So You Want to be a Nutritionist - Tips & Tricks
When I set out on this journey of becoming a nutritionist, I found it such a confusing process! You are faced with deciding between nutrition, dietetics and nutritional therapy, then deciding where to study and how long to study for, figuring out the course requirements and then getting accepted to the course, all before actually starting a course! After that, there are decisions about work experience, career paths, applying for jobs, becoming registered and so on. It is a confusing field to say the least! While I am no expert, I have now almost completed my masters degree and I am starting an amazing job as a nutritionist so I have navigated many of these problems and learned a lot along the way. So here are my tips for those interested in the field, whether you are at school, already on a nutrition programme or have already graduated.
Before starting a nutrition programme:
- First things first, make sure that this is the right option for you! If possible, try and shadow or at least talk to a nutritionist and ask them about their job and their day-to-day activities. It can seem like a glamorous career thanks to instagram, but it is HARD work, with lots of science and lots of exams. Plus jobs aren't the easiest to find and being self-employed is hard so think carefully!
- Decide whether you want to study nutrition, dietetics or nutritional therapy. Dietetics is the most clinical application, your course will be funded by the NHS and you will likely get a job in the NHS afterwards. The course covers nutrition in hospital settings (eg. surgical settings, medical conditions) and is very rigorous, but focuses less on general health for everyday people and populations. Nutrition focuses on general nutrition for the everyday person, you will cover some clinical conditions, but you will NOT be able to work with people who have conditions such as diabetes, liver failure, surgery etc. Many nutritionists work in industry for companies, or in community settings or 1-1 settings. Both nutritionists and dieticians are registered and regulated by governing bodies and both require either 3 year degrees or a masters degree. Nutritional therapy is a holistic option that requires less education, ranging from a weekend course to 2-3 years. It is VERY different from nutrition and dietetics and is not as science-based. If you can go for a university course in nutrition or dietetics, then please do. More details on the different subsets can be found here.
- Pick your course wisely! Once you have decided which subset of nutrition, use this tool to find ACCREDITED courses. Aim to choose one that has AfN accreditation as upon completion, you can be automatically registered as a nutritionist. Dieticians must also follow an approved course. If you have already done a degree, there are some great masters programmes out there that allow you to convert, that is what I did and it has been perfect! You will likely need a strong science background to apply so check the requirements. Look at the course details and see if it fits your interests. Also pay attention to the rankings, they aren't everything, but they give a decent indication of the quality of the course. The University of Surrey (my uni) is currently ranked as the best in the country for nutrition - not to brag haha!!
During a nutrition degree:
- Work hard and study hard! A first class degree isn't everything, but you will likely need a 2:1 or above to go on to further study or to a job. Nutrition is also a field where you will need to know the information you learn so you better learn it!
- Get in the work experience early. I have seen so many people start hunting for jobs at the end of their degree and realise they have no relevant experience whatsoever. If you are starting a 3 year course, look for experience as soon as you can. My advice would be to be very open to any experience as you can relate a lot of things back to nutrition. I worked for a healthy food startup for one summer doing mostly social media and marketing but with a bit of nutrition and it was great experience as it gave me valuable business and marketing knowledge! I aimed to use as much nutrition knowledge as possible and my boss let me gain nutrition experience by helping analyse products and do nutrition marketing so definitely make the experience your own. Don't be afraid to ask!!
- Work experience can be anything from volunteering to a paid job, so be creative. Look for local food charities to volunteer with, or community nutrition programmes. Check out places like indeed and Work In Startups for internships for food/wellness companies. Ask your lecturers for experience in their labs. Look for career days in your local public health office. Start a nutrition blog or instagram! My blog has helped me so much more than I ever thought it could in job applications and interviews because it gives you something to talk about and something to link back to. It also acts as your portfolio and starting to make a name for yourself is always a good thing.
- Befriend your lecturers. You may not be able to think of anything worse than talking to your lecturers, but do it. You will likely need references and you will want them to be good ones.
- In all of these situations, my best advice is to make CONNECTIONS. Most of the opportunities I have had come my way have been through my network from people that you may not have thought twice about. Make a good impression on people and they will remember you.
After your degree and job hunting:
- Ideally, try to figure out what path you want to take before you have finished your course so that you can start planning and start job hunting early! There are so many routes you can go with a nutrition degree from private practice, to big food companies, to public health, to charities, the list goes on. Think about what sort of work environment you want to be in and what you want your day-to-day tasks to be. Do you want to be delivering nutrition sessions to groups? Working with people one on one? Working in governing bodies at a population level?
- Many people want to go in to private practice, but my advice would be to go in to something else first. Setting up a practice is a massive leap of faith and you need to be in a financially stable position to do so. You should get some savings, experience and a bit of a following under your belt first so that you are likely to succeed. Starting a practice straight out of uni is possible, but you will not have much experience and likely will need a stable income, you could make next to nothing the first few months of starting a practice!
- Perfect your CV and interview skills. Make sure your CV really shows off your skills and the things you have learned through different experiences. Qualifications are great, but it really is your experience and skills that employers care about. Think about how you can communicate these in an interview and ask people to help you practice!
- Know where to look. Job hunting can be HARD. I have found a few places that are great for nutrition jobs: the twitter account @pubhealthjobsuk reposts tons of amazing jobs in public health on a daily basis and many of them are nutrition-related, this is where I found my job! Another great tip is to make sure you follow lots of great nutritionists and nutrition companies on their social media as jobs are very often posted there and then never make it to big job websites because they get snapped up!
- If you get to an interview, be sure to PREPARE. Know what sector you are applying for and be familiar with hot topics and guidelines in that field. In my job interview, we were asked a lot about community nutrition and one girl actually answered a question saying "well I would recommend to them to switch to honey instead of sugars because it is healthier and not added sugar". If you have studied nutrition, you know that this is completely wrong and she did not make it through to the next round!
- Don't be picky. Your first job may not be your dream job, but there aren't many jobs out there in nutrition where you are practicing as a nutritionist so be open to other ideas. Working for food startups is a great option as they will often give you leeway to use all of your skills and as an associate nutritionist, you need to develop many different skills, not just your nutrition knowledge.
I hope that you found this helpful, be sure to comment below or get in touch if you have any questions. Nutrition really is a great field and I couldn't be happier with my decision!