Dr Katherine Livingstone is an Alfred Deakin Postdoctoral Research Fellow in the Institute of Physical Activity and Nutrition (IPAN) at Deakin University.
Watch a video of Katherine sharing her “Research Pathway in a Minute” here.
Life before PhD
When I was 8 my family and I moved to The Netherlands, where I lived until I was 18. I attended a European School in The Netherlands, which was a fantastic, multi-cultural and multi-lingual environment. I then returned to the UK to study my Bachelor degree in Nutrition and Food Science with Professional Training. This 4-year course included a placement year in the Food industry, which enabled me to work as a full time Product Development Scientist for GlaxoSmithKline.
At this stage I wasn’t sure which career path I would take. A lot of my peers were keen to pursue industry roles following completion of their degree, but as much as I loved my placement year, I knew that the industry environment was not for me. It got me thinking “How could I combine my studious nature, my interest in all things nutrition and my passion for travel and adventure?”.
PhD and postdoc life
I was thrilled to undertake my PhD in diary fatty acids and cardiovascular health at the University of Reading. However, when the funding for the randomised controlled trial in my PhD fell though it was my first need for the infamous sense of ‘resilience’ that gets talked about so much in our career as researchers. My PhD became a mad scramble for funding. No longer was I going to be doing what I had ‘signed up for’. Instead I undertook cell culture work, epidemiological work and ruminant studies, a mile away from a randomised controlled trial in humans! This ‘jack of all trades’ approach to answering my PhD aim actually became an asset for me. Not only in terms of gaining multi-disciplinary experience, but also emotionally, as I learned that one door closing can lead to different and often better doors opening!
After finishing my PhD in the UK, I undertook a one year postdoctoral position on a pan-European personalised nutrition intervention at Newcastle University in the North of England. Although I loved being closer to Scotland again, the deep fried mars bars were not enough of a pull to keep me there! I put out feelers to Universities in Australia and New Zealand but kept getting the same answer: “Great CV but we have no money!”..
That’s when I decided to try my luck at fellowship applications. Thankfully the tides turned when I got in contact with Deakin University’s Institute for Physical Activity and Nutrition (IPAN), which was then called the Centre for Physical Activity and Nutrition Research. Associate Professor Sarah McNaughton and Professor David Crawford were extremely supportive of me and provided encouragement and guidance when drafting my fellowship applications. I applied for two international fellowships (the 6 month Endeavour Fellowship and the 2 year Alfred Deakin Postdoctoral Research Fellowship) to increase my chances and by what I can only describe as luck (and great guidance from IPAN!) I got both!
My research within IPAN focuses on dietary patterns, diet quality and risk of obesity and cardiovascular disease and I have been lucky to work with some inspiring and encouraging experts in my field. As a UK citizen I would say that my research funding journey in Australia is somewhat challenging. I can’t count the number of times that I’ve seen a fantastic grant, award or fellowship scheme and scrolled down the eligibility criteria with a sense of impending doom as I await the phrase “Applicants must be an Australian or New Zealand citizen or an Australian permanent resident.” With my sights set on staying in Australia long term, obtaining citizenship is a priority. It is becoming apparent that the pressure to find funding to stay in research only positions is very real, regardless of citizenship!
Nevertheless, I feel very privileged to work on the cutting edge of new research and to be able to travel the world while doing it. Maybe it’s the cup of Melbourne coffee that I’ve just had but I’m very excited to see what the future holds!