Caitlin Porter '20G

Work at the Intersection of Nutrition Research and Population Health
UNH Nutritional Sciences Master's Degree Candidate Caitlin Porter

Although born in Ottawa, Canada, Caitlin Porter '20G grew up in New Hampshire, which made her especially eager to return to the state and enroll in UNH’s Nutritional Sciences master’s program after receiving her bachelor’s degree in nutritional sciences from the University of Connecticut.

COLSA: How would you explain your discipline and/or research if you were at a party?

Caitlin Porter: Nutritional science is a wide-ranging field that encompasses biology, physiology, chemistry, and social sciences to understand relationships between food and health.

My research with Dr. Sherman Bigornia is specifically focused on a type of fat called omega-3s (found in things like fish oil and walnuts), and how they are related to depression in a Hispanic population. We hypothesize that omega-3s may have more of an impact in people who are experiencing high levels of stress, due to how stress affects the body. My research is observational, meaning we are using data about participants' dietary habits, lifestyle, health, etc. at one point in time as well as over time to look for associations.

COLSA: What do you wish your colleagues/friends/family knew about your work?

Porter: I feel very lucky to be surrounded by supportive colleagues, friends and family. I wish in general people knew there is various rigor in all research, but when a nutrition-related study makes headlines it's important to critically analyze the study.

COLSA: Why is your research important?

Porter: My research is important because the existing research pertaining to my thesis topic is fairly inconsistent. We hypothesize that this inconsistency may be due to a variety of factors, one of which being extent stress impacts the effect omega-3s have on depression.

Identifying those who may benefit most from higher omega-3 intake may have future implications for treatment and prevention of depression. While what we eat is not the only risk factor for depression, it is one that is considered highly modifiable, meaning it is a lot easier to change what you eat than to change your genetics.

COLSA: Have you learned/discovered anything during your research that’s surprised you? If so, what?

Porter: I was surprised to learn that I liked coding more than I anticipated! Nutritional epidemiology is a heavily statistics-based discipline, and our statistical analysis software requires coding, which was entirely new to me.

COLSA: What do you consider your biggest challenge?

Porter: Finding balance between my school work and everything else in my life. It is a constant work in progress to find the happy medium.

COLSA: What drives you?

Porter: I am driven by a strong desire to help others and to help expand the current knowledge that is out there pertaining to nutrition. The human body and human diet are both so complex that there is always more to be learned about how what we eat affects our bodies.

COLSA: What are you most proud of?

Porter: I am proud of my strong work ethic and all of the experiences that I have had, both academically and professionally, which have given me a comprehensive background that’s allowed me to get to where I am today.

COLSA: Why did you choose UNH?

Porter: My research background in molecular nutrition as well as professional experiences in clinical nutrition and community nutrition led to my interest in nutritional epidemiology, which is the intersection of nutrition research with health outcomes in population-based studies. As a lifelong resident of NH, when I learned of the nutritional epidemiology research happening at UNH I was eager to apply to the program.

COLSA: What do you plan to do with your degree?

Porter: I plan to apply the skills and knowledge that I have learned at UNH to future studies in the intersection of nutrition, health, and human disease.

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