“If you are pursuing a masters degree, you are not just a student. You are a colleague engaging in collaborative research with professors.”
Graduate School – Application Process
How did you select your graduate school and program?
I chose to pursue my masters degree in nutrition science at Florida State University because I am passionate about nutrition, health and fitness. I chose Florida State in particular because of its strong research reputation.
What did you do to prepare yourself for graduate school?
I prepared myself for graduate school by taking nutrition-related classes during my undergraduate study. For example, I took classes in medical nutrition therapy, metabolism, organic chemistry and food economics. The concepts I learned in these classes prepared me to succeed in a nutrition science program as well as to become a clinical dietician.
Did your application requirements include standardized test scores?
Yes, the application requirements included GRE test scores. Students needed to have a minimum score of 1000 to be accepted into the nutrition science masters program at Florida State University.
What kind of information did you include in your personal statement?
In my personal statement, I addressed my personal motivations for applying to a masters program as well as my job experience in the health and fitness field and the volunteer hours I accrued during my undergraduate career. I made sure to include the campus organizations and clubs I participated in. I also discussed how earning a masters degree in nutrition science would help me to accomplish my career goals.
How did you choose faculty to approach for letters of recommendation?
For my letters of recommendation, I chose faculty who knew me the best during my undergraduate education. My particular application required 3 letters total, 2 from professors and 1 from a professional.
Do you have any other tips for a student who is considering applying to graduate school in nutrition science?
I would advise a prospective student who is considering applying to graduate school in nutrition science to become involved in their field of study as much as they can. It is crucial to establish a personal relationship with professors, because these connections become invaluable when applying for assistantships or internships in the future. By immersing yourself in your program, rather than being a spectator, you gain so much more knowledge
Graduate School – The Program
How long was your program and how was the curriculum distributed?
My masters program in nutrition science is 2 years long. During the first year, students focus on coursework and research. If students choose to forgo writing an optional thesis during their second year, they may graduate in 1 and a half years. Because I decided to complete a thesis and the dietetic internship, it took me 2 years to finish the program.
In addition to coursework and thesis work, I served as a teaching assistant each semester. For example, during one year of my program, I taught a foods laboratory and a science of nutrition course for undergraduates in our college. I also completed the dietetic internship during the second year of the program.
What was the focus of your masters research?
My masters research focused on bone health and osteoarthritis. Through a series of lab trials and cell culture studies, I examined whether a specific phytochemical was able to enhance or inhibit bone cell growth.
I decided to complete my masters thesis because I wanted to become more involved with the nutrition science program and increase my chances of securing an assistantship. In addition, I felt that the research experience would better prepare me for a career after I completed my degree.
Can you describe the process of researching for and writing your thesis?
I spent the entire duration of my masters program working on my thesis. During my first year, I mainly worked on exploring different research areas, learning how to work in a lab and narrowing down my topic for approval so that I could start writing my thesis by my second year. In order to keep me on track, the dean's office set certain deadlines during the spring of my last semester.
Did your program have an internship component?
My masters program in nutrition science at Florida State University had an option for completion of a dietetic internship. This application process for the internship was separate from the grad school application process, but I was still accepted.
What role did your advisor play in your education?
At the beginning of my program, I was assigned to an advisor who played an important role in my academic career by giving me advice and guidance. He helped me figure out a topic for my thesis project and interacted with me on a daily basis about other academic assignments.
Did your masters program require comprehensive exams prior to graduation?
Because I was thesis student, I did not have to complete comprehensive exams. However, the students who chose not to do a thesis had to pass all of their comprehensive exams in order to graduate. Many nutrition science students ultimately want to become registered dietitians and also need to pass the registration exam to be able to practice after graduation.
How does a masters program differ from undergraduate study?
A masters program differs from undergraduate study in the level of engagement. If you are pursuing a masters degree, you are not just a student. You are a colleague engaging in collaborative research with professors. Masters students take ownership in the quality of their work and adopt a hands-on approach to their studies by doing research and collecting data.
Graduate School – Paying for It
How much did your masters program cost?
The masters program at Florida State University costs anywhere from $20,000 to $40,000, depending if you are an in-state, out-of-state or international student. However, some students, like me, did not end up paying the full tuition cost because of teaching and research assistantships granted by the college.
How did you fund your education?
I funded my education through an initial loan and financial support from teaching and research assistantships. I also worked part time at the university gym, as well as another local studio, teaching group exercise classes. Because I served as a teaching assistant each semester, a portion of my tuition was paid for, so I did not have to take out as many loans.
Graduate School – Living Life
What were the time commitments for a masters degree in nutrition science?
Being a masters student in the nutrition science program was a full-time job. I spent at least 8 hours each day doing research, teaching, grading and attending classes. My day usually began at 8:00 a.m., depending on what classes I was taking or teaching, and usually ended around 6:00 p.m. If I was teaching or taking a night class, some days would end around 8:00 p.m. When you are conducting research, the hours always vary.
During the time that we were running clinical studies, I devoted approximately 3 to 4 hours to working with study participants, which involved scheduling, recruiting, drawing and preparing their blood for analysis, completing questionnaires, performing physical activity tests, and explaining laboratory procedures to them. After that, I often worked on my thesis for 2 or 3 hours and spent some time in the lab. Because I was heavily involved with research, I often visited the lab to meet with participants on the weekends.
How did graduate school affect your personal life?
Because graduate school is so time consuming, you end up getting to know the people in your program very well and you become friends. Although I devoted most of my time to studying and conducting research, I made enough time to exercise during the week.
Graduate School – After Graduation
Where do you see yourself in 5 years?
In 5 years, I envision myself working as a nutrition counselor and a personal trainer. I currently work for a sports supplement company and hope to build a client base in the near future.
Are you planning on pursuing a PhD? If so, how are you preparing for the admissions process?
I am interested in pursuing my PhD in the future, but for now, I would like to gain experience in the sports nutrition field before furthering my education. If a program offers a good financial aid package, I would be more inclined to return to school.
Graduate School - Advice
What insights can you offer a student who is interested in pursuing a masters degree in nutrition science?
I would advise prospective nutrition science students to keep an open mind to new experiences, especially in terms of research. As a research assistant, I often interacted with a diverse group of participants and needed to maintain a positive and professional attitude.
Similarly, I would remind students that the research component of the program might be the most stressful and challenging. Although I received help from professors and classmates during the research process, I was performing many tasks, such as a cell culture experiments, for the first time.
In addition, I would suggest that students take full advantage of program resources once they are enrolled in their graduate program. In my experience, I have found it helpful to network with students and professors in order to build a wide social network.