Meet undergraduate student Lydia McGrath

Lydia McGrath standing in front of a brick wall.
Lydia McGrath

Lydia McGrath is interested in the important role nutrition plays in preventing and managing disease and optimizing health. Her interest in the connections between food and physical and mental well-being led her to study nutritional sciences and start on the path to becoming a Registered Dietitian. Along the way she’s become an active member of the UConn community. She heads the UConn Nutrition Club, serves as an intern in Student Health and Wellness and assists in research in the Department of Nutritional Sciences, all while she prepares her thesis in the Honors Program. Read more about McGrath’s experiences as a UConn student.

What attracted you to the UConn College of Agriculture, Health and Natural Resources?

Going into college I had no doubt that I wanted to study nutrition and learning about UConn CAHNR’s Didactic Program in Dietetics sealed the deal for me. This program allows me to take classes that align with my interests and sets me on track to achieving my long-term career goal of becoming a Registered Dietitian.

In addition to the wonderful academic opportunities, I was drawn to the CAHNR because of the sense of community and belonging that it provides. For me, CAHNR helps make such a large university feel small and familiar, which I found particularly helpful in my transition to UConn as an out-of-state student. I also greatly appreciate the amount of guidance I have received from my professors and advisors in the College. I find the faculty in CAHNR, as well as the students that I have met through my major, to be extremely kind and welcoming. I am proud to be a member of the College.

What is your major, and why did you choose it?

I am majoring in nutritional sciences, which is something I had my mind set on since my early adolescent years. I am intrigued by the influence that food has on health and well-being as nutrition plays a large role in the prevention and management of chronic diseases, as well as the optimization of health in general. I am particularly interested in dispelling myths around nutrition that are disseminated in the media. There are so many claims around nutrition that lack scientific evidence, which can have serious consequences on individuals’ mental and physical wellbeing. Through my own experiences, I have learned the importance of proper nourishment, as well as the importance of having a truly healthy and sustainable relationship with food.

I am incredibly interested in the science behind nutrition, which has also led me to pursue a minor in food science. The nutritional sciences major, and specifically the Didactic Program in Dietetics, sets me on track towards my ultimate goal of becoming a Registered Dietitian (RD). As a RD, I will be able to use my knowledge, skills and interests to support others with nutrition-related issues and to help resolve general myths and misconceptions around nutrition.

Which one of your UConn activities, internships or jobs was the most memorable? Why?

I have been an active member of the UConn Nutrition Club since my freshman year and this experience has definitely been a highlight of my time at UConn thus far. I’ve had the opportunity to participate in many of the club’s events, such as tabling at the Hartford Marathon, hosting various events at the campus dining halls and volunteering at local soup kitchens and community gardens. I’ve also had the opportunity to serve as secretary for the Nutrition Club last year and I am currently one of the presidents of the Club. Of course, the Club’s events will look different this semester as we transition to a virtual format, but I am excited for what we do have planned!

Tell us about two other experiences that have enriched your studies.

Another experience that I am incredibly grateful for is my involvement in undergraduate research. I work in Professor Maria-Luz Fernandez’s lab and I am currently helping with a study on the effectiveness of whole egg consumption as part of a plant-based diet in improving biomarkers of metabolic disease. As a student in the Honors Program, I will be doing a thesis project during my senior year and working in Professor Fernandez’s lab has been the ideal experience in preparing me for this thesis project.

This semester I have also started a job in the nutrition office at Student Health and Wellness. This job provides a valuable opportunity to gain professional experience in my field of study. I am deeply grateful for this experience. Working with the dietitians on campus has furthered my enthusiasm for what I study and strengthened my desire to work in the field of nutrition.

What has been the biggest challenge in your UConn career?

The biggest challenge in my UConn career has been trying to find a balance between my classes, work, extracurricular activities and all other areas of life. I have a lot on my plate and juggling it all can definitely get stressful at times. Nonetheless, I make an effort to practice effective time management, which I’d consider to be essential for my success and productivity. I invest a great deal of effort into my classwork while taking advantage of all the additional opportunities that UConn has to offer!

When do you expect to graduate? What then?

I expect to graduate in May 2022. After that, I plan on going on to complete a dietetic internship and obtain my master’s degree in order to take the registration exam for Dietitians.

As a RD, I hope to work in a clinical setting. I would be interested in helping patients in the prevention and treatment of chronic disease, working with individuals with eating disorders and in general working with people from a wide variety of different backgrounds.

Has the COVID-19 pandemic affected your studies or research?

The pandemic has affected me in various ways as I’ve had to transition most of what I do to an online format. However, I am fortunate enough to be able to live on campus this semester and continue my studies. Most of my classes are online and I am still able to engage in research as well as continue working and participating in my extracurricular activities. While the pandemic has definitely brought some challenges into my life, I am grateful to be able to continue doing what I do through a predominantly virtual format.

Is there anything else you would like us to know about you?

Outside of school, my favorite activities include reading, cooking and baking, running and doing yoga!

By Jason M. Sheldon