Alumni Spotlight

Rachel Kopec, PhD
OSUN graduate, 2012

Current Position: AgreenSkills Postdoctoral Research Fellow,
Institut national de la recherche agronomique (INRA), Avignon, France

Statement: Pursing my Ph.D. through The Ohio State University Nutrition (OSUN) program was easily the best professional decision I’ve ever made. When I finished my bachelor’s degree in Pharmaceutical Sciences, I was debating between pursuing a Ph.D. in pharmacognosy (i.e. drug discovery) at a new institution, or switching disciplines and remaining at OSU to study functional foods and disease prevention. I contacted multiple professors, made school visits, and read recent publications…but ultimately, I decided that disease prevention was a more logical approach than disease treatment, and I saw more opportunity to have a positive impact on the state of human health through this area. Furthermore, I felt that no other program would better prepare me for functional food research than the interdisciplinary nutrition program at OSU.

My advisor, Dr. Steven J. Schwartz, was housed in the Food Science and Technology Department under the College of Agriculture. My thesis work was focused on the bioavailability, bioefficacy, and metabolism of tomato carotenoids. Our offices and analytical chemistry-focused laboratory were located on West campus, but I spent significant periods of time at the OSU Medical Center studying the protective effects of tomato carotenoids on UV-visible radiation in hairless mice with Dr. Tatiana Oberyszyn’s group, and visiting with human subjects and collecting post-prandial samples to study carotenoid bioavailability and provitamin A conversion at the Clinical Research Center. I also helped to harvest unique varieties of tomatoes grown by Dr. David Francis at an OSU affiliated agricultural research station in NW Ohio, and processed these tomatoes into various products using Food Industries Center facilities. Auxiliary research projects gave me the opportunity to regularly interact with Dr. Steven Clinton’s (a research oncologist who specializes in diet and cancer), Dr. Earl Harrison’s (vitamin A guru), and Dr. Robert W. Curley Jr.’s (medicinal chemist) groups, further expanding my knowledge-base.

It’s rare to find a program that allows you to have such a breadth of research experiences with first-class collaborators in complementary fields, while still providing you with a strong foundation in nutritional science through required coursework, weekly seminars, and an active graduate club. Since I finished my Ph.D. 3 years ago, I have met a number of scientists trained under other programs both domestically and abroad. I can honestly say that OSUN prepared me as well as, if not better than, my peers for a research career in my field. It gave me the skill set and the credentials to successfully compete for the prestigious fellowship I hold now, and to be amongst the top candidates for assistant faculty positions for which I’m currently applying. Furthermore, the relationships I forged with faculty and other students have continued to support me as I move into new stages of my career. This multidisciplinary approach might not be a good fit for everyone, but for someone who is independent, self-motivated, and curious, I would highly recommend it.