Before starting college, Katherine L. Tucker had never considered a career in nutrition sciences. In hindsight, however, she realizes it was the perfect match for her.
“My parents were from farms in Iowa which I visited every summer of my childhood,” she says. “My grandmother used to say ‘food is cheaper than medicine’ —that pretty much sums up why nutritional sciences is such an important field.”
Prof. Tucker has turned her early roots in food and nutrition into a research career contributing to more than 300 articles in scientific journals. At UMass Lowell, she leads the Center for Population Health and Health Disparities, tackling the problems of nutrition in our society head on. She is also a member of the Institute of Medicine’s Food and Nutrition Board, contributing her expertise to the nation's Dietary Reference Intake guidelines.
Tucker began her studies at the University of Connecticut as a chemistry major, but soon learned that she could combine her interests in science and food and major in nutritional sciences. Tucker was fascinated with the science of staying healthy. As an honors scholar, she had her first exposure to research in a study working with teenage African-American girls and developing nutrition education programs.
While she was serving in the Peace Corps in the Philippines, she decided to pursue a Ph.D. in nutritional sciences to make a powerful, global impact. At Cornell University, she researched maternal employment and child nutrition in northern Panama, where she spent a year collecting data.
Tucker’s interest in community nutrition expanded into understanding the policies of food, epidemiology and the changing landscape of a complex industry. She went on to work at Tufts University, where she founded a new graduate program in nutritional epidemiology.
For Tucker, there are no limits to the field of nutrition, and she encourages students interested in both chemistry and healthy food to consider it.
“Nutrition intersects with just about everything,” she says. “Everyone consumes food, and insight into how this everyday process affects health involves complex, scientific questions.”
The field includes aspects of clinical management, epidemiology and prevention, biochemistry, sociology, economics and psychology, offering students diverse career opportunities.