Daiva Nielsen

Daiva Nielsen

Daiva Nielsen

Alumna, PhD (2014), Nutritonal Sciences​​

Winner, 2014 Provincial Three Minute Thesis (3MT®)

“The faculty members inspire me to reach my best potential.”

I am passionate about nutrition research. I credit my grandmother. Family meals would include a short lesson about the vitamins and minerals in the foods we were eating. Her influence led me to study nutrition.

I am completing my PhD in the Department of Nutritional Sciences, where I earned my BSc. During my undergraduate studies, I volunteered in different nutrition research labs and gained valuable exposure to the diverse areas of nutritional sciences. I am researching personalized nutrition and nutrigenomics — the study of how genetic variations affect the way people process nutrients and how nutrients affect the way our genes are expressed.

My lab has shown that dietary recommendations can be tailored, or personalized, to a person’s DNA. These DNA-based recommendations are an application of nutrigenomics science — referred to as personalized nutrition. My research examines whether individuals follow DNA-based dietary advice more closely than the current “one-size-fits-all” dietary advice provided by health agencies.

I chose to do my undergraduate degree here because U of T is one of the top universities in North America with a renowned Nutritional Sciences department that is part of a Faculty of Medicine — not common for nutrition departments.

I was inspired by the professors — incredibly talented world-class researchers and effective educators. The research experience gained in my BSc propelled me to pursue graduate studies. I enjoyed developing hypotheses, conducting studies, and analyzing data. I continued my studies at U of T after identifying a research area that I wanted to pursue; personalized nutrition is extensively researched by Dr. Ahmed El-Sohemy, now my PhD supervisor. So I began as an MSc student and then reclassified into the PhD program after my first year.

The faculty members inspire me to reach my best potential. They provide me with valuable guidance and encouragement. My involvement in extra-curricular activities enriches my graduate experience substantially. I have made great friendships through these activities while accomplishing important community outreach in Toronto.

I was fortunate to receive a Banting and Best Diabetes Centre Studentship and an Ontario Graduate Scholarship, as well as several travel awards to present my research at national and international conferences.

However, the 3MT® [Three Minute Thesis] competition has been a highlight of my graduate experience. Graduate studies involve a considerable public speaking component; I struggled in this area. With the help of my supervisor and lab group, I improved my public speaking abilities. I am very proud of winning the 3MT​®.

I hope to become a postdoctoral fellow to integrate nutrition-related genetic information into clinical practice. Personalized nutrition is a promising strategy for health promotion; I’m interested in determining the best way to deliver this information to individuals and to uncover how it can intersect with public health approaches for promoting healthy dietary habits.

I would encourage prospective students to be confident in their abilities to succeed in graduate school. Graduate studies requires a lot of hard work and dedication, but there are many resources available along the way. You will experience personal satisfaction as you move through the program and accomplish things you never imagined.​​

See U of T News story “Diet advice: more persuasive when it’s based on your DNA, research says​” and The Ongoing Impact of My 3MT® Experience.