outpatient dietitian managed the workload for the hospital, which then was about 350 beds. The first year was great and I learnt so much, but with only 2 of us we could only provide a limited service.  One component that I really enjoyed and developed was the educational experience for nursing students, who at that time were required to rotate through the dietetic department for 2 weeks as part of their training.  After 2.5years I decided that I needed a change and a break, so in 1983, a time of recession with few dietetic positions, I resigned and put my name down on the DAA registry for part-time/casual work.  Amazingly, when I resigned, I think there were 26 applicants for my position and the one who got the job, resigned from her part-time research dietetic position at the Hypertension clinic at the Repatriation hospital. I applied and got this position, which involved counselling patients in a low sodium diet as well as running a family study where whole families received home visits and spent one month on a low sodium diet and one month on a high sodium diet.  During this time, I also took on several other part-time positions, including consultant to Pentridge prison, teaching nutrition to teachers at Melbourne State college, group diabetes education, community health dietitian and dietetic private practice.  I developed a greater interest in education and completed a Dip Ed and did some teaching in a TAFE college. I was also very interested in pursuing a research idea related to my work at the hypertension clinic and enrolled in a preliminary PhD degree in the Department of Physiology, University of Melbourne (the director of the hypertension clinic, Prof. Trefor Morgan had recently been appointed as head of  Physiology).  I pursued my research studies, both as a full-time and part-time student and prior to completion of my PhD secured a research fellow position at the National Ageing Research Institute.  After 2 years there was a change of direction at the institute, so I left having completed my PhD and took a break from academia and took up a one-year position as an oncology dietitian at the Royal Women’s Hospital, which was a challenging and fulfilling experience.  During this period a colleague from Melbourne University whom I had worked with during my PhD suggested I join a research team at Royal Melbourne Hospital who were putting together a NH&MRC program grant application related to osteoporosis and as my PhD included a focus on dietary calcium, I could bring this expertise to the team.  I was surprised when the grant was successful, but there was a part-time salary for me within that project, so I led the dietary components of this and future studies in osteoporosis. I combined this position with a part-time teaching position in the department of Physiology, University of Melbourne and developed a 3rd nutrition elective subject for Science students. At this time, I also continued running a dietetic consultancy service to a private hospital. 

Full-time position as an academic and beyond

Then as a part-time lecturer in the Department of Physiology, I Ied a 3-year NH&MRC project grant which was successful.  Not long after this a full-time lecturing position came up at Deakin University which I applied for and I was appointed as a senior lecturer in 1998.  Throughout my time at Deakin I progressed to Assoc. Professor (2002), then Professor (2006) and after retiring at the end of 2018, I was appointed as Emeritus Professor in 2019.

When I look back on my professional life I have taken on many varied roles, all of which have increased my learning and understanding of people. I find that I am most satisfied when I am challenged and working in academia has provided me with the ideal professional challenges for me in an environment that has allowed me to pursue my educational and research interests, as well as develop my analytical, writing and inventive skills. I am continuing to enjoy contributing to research and educational professional activities as Emeritus Professor, but pleased that is it is now only a relatively small part of my life and I am really relishing the opportunity to have more time with family, having time to pursue other creative pursuits and travel.


Emeritus Professor Caryl Nowson

Institute for Physical Activity and Nutrition (IPAN)

School of Exercise and Nutrition Sciences

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