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Three reasons why doing Master’s level research can benefit your career in unexpected ways

Pamela FergussonLilisha Burris is a Registered Dietitian with a Master of Health Science in Nutrition Communication. She is the Co-Founder and Director of Dietitians Explore! Education Exchange, a non-profit organization that facilitates international professional development trips for future dietetic professionals. Lilisha believes that travelling is one of the best ways to learn and grow as a person and as a professional. Connect with Lilisha and Dietitians Explore on Facebook and Twitter.


When I started my Master of Health Science in Nutrition Communication at Ryerson in 2007, I was a Registered Dietitian with work experience. I had the option to do a practicum or course work, but I chose the Major Research Project (MRP) because I thought it would challenge me the most. I figured that since I’d left a full-time job (and a full-time income!) I wanted to have a ‘go hard or go home’ attitude and I knew that an MRP was the furthest outside of my comfort zone.
The project I embarked on with two supervisors was, “Knowledge of Antioxidants and Breast Cancer Risk Among Women Attending Breast Cancer Risk Assessment Clinics” (1).  While I expected to gain useful experience and knowledge on research and the subject matter, looking back 10 years later, I can highlight three key, unexpected benefits I gained through my MRP that helped me build my career profile:

1. Budget and People Management

To conduct my research, I was awarded funding from the Canadian Cancer Society (CCS), which meant that I had a budget to manage and to be accountable for. Allocating, tracking and reporting back to the CCS was a new experience for me, and I hadn’t realized beforehand how many roles, in some part, require budgetary skills. I didn’t become a financial expert by any means, but I have been able to draw on this experience to manage budget lines as a project specialist and project manager.
I also did not anticipate that a research project would offer me my first management experience, however, the CCS grant allowed me to hire a team of senior students to support my work. From determining which roles a support team would play to conducting interviews and finally, managing the day-to-day activities of the hired team, I suddenly became a manager! In my subsequent professional roles, I built on this experience to manage contractors and administrative staff.

2. Survey and Interview Development

My MRP was qualitative and the principal data collection tool was an interview for which I developed open and closed-ended questions along with probes to elicit deeper responses from participants. Although I have not conducted qualitative research in a formal sense since my Master’s project, I’ve used my interview development skills in EVERY JOB I’ve had since graduation. I’ve applied these skills to conduct needs assessments, focus groups, and surveys with various groups of professional and members of the public.

3. Publication in a Peer-reviewed Journal

It hadn’t occurred to me that a one-year Master’s program could lead to a research paper published in a peer-reviewed journal. Of course, the project and publication didn’t all take place within a year, and I continued to work on the manuscript after graduating, but my research did get published! To date, I haven’t pursued a career in research but I have worked closely with nutrition researchers and because of my own experience I have a much greater understanding of (and respect for) their work and what is involved in taking research from an idea right through to sharing outcomes with the scientific community through publishing a paper.
I’ve also been pleasantly surprised by how often this point on my resume comes up in job interviews. I’ve found that the hiring teams I’ve encountered see value in the style of writing that a peer-reviewed journal demands.  
My Master’s level research project surprised me in the ways that it strengthened my career profile. Going outside of my comfort zone paid off!
P.S. Thank you to my research supervisors Judy Paisley PhD, RD and Marlene Greenberg MS, RD.

  1. Burris, L., Paisley, J. and Greenberg, M. (2012). Knowledge of antioxidants and breast cancer risk among women attending breast cancer risk assessment clinics. Health Promotion Practice, 13 (1), 98-105 (Published online before print December 29, 2010, doi: 10.1177/1524839910370426).

Editor’s Note: It’s not uncommon to be uncomfortable doing something new and different either at work or school, especially if you’ve been in the same routine for some time.  Can you share any experiences where you went outside your comfort zone?
Disclaimer: The opinions of the bloggers are their own. Dietitians of Canada encourages submissions and provides publishing support but does not guarantee the accuracy of the information provided. Please contact the writer directly for concerns or questions about the content.

  1. Thank you Lilisha for sharing your dietetic journey through multiple professional development aspects as well as the "Dietitians Explore! Education Exchange" initiative. I believe it is crucial to gain diverse perspectives and experiences in dietetic practice. Reflecting on my dietetic professionalization, I continue to critical view the role of diversity and equity as a crucial aspect that shapes how we serve a multicultural population in Canada. Sometimes questioning dietetic identity triggers vulnerability and requires one to step outside their comfort zone and come to terms with the complexity. As an RD in training with an Indo-Canadian heritage, I hope to challenge norms and pave a route strengthening dietetic diversity.
  2. Thanks Lilisha for sharing! I love how you've reflected on the transferable skills you developed because of your Masters.

    It sounds like you made the absolute most of your experiences and have applied those experiences WELL BEYOND your Masters. That, to me, is the biggest benefit of education.

    I, too, have found a trend over the last few years where "job specific" knowledge has been prioritized lower than certain transferable skill sets. So much so that I've been able to jump out of the field of dietetics recently and apply my skills in the general health realm.

    I think BECAUSE we are dietitians, we are MORE than dietitians and are very flexible in how, and where, we can work.

    Thanks again for your wonderful story! You're the best!

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