In high school, Dr. Elaine Turner enjoyed the sciences, particularly chemistry. After exploring careers in this area of science, Turner discovered nutrition and food to be an intriguing field. A family friend arranged for her to take a tour of Kellogg’s, where she met two staff members who applied their nutrition backgrounds to product development and communications. This trip led her to enter college with the intention of becoming a registered dietitian for a food company.
After completing her undergraduate degree in dietetics and becoming a registered dietitian, Turner gained experience in clinical dietetics. This path led her to continue her education studying a master’s in nutrition. While in her graduate program, Turner secured a teaching assistantship with the dietetics program. It was through this experience that she discovered her passion for teaching.
“As a clinical dietitian, I might work intensely with a patient on their nutritional needs over a few days or maybe a week, and often not know what outcomes they experienced,” Turner said. “As a teacher and adviser, I got to know students over an extended period of time and could see the progress they made in learning and in achieving their goals.”
Turner began a non-tenure track position teaching nutrition at the university where her husband had taken a tenure-track position. Two years into her role, she began her Ph.D. to continue in a tenure-track faculty position. She gained such a position at UF with a teaching and Extension appointment. Following promotion to associate professor, Turner had the opportunity to participate in leadership development programs that led to her interest in joining the UF/IFAS College of Agricultural and Life Sciences as associate dean. She now serves as dean of the college – a position she has held for the past four years.
Having worked under male deans in her role as an associate dean, Turner feels that she has not been treated any differently as a female in the dean’s role. “My approach to work has always been to do my best, and neither apologize for nor seek special considerations because of my gender,” she said.
Turner encourages young women to find a field of study that interests and excites them, while having opportunities for impact. “All areas of study benefit from a diversity of backgrounds and perspectives,” she said. “The agricultural and life sciences present a wide range of opportunities for careers with impact and in disciplines that span the biological and physical sciences, social sciences, technology and engineering. Find that area that you feel passionate about and are willing to work hard for what you want to achieve – and go for it!”