ASN’s Early Career Interest Group and Sustaining Partners are planning a NUTRITION 2024 session titled Building Successful Academic-Industry Partnerships (Monday, July 1, 4 PM CT).   

In this interview, session chairs Christopher Cifelli, PhD, Senior Vice President, Nutrition Research, National Dairy Council and Ashley Toney, PhD, RD, Postdoctoral Fellow, Cleveland Clinic Lerner Research Institute, share insights into the session, as well as the role ASN has had in developing their career.  

Please introduce yourselves. 

[Dr. Cifelli]: 

In my current role, I am responsible for establishing the strategic vision for the nutrition research program, which examines the role of dairy foods as part of healthy and sustainable eating patterns on key health and wellness outcomes. 

[Dr. Toney]: 

As a postdoc, my current research focuses on the intersection between the oral microbiome and nutrition, specifically on the bidirectional relationship between the oral microbiome and diabetes. Moreover, my training as a registered dietitian informs my bench work to provide culturally relevant and sensitive therapeutics to diverse populations. 

[Dr. Cifelli, Dr. Toney]: 

We are very excited for our interactive session “Building Successful Academic-Industry Partnerships” that will take place on Monday, July 1 at 4pm. Two great speakers – Dr. Sharon Donovan and Dr. Andrew Shao – will discuss best practices for building successful research collaborations between industry and academia. Their expertise and experiences will provide early career scientists with learnings and considerations for working with and receiving funding from non-profit and for-profit organizations. An interactive panel discussion will allow the audience to ask their burning questions. Finally, we will have a networking event so the attendees can meet with different industry representatives in a more conversational setting. Round tables will create an informal venue for early career scientists to ask direct questions to representatives from ASN’s Sustaining Partners about their respective research priorities, what it is like to work with them and available funding and engagement opportunities.  

NUTRITION 2024: Get ready to be part of the ultimate nutrition experience!

June 29 – July 2, 2024 · McCormick Place · Chicago, IL

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Why is this topic important to nutrition researchers and, in particular, early career scientists?  

[Dr. Cifelli]: 

I didn’t understand as a graduate student or post-doc the role of industry scientists in nutrition or the opportunities that existed for funding. I also was not aware of some of the differences that exist between obtaining federal versus industry funding. This first-of-its-kind session will provide actionable and relevant information to scientists in academia on what it is like to work with industry, emphasizing how it can help early career scientists advance their careers.  

This is a passion point for me, as the challenges facing the future of nutrition and public health will require coordination and integration among industry, government, and academia. Only by working together to advance nutrition science can we hope to improve health and wellness across the lifespan.  

[Dr. Toney]: 

As an early career scientist, I echo what Dr. Cifelli mentions regarding the difficulty in understanding funding mechanisms between federal/societies or industry – including timelines. We are very excited to have experts not only share their experience in their sectors, but also their journeys to establishing collaborations between industry and academia. I fall under the category of “eager to form industry collaborations but not sure where to start,” so I will definitely learn a lot! 

How have industry-academic partnerships impacted your career? 

[Dr. Cifelli]: 

It’s impacted me immensely! I have had the distinct pleasure of working with amazing academic and government scientists on research that has furthered our understanding on how dairy foods within healthy eating patterns impact health. These collaborations have made me a better scientist. I’ve been able to talk to scientists about proposed studies, present with them on nutrition-related topics at symposia, serve on key panels together, and just have scientific discussions (or sometimes debates) about topics impacting our field. All of this continues to help me grow as a nutrition scientist and, importantly, help all of us figure out how nutrition can improve health in the future.  

What do you hope attendees – particularly early career scientists – will gain from participating in this session?  

[Dr. Toney]: 

I hope that attendees leave this session with an invigorated excitement and understanding of how industry collaborations can greatly strengthen the research we do in academia, or vice versa. From the early career side and as an academic, I’m looking forward to learning more about what our industry partners look for in letters of intent, how timelines work on their end, and what other collaborations are available beyond funds (such as supplies or products). Lastly, I hope our attendees are excited to participate in a first-time networking event where they can meet with industry representatives and have more one-on-one conversations. Who knows – maybe there could be a start of a nice collaboration in the future! 

How has ASN Membership helped further your career? 

[Dr. Cifelli]: 

I earned both my B.S. degree in Biology and my Ph.D. degree in Nutritional Sciences from the Pennsylvania State University. My graduate work focused on understanding how vitamin A status and inflammation affected retinoic acid metabolism. I also utilized mathematical modeling to study the effects of retinoic acid supplementation on whole-body vitamin A kinetics. And, during my post-doctorate work at Penn State, I examined vitamin A kinetics, storage and disposal rates in adults from different ethnic backgrounds. The dynamic, multidisciplinary scientific knowledge and skillsets learned during my years at Penn State laid the foundation for my current role at the National Dairy Council.  

I have been an active ASN member for over 20 years. I currently serve as the Chair of the Sustaining Partners Program and am a member of ASN’s Membership Committee. As I reflect on my journey, ASN has provided me with opportunities to grow as both a scientist and a leader in the field of nutrition science. I joined several Research Interest Sections as a student which helped me meet and network with other scientists across different sectors and with students who had shared interests. Over time, I sought out leadership positions within the RIS, which furthered my professional growth and led to opportunities to participate in other ASN committees later in my career. And, importantly, ASN afforded me a venue to present my science, be challenged with questions from my peers, and learn about the newest advances in nutrition each year. 

[Dr. Toney]: 

I received my B.S. in Nutrition Science from the University of California, Davis followed by my Ph.D. in both Biochemical/Molecular Nutrition and Community Nutrition/Health Promotion from the University of Nebraska-Lincoln. At the bench, I focused on how red raspberry polyphenols, their gut microbes, and their gut-derived metabolites – specifically Urolithin A – attenuate metabolic associated diseases like diabetes and metabolic dysfunction-associated fatty liver disease (MAFLD) using a gnotobiotic mouse model. When I was not at the bench, I worked with community health workers by advocating for their role as the liaison between researcher/clinical and the community. I completed my dietetic internship through the Iowa State University ISPP program in El Paso, TX which enriched my current research on Latino/a/e health and built on my experience as a second-generation Mexican-American. All of these educational opportunities and experiences have helped me see my research through a different lens in hopes of helping my community in future roles. 

ASN has been pivotal in developing my career as a nutrition scientist and registered dietitian. I first joined ASN in 2017 as a second-year PhD student and have attended every ASN conference since! I joined the ASN Student Interest Group (SIG) in 2019, followed by the ASN Early Career Nutrition Executive Committee (ECN) and the Inclusion, Diversity, Equity, and Accessibility Committee (IDEA) in 2021. I have also participated in efforts related to shaping the vision of ASN’s future and was a postdoctoral representative for the Obesity RIS. By providing me with leadership experience, ASN has opened doors to other opportunities both in research leadership roles and grant opportunities. Moreover, it has provided me with a network of amazing nutrition scientists and life-long friends. Currently, I am the Incoming Chair for ECN and look forward to meeting our early career scientists at the conference – and hopefully this session!