Welcome back to our Food Science and Human Nutrition (FSHN): Day in the Life series! This series is part of our innovative UF/FSHN Careers Advancement Project (CAP), which captures what it’s really like to earn degrees in food science, nutritional sciences, and dietetics. This project will help you discover your career passion by learning about the daily lives of professionals in food science and human nutrition. Today’s topic: working as a postdoctoral research fellow in nutritional sciences.
We are pleased to have Dr. Becca Solch-Ottaiano as our guest, sharing a day in her life as a postdoctoral research fellow. In 2020, Becca graduated from the UF/FSHN department with a Ph.D. in nutritional sciences. As a graduate student, Becca worked with Dr. Bobbi Langkamp-Henken on the effects of probiotics on stress-associated gastrointestinal function in university students.
Read more about her fascinating background in her FSHN feature.
Meet Our UF/FSHN CAP Guest
Name: Becca Solch-Ottaiano
Degree: Ph.D. Nutritional Sciences
Job Title: Postdoctoral Research Fellow at Tulane University School of Medicine, Department of Neurology, Clinical Neuroscience Research Center
Job Description: A postdoctoral research fellow conducts research projects under the mentorship of a research group leader. The job duties of a postdoctoral research fellow include leading studies, writing grants, teaching courses, and publishing research. These duties are designed to prepare the postdoctoral research fellow for a career in the chosen field.
Day in the Life: Becca Solch-Ottaiano, Postdoctoral Research Fellow
Note from Becca: If I am prepping for a grant submission, this schedule will look very similar, but almost all the blocks will be filled with grant writing. At these times, I have more flexibility to work from home with my dog!
|Wake up & caffeinate
This is around the time my husband typically leaves for work, so like it or not, I have started to become more of a morning person. I used to get emails from Dr. Henken early in the morning and think ‘how is she doing that?’ Now I have become that person!
|News, emails, and small writing tasks
I have found that do some of my best thinking and writing in the early morning with a clear head (and prior to getting distracted in the lab). If I don’t have something I’m writing, I’ll respond to emails and review manuscripts/undergraduate projects with the news playing in the background.
I usually go for about a 1-2 mile walk in the morning with my dog. We recently moved out of the downtown area and to the suburbs and traded skyscrapers and traffic for huge oak trees and other dogs. The walk gives us both a headstart on our steps for the day and helps me think about what I am going to prioritize at work.
|Get ready and breakfast
I have been alternating between oatmeal or yogurt with fresh fruit and granola, an egg white scramble with ham and vegetables, or if I’m running late, a protein bar and banana.
|Head into work
I have a little flexibility to leave a bit later than the morning rush. I put on ‘Daily Drive’, which gives me a quick news update from NPR, and some of my favorite music.
At the beginning of the week, my check-in with our research technician, Madison, is a little bit longer than during the rest of the week. During this, we go over the priorities, whether it is the experiments she’s running (right now lots and lots of Western blots) or onboarding our new volunteers. Daily, we just do a quick check-in to see how the previous day went. On Mondays, I also write out my goals for the week. This helps me to structure my time for the week.
I’ve been lucky enough to run four studies and have one going on right now investigating the impact of Mediterranean and Western diets on gut microbiota, inflammation, and cognitive function in rats. We are piloting wet lab experiments on our first study, and I am working on the microbiota analysis for the later studies. I have a lot of data that I am still working to analyze! Performing analyses is one of my favorite parts of the studies.
I try to prep lunches during the weekend to bring during the week, or I bring Trader Joe’s frozen lunches or leftovers. My go-to lunches have been baked salmon with a salad or eggplant and red lentil pasta. This week I tried a new high-fiber (trying to keep my gut microbes happy) recipe that will be added to the rotation: Sweet Potato Beans
A huge part of my responsibility is related to writing activities, whether this is grant proposals, abstract submissions, or manuscripts. I’m thankful to have an adjustable standing desk at work so that I’m not stuck in a chair all day.
Each day we usually have 1-2 volunteers that come into the lab to assist in conducting study tasks (feeding, weighing, or collecting samples from the rats), assisting in experiments (tissue slicing, protein extraction, behavioral assessments), or helping me with literature reviews. Two students are currently working on senior theses and have been awarded or are applying for intramural funding. Starting as a volunteer in the Henken lab in the Food Science and Human Nutrition Department at UF greatly impacted my development as a scientist, and I hope to provide the same opportunities and mentoring to our students.
Throughout the week, I typically have at least one meeting per day. This ranges from lab meetings, workshops, seminars, etc.
|Writing/ Data analysis/ Outreach/ Misc.
I’ll go back to working on the day’s main priority.
I try to go a few days a week, although this can be tricky when I’m working on grants and experiments. I usually get there two or three times per week; otherwise, I’ll continue working until 5:00-5:30pm. As a Ph.D. student, I was a lot more active either in the gym or riding my horse, so I am actively trying to get myself back into this routine. A new gym recently opened in the Tulane building across the street for medical students and faculty, which helps. Sometimes if I am having trouble focusing, I will go to the gym at midday to get a burst of energy and go back to work.
|Play Frisbee and review outside
My dog’s favorite pastime is playing frisbee. If it’s a day I didn’t go to the gym, I’ll go for another walk (and then of course play some frisbee).
We try to make the weeknight meals as easy as possible. My husband and I typically cook meals that have enough leftovers so that on another night all we have to do is heat it up. Some of our go-to meals are lentil soup, smoked chicken thighs with beans and rice, or vegetable fajitas. If it’s just a one-night meal, we’ll try to do something quick like baked salmon.
|Relax, watch series
Time to decompress!
|Get ready for bed
Interested in learning more about careers in Food Science and Human Nutrition? Check out our UF/FSHN CAP series (links forthcoming):
(1) What Can I Do with My Degree?
(2) How to Become a …
(3) Day in the Life