Her research into school-provided lunches has given Alexandra Manson a busy few weeks in the media spotlight. As she prepared for confirmation of her candidature, we spoke with her about how her team keeps her motivated, and how the famous Flinders ducks have sparked a personal passion.
What is your role at Flinders University?
I’m a PhD candidate and research assistant in the Caring Futures Institute, within the children and families research group.
What journey brought you to Flinders?
I started my Nutrition and Dietetics undergrad here at Flinders in 2017 and I haven’t left. I really enjoyed my undergraduate and Honours study, and was incredibly lucky to be surrounded by such supportive teaching and research teams on a beautiful campus. With my interest in childhood nutrition research, I was drawn to apply for a research assistant role after finishing my degree, working with the same team I did my Honours with. I liked this work and the team so much, I signed up to begin a PhD at the start of this year.
Can you explain your research?
My research is focused on food in schools, with my PhD exploring parent/caregiver perspectives of transforming to a school-provided meal system. My interest in this came from my honours project, where I found that the food consumed by children during school hours was quite misaligned with guidelines and it seems that the nutritional quality hadn’t improved over decades. This led to exploring other possible avenues for nutritious and equal food provision. I particularly want to hear the voices of parents in this discussion, as they are the current primary providers of food consumed in school. So far, it has been great to work with parents and I have learned so much, which makes me very excited about the next 2+ years.
What do you love most about your role?
It’s the research team I’m working with. Research can be very isolating, so having a supportive team makes all the difference in how I’m enjoying my PhD experience – not only for the mental health support provided and social aspects that include lots of laughter, but it’s great to feel involved and learn about other people’s projects and research methods. I wouldn’t be enjoying my research and job so much if it wasn’t for my fellow students, co-workers and supervisors, so thanks go to everyone.
What are you most proud of?
I’m proud of the media work we have done this year. I presented the pilot data which informed my PhD at this year’s Dieticians Australia national conference, and it was great to present at a face-to-face conference for the first time. These results were issued in a media release and I was interviewed on 7News, which was a fun (but scary) experience. It was outside my comfort zone and it felt very exposing to put myself and my project into the public eye. But I learned so much from the experience and it was great to see the media attention build various conversations around food in Australian schools. And all this has happened within the first year of my PhD!
How do you spend your spare time?
In typical dietitian fashion, I love food and drinks, so I really enjoy checking out a new venue or going back at one of my favourite venues around Adelaide with friends or family. I love taking walks around the new wetlands in Victoria Park, especially with so many ducklings around at the moment. It’s a very cute way to wind down – and very Flinders-appropriate for me to love ducks! Otherwise, you’ll probably find me cooking or in front of a sewing machine.