Alumni Spotlight: Megan Thompson, Master of Science in Applied Nutrition Program
Megan Thompson is an alumna of the MS in Applied Nutrition program. Here, she talks about her writing career, how she got interested in the field of nutrition, and how she plans to move forward with her MSAN.
Could you start out by telling us a little bit about yourself, and why you decided to pursue your Master of Science in Applied Nutrition?
I love writing – and after earning my undergrad in Creative Writing, I knew I wanted to be involved in something creative, but I hadn’t found anything in particular that really worked out for me.
I felt like I didn’t have a niche or particular subject that I felt passionate enough about to write at length about. My partner encouraged me to take a look at what subjects and areas I was interested in. And when I really sat and thought about it, I thought, ‘well, what do I enjoy talking about?’ Or ‘what’s something that fascinates me, or gets me excited, or is new to me?’
At the time, my partner and I had been talking about working out, and the role of nutrition in a well-balanced life. Working out was not something I’d ever thought about before. My job required me to sit at my desk all day, and I didn’t necessarily have a stellar diet – but those were not things I ever really gave thought to.
I never really thought about what I ate before. Growing up, my mom made our meals, and in college, I had a meal plan. But then I found myself working full time and truly taking care of myself for the first time – and suddenly I had this partner who encouraged me to look at wellness on a deeper level. I’d never even considered working out. I was always a writer, not a sports person.
But once I got into fitness, it made me pay attention to what I was eating, and what I was putting in my body. Working out made me realize I need water, and I need vegetables, all of that.
And then I realized that I was probably not alone, and this was something everybody probably struggles with. People are learning about their health and happiness all the time – about what is good for you nutritionally, emotionally to keep you breathing and moving.
There’s so much that goes into the field of nutrition – I felt that it would be the perfect topic to blend with my writing skills.
I also realized that if I was to begin writing about nutrition, I didn’t want to say anything that was going to be unsafe, or unresearched. I cared about it enough that I wanted to do it right, so it just clicked – I decided to go back to school to get my Master of Science in Applied Nutrition.
So, what are you up to now that you’ve graduated with your MSAN?
I am still at my current job and I’ve been here for about four years. Being in an online program was great because it allowed me to work full time and build my skills as a project coordinator and still go to school. I like my current company and they treat me well, but I do know in the future if I wanted to I could also branch out and change industries – and that will be easier with a master’s degree.
I also feel like I use the knowledge I’ve gained in this program so much in my daily life. So even if I haven’t found a job that 100% aligns with my degree yet, it’s changed my life anyway.
I love that I have this education. It has changed what I buy at the grocery store, it has changed what I feed myself and my fiancé, it even makes me look at politics in a different way. Politics have never been my strong suit, but I’ve learned more about food laws and policies, and things like nutrition labels. This program has opened up my mind to topics I’d never really thought about before.
How was your work-life balance, working, and taking full-time classes at the same time?
That was something I was worried about going in, especially because of the time difference. I’m in California, so I worried that the scheduling would be difficult.
It ended up working out great. Most of my professors were really understanding if, for whatever reason, I had to reach out and say, “Hey, I need a couple more days on this,” or “This happened to me…” Overall I didn’t have to do that very often, but when I needed them, I felt that the staff and professors were very accommodating when something was happening in my life that I needed to work around.
With my job, in particular, I do a lot of overtime so I don’t really have a regular schedule. I thought I might have a difficult time getting my schoolwork done if I ended up having a crazy week at work, but the assignments were manageable and they were consistent in terms of due dates. So you kind of knew how to plan around it. I never felt that I didn’t have time for school.
In terms of work-life balance, there was a period where I fell behind in one class in particular. It happened to be a very science-heavy course, and it was really difficult for me in terms of what was going on in my personal life at the same time. Kind of a double whammy.
I was just really struggling in that class, and when I realized I wasn’t keeping up, I reached out to the staff. We worked together, and they found options for me so my graduation date wouldn’t be pushed too entirely off track. The staff did everything they could to make sure going forward I had options.
It really meant the world to me, that they figured out different options that I could choose so I could make sure I was on track. Because of that, I finished I think within a couple of months of my original graduation date.
If I ever felt as if I was teetering or anything like that, my professors were really understanding and my student support specialists were very open to hearing what was going on with me – which I really appreciated. The whole program was a very new experience for me and I think it went the best it could have.
Did you ever reach out and get tutoring from SASC, the Student Academic Success Center?
In one of my earlier classes I did use SASC. I was a little overwhelmed with work, so I made an appointment with them, and they helped me with some suggestions on how to organize my schoolwork. We talked about how to organize my materials and how to tackle certain assignments by prioritizing.
Had you done online classes before coming to UNE Online?
Not really. I’d done one online resume-building workshop for creative writing, but nothing that built toward a degree or certificate of any kind.
The online student experience was new to me – meeting with professors online, talking to other students online, all that. But I really enjoyed it!
How was online graduate school versus your in-person undergrad experience?
When I compare online grad school to my bachelor’s experience in a physical classroom surrounded by classmates, I feel like there wasn’t a huge difference. If anything, I was actually more motivated for my online graduate classes – because I got to take it at my own pace.
Sometimes it was actually a lot easier doing courses online because I didn’t need to focus on anything but me and my schoolwork.
If I’m in a classroom, I might be zoning out because maybe I don’t feel like being inside. When I’m in a classroom, I’m not just focusing on school, I get distracted – I’m focusing on social interactions or I’m focusing on this or that.
Since I was taking classes online, I felt that I had the freedom to focus when I wanted to. I could study outside if I wanted to, or stay in my pajamas and hang out with my cat. I felt way more motivated because I got to build an environment that made me feel good and study in that.
What was your favorite thing about the Applied Nutrition program?
I liked how much I was learning in class affected my daily life. I also really loved interacting with my professors. That’s something I also didn’t do enough of during my bachelor’s. The class sizes were huge in undergrad, and I felt very distant from my professors.
But with my online program, my professors were super friendly. I really liked talking to them about their careers, and learning from them – not just what was in the textbooks, but also about their lives. They were from really diverse backgrounds with diverse job experiences. That, along with the subject matter itself, was something that I took home with me in a different way.
Any words of advice for a potential student before starting the program?
Stick with it. There are a lot of points where you just kind of feel overwhelmed, especially if you are going to grad school at the same time as holding down a job or balancing a family. Just remember that you always have resources. Even if you may not have anyone in your personal life to lean on, you have people in the program and at the school, you can reach out to for support.
It’s so worth it. Think about two years in the grand scheme of things – it’s a blink of an eye.
I’ve had nothing but positive experiences with professors and UNE staff when I’ve reached out and asked. So if you feel like there’s a moment you’re struggling, take a breath, open up an email and just start typing something out really quick and say, “Hey, this is what’s happening… Can I get some advice?” It doesn’t matter who it is, if it’s a professor, or a peer, or a student support specialist – somebody will point you in the right direction. There’s always a way.
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