Early Career Researchers showcase the future of food research

Irrigation field. Blue sky in background.

Courtney Thompson, Kevin Mao, Shayal Prasad, Sarah Gandolfo, Alexandra Procter – Students and Young Professionals in Public Health (SYPPH) committee. Cherie Russell – Food and Nutrition Special Interest Group Executive.

Some of the country’s brightest young minds gave views of the future of food and nutrition research and advocacy in Australia, at a satellite event hosted on 18 March, immediately following PHAA’s Food Futures Conference 2022.

The Future of Food Research: An Early Career Showcase satellite event was hosted by the PHAA Food & Nutrition SIG and SYPPH committee and highlighted the conference themes including food systems for local and global good, ecological nutrition, food sovereignty, food equity and social mobilisation for planetary and public good. Alongside speaker presentations, this event included a networking component, where attendees could interact with conference speakers.


The showcase stemmed from the need to highlight and include students and young professionals in conversations about the future of food.  Events for students and young professionals are integral for promoting networking and opportunity sharing across research and advocacy for food systems transformation. While at conferences, networking opportunities have traditionally been available, but students and young professionals are less likely to attend them due to apprehension surrounding  asking questions and engaging in discussions in a varied environment among more senior academics. They may experience a sense of ‘imposter’ syndrome; that they don’t belong, or haven’t earnt their success (read the SYPPH committee’s past article on ‘imposter’ syndrome on page 8 of this document).

However, events such as our Early Career Showcase highlight the varied career pathways open to students and young professionals. It’s a setting that allows them to embrace their uncertainties, develop resilience and interpersonal skills, and provides a space to ask for advice on how to best engage with the field and its academics.

This was particularly evidenced in our Showcase, where speakers shared their best pieces of advice for navigating a career in the food systems sector.  These responses covered aspects applicable to undergraduate or postgraduate studies, and career opportunities.  Below is a collation of advice given at the showcase:

  • Be brave and ask for support
  • Be kind to yourself as you learn new skills or take on higher level opportunities
  • Build a network, including supervisors and mentors, who will champion and advocate for you by offering opportunities
  • Determine your niche and choose a few opportunities and do them well instead of taking on everything (e.g. join a committee, volunteer or work experience/intern at organisations aligned with your area of interest)
  • Take the pressure off yourself – let’s reset the academic culture. You won’t be everything to everyone. The keynotes and plenary presentations will come
  • Embrace opportunities within reason and link in with relevant newsletters, groups, people and institutions
  • It shouldn’t be a terrible experience – this isn’t the standard. Reflect on what drives you and pursue projects or research that you are passionate about
  • Take the long view – keep engaged with advocacy along the way and keep in touch with the grassroots issues in the community – this is motivating
  • Chat to your peers and supervisors, and don’t lose heart. Everyone is experiencing similar PhD-related challenges, but through discussions with your peers, supervisors and colleagues, you’ll gain perspective, and then soon enough, you’ll realise you’re close to the finish line

These conversations among students and young professionals should be a key component of all conference opportunities. We encourage conference organisers to include such events in future programs, to streamline registration procedures.


Author’s note: If you’re struggling with your mental health, please don’t hesitate to contact your general practitioner, mental health professional, or the following services:

Lifeline: 13 11 14

Beyond Blue: 1300 22 4636



Image: Joel Dunn/Unsplash

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