Saya Hashimoto is a nutritionist with a Masters in Human Nutrition and is currently working to become registered.
What do you do on an average work day?
I have recently started a small business running workshops with parents and ECE teachers on how to prevent and manage fussy eating behaviours. Fussy eating is a normal phase for kids but how you deal with it can really make a difference in how long it takes to get through the phase. Working on fussy eating is important because it limits dietary diversity which can affect children’s growth and development. It can also set up poor lifelong eating habits and lead to avoidable diet-related diseases like diabetes, cancer and heart disease. It can also really limit your social life and cause anxiety if you have fears around what foods you can and can’t eat.
At the moment I’m setting up so I reach out to ECE centres and am working through all the admin required to set up a small business (researching regulation, budgeting and giving input on flyer design). I wear a lot of hats. I also write blog posts and am on social media for the business as well. I use the Lean methodology which roughly follows the scientific method - you design experiments to test the assumptions you have about your market and adjust your products, services and marketing accordingly.
What did you study at school? And after high school?
Nothing to do with science! I went to a school which offered a slightly unusual curriculum and in 6th form (Year 12) I took psychology, media studies and Japanese. I went to uni on my 6th form marks and did a BA in Sociology and Politics, then did a TESoL, which is a qualification to teach English as a second language. I credit my BA with teaching me how to think critically so I’m definitely a fan of taking some humanities with your STEM degree.
After that I travelled for ten years through Japan, Austria, the United Kingdom, France and Thailand teaching English and working as a cook. I came back to New Zealand in 2011 and did a foundation year in biochemistry and physiology (the hardest year of my academic life!) and then a Postgraduate Diploma in Science (PGDipSci) and MSc.
Was your study directly related to what you do now?
My second degree was. I focussed on maternal and child nutrition in my PGDipSci and for my MSc thesis I conducted a study on more than a thousand New Zealand children looking at whether a commonly used tool could predict adherence to the Ministry of Health food and nutrition guidelines. My teaching background certainly helps with presenting and facilitating workshops and relating to a wide range of people.
What would you like to share with young women who are thinking about their career choices right now?
We live in a world which privileges specialisation and if you happen to be one of those people who know immediately what they want to specialise in then great, go for it! But, I think the complexity of the problems we face as a society means we need solutions that span disciplines. I believe the spaces between disciplines are the most fertile area for solving complex problems. So if you love science but also, say, gender studies, don’t think they’re necessarily mutually exclusive. The training you’ll receive in both disciplines could create a whole new paradigm and you might come up with the solution for sexism! That’s sort of joke, since sexism is systemic, but who knows what problems you could solve when you bring together thinking from different fields.
What are some of your career highlights so far?
I’m just starting out in this career really, but I’m excited to be involved with the Postgraduate and Early Career Nutrition Conference, which provides a forum for young nutrition professionals, whether they are nutrition researchers or practising nutritionists, to learn from each other and present their research in a supportive environment.
It was also cool developing the tool to measure adherence to the Ministry of Health food and nutrition guidelines as part of my study. The guidelines are evidence based to promote optimal growth and development and a tool which measures adherence hadn’t been developed so far.
I’m also an advocate of food literacy - that’s the ability to be able to plan, budget and shop for and cook nutritious meals. I did a review of the literature for the Nutrition Foundation which suggested that food literacy in New Zealand is decreasing and that led to a health promotion programme called Just Cook.
Why do you believe engaging in STEM – whether it’s working in the field, studying it or just educating one’s self around the issues – is important to New Zealand?
We have an economy that is based on a paradox - both dairy export and tourism. Dairy export is not only a low value export, its production is subsidised by the country as a whole because the environmental costs are externalised.
Having more New Zealanders in STEM could mean a more sustainable economy based on clean technologies instead of having to rely on primary exports.
Why is it important to have more women working in STEM?
If we don’t have diversity - not just more women but different kinds of women - in STEM, then the direction our world takes will continue to be steered primarily by the same type of people whose interests are not necessarily aligned with those of everyone else. From a purely economic perspective, having diversity is positive too - companies with diverse staff do better financially.
While I think the fact feminised jobs are poorly compensated is problematic and needs to be changed on a system level, on a personal level for young women starting a career now, jobs in STEM tend to be better compensated than jobs in many other fields which is a plus if being financially independent is important to you.
Saya Hashimoto is a nutritionist with MSc in Human Nutrition. She is currently working to become registered, which requires a one year mentorship after a postgraduate degree. You can follow her on Twitter at @Kuebot.
This profile is part of our series of girls and women in STEM.
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