The nutrition community is made up of individuals with diverse experiences, perspectives, and ideas. This diversity is the fundamental strength of our professional society. Through this member spotlight series, we celebrate our diversity and the vast achievements made by our members in the field.
Meet Dr. Naima Moustaid-Moussa, ASN’s Vice President Elect (2023-2024).
Please introduce yourself, including your personal interests outside of your profession.
My name is Naima Moustaid-Moussa, an Amazigh native of Morocco. I started my undergraduate education in Morocco, at the University Mohamed V in Rabat, then completed my undergraduate studies in Cell Biology and Physiology/Nutrition at The University Paris Saclay (formerly University Paris XI at Orsay). My MS and PhD degrees were completed at the University of Paris P & M Curie, now Sorbonne University, in Cell, Molecular and Metabolic Aspects of Endocrinology. I completed my dissertation in pathophysiology of nutrition, which was focused on nutritional and genetic regulations during the development of obesity, at an INSERM 177 unit (a unit of the French National Institute for medical Research), directed by Marcelle Lavau. I then moved to the United States for a postdoctoral fellowship in Nutrition at Harvard School of Public Health in molecular nutrition, mentored by Hei Sook Sul. Following my postdoctoral training, funded by a fellowship from the Juvenile Diabetes Foundation, I joined the faculty in the Nutrition department at the University of Tennessee at Knoxville, where I moved through the ranks to become a tenured professor in Nutrition, with appointments in Animal Sciences and the University of Tennessee (UT)Extension (Family & Consumer Sciences) at the UT Institute of Agriculture.
I met my husband, Hanna Moussa, in Boston, during my postdoc training, and we have been married now for over 30 years, and have three children, Sami Moussa, now married and employed in the energy field, Zaina Moussa, third year MD/PhD student at UCSF/UC Berkley, and Yasmine Moussa, sophomore at Harvard. Hanna is currently faculty in Physics & Astronomy at Texas Tech University.
Hanna and I love traveling, exploring new cultures, natures, languages, and cultural foods; we prefer warm places and beaches, to cold ones. We also love music, especially classical Arabic music. Hanna excels in playing the middle eastern and north African instrument, Lute and I often join him in our home performances by playing drums (Darbouka) during our parties with friends and our lab members. We also enjoy cooking North African/Moroccan and Middle Eastern dishes and share them.
What drew you to the field of nutrition science, research, and practice? What led you to become involved with ASN?
Initially, I was primarily fascinated by the complexity of lipid biochemistry in my biochemistry classes, especially the dynamic and flexible nature of the lipid molecules and their importance in guiding various membrane structures and cell functions. This led me to complete my dissertation at the INSERM 177, led then by Marcelle Lavau, a pioneer in nutrition, rodent feeding studies, adipose tissue metabolism, and the development of obesity.
During my postdoc training, I attended and presented at Experimental Biology (EB) meetings. That is where I met some prospective employees when I was applying for faculty positions. At EB meetings, I became more familiar with ASN; and as I joined the UT faculty in Nutrition in 1993, I officially joined ASN as a member and made sure all my students and postdocs participated in ASN activities, including attending and presenting at the EB (previously) and Nutrition meetings. I have been an ASN member since 1993/1994 and have remained a member and attended almost all of the ASN annual meetings.
How has your career developed as a result of being an ASN member? What advice would you give to ASN members looking to advance in their careers or take risks for their professional development?
ASN was one of my primary professional societies, where I met, early on in my career, several mentors and friends, many of whom became my great support group. Besides presenting and taking my students to ASN/EB meetings, I became involved early on, in Research Interest Sections. I was among the early leaders of the Nutrient-Gene Interactions (NGI) Research Interest Section, which I also chaired and some of my students became leaders in that RIS as well. My involvement in the RISs further expanded my knowledge in focused nutrition areas, connected me with several collaborators, and provided me with a great way to hone my leadership skills. The RISs as well as ASN staff provided significant mentoring support that helped me in my career and in becoming one of the society leaders. Many ASN members in my network helped with my grant reviews, providing recommendation letters for various purposes as well as personal advices.
As I significantly benefited from ASN, I have always supported my student’s involvement in ASN activities and programs, beyond scientific presentations. Some of them have taken leadership positions within ASN and now provide themselves as support to RISs and early career members.
Students, postdocs, and early career members, I highly recommend you to be actively involved in ASN GEMs (Groups engaging Members) by volunteering and by getting nominated for various open positions within these groups. For students and postdocs, this is a great opportunity to connect with potential employees. By doing so, you and your work will be known. For early career faculty, you often need recommendations for grant applications, tenure, and promotion. Those potential recommenders may be within ASN. So, you should not be going to ASN just to attend presentations; get engaged and involved as well. It is so worthwhile for your professional development and success in your career goals. ASN has done an amazing job and has even more resources now than we had back in the 90s to support early career members, so please get involved to contribute to the future of nutrition research, education, policy, and practice! As mentors, we all want our trainees to do even better than us and make greater impacts.
Who are some of the individuals that influenced you and what events or opportunities would you attribute to your academic and professional success?
Several individuals influenced me. First, my family, especially my parents whom, without having received themselves any formal education or schooling at all, recognized the value of education and supported/expected us to excel and pursue higher education. This was at the time when some adults from my parents’ generation did not send girls to school. I am so grateful for their support, which was essential to my advancement to where I am now.
Next, I am grateful to my PhD mentors, especially Marcelle Lavau, Annie Quignard-Boulange and Bernard Hainque in France, my postdoc mentor Hei Sook Sul, and many other mentors I met through them or through EB/Nutrition meetings, especially Susan Fried (currently at Mt. Sinai Icahn School of Medicine) and Judith Storch (Rutgers University), who have been great mentors for so many years at various levels. There are too many other colleagues to name; these include collaborators and students/postdocs, many of whom have contributed significantly to my professional development and research program, become my friends, and continue to support me.
Susan Fried and Judy Storch, especially, have connected me with many influential nutrition scientists from whom I learned so much. Many of these connections supported various aspects of my personal life as well as my career advancement.
Professional development opportunities during EB and Nutrition meetings were critical for my career advancements. For example, through these connections, I was invited to participate in meetings of the Food and Nutrition Board at the National Academies, early on in my career. Our past ASN president, then director of the Office of Dietary Supplement (ODS), invited me to participate in one of the early strategic planning forums of ODS, and this opportunity significantly expanded my knowledge and interest in anti-inflammatory mechanisms of dietary bioactive compounds in metabolic diseases, a key area of our current research program. I credit my career advancements, both scientifically and to becoming an ASN presidential candidate, the amazing and unconditional support from my family (parents, husband, and children), my current and former lab members, ASN mentoring and networking resources, and all my mentors and support groups. I am also grateful for the support I previously received from my former institution, UT, as a new faculty, and the current support with great resources and leadership opportunities from my current institution, Texas Tech University.
How can ASN, as an organization of individual members, help current and future scientists find career growth opportunities?
Uniquely, ASN has a significant number of its members as early career and student members. Thus, this is a great opportunity for ASN to engage these members and support their professional development. We already have specific RISs/GEMS for students and early career members and the professional development and leadership training opportunities that ASN provides are outstanding. Every career member should take advantage of these. ASN should also regularly assess the needs of these members and plan accordingly to identify ways to prepare them to be ASN ambassadors and global leaders in the field of nutrition.
ASN should also identify those with leadership potential early on and support them to grow professionally through networking and leadership training. Engage even more nutrition departments across the country and communicate ASN’s mission and support for trainees who are the future association and nutrition leaders. We could also do more within ASN to get students and postdocs from various nutrition departments across the country to communicate and interact. I believe ASN has an obligation to contribute to nutrition and health not only within the United States, but also globally, in our interconnected world. Therefore, engaging and contributing to training and professional development of international early career members, students, and postdocs residing overseas is within ASN mission to improve health through nutrition, globally.