Dietetic Career Spotlight: Shelly Najjar
By STACEY DUNN-EMKE, MS, RD on FEBRUARY 7, 2013
Who says you have to wait to be out of college to start your career? Find out how Shelly Najjar is working in the dietetics field as a tester for a nutrition website while working towards becoming a Registered Dietitian in a coordinated graduate school program. – Sarah
Sarah Koszyk, RD: What attracted you to the field of nutrition and dietetics?
Shelly Najjar: I was in eighth grade when I decided I wanted to be a dietitian. Every year we did a science fair project, and my project that year was on how cooking method affects the vitamin C content of vegetables. My dad noticed my interest in the topic, and suggested that I look into jobs related to nutrition. Throughout my time as an undergraduate, I volunteered at many different locations to get a better idea of the variety in the field of nutrition. Today, nutrition appeals to me because it is applicable to everyone and there are so many options.
Your Job Title?
Graduate Student and Dietetic Intern (at U of Washington)
Website Tester (PapayaHead)
Company you are with now?
I am a full-time student studying Public Health Nutrition in the Graduate Coordinated Program in Dietetics at the University of Washington in Seattle.
I am also working part-time with PapayaHead, Inc. to help them test a new feature on their nutrition-related website.
A typical (or not so typical) day-in-the-work-life for you?
My life revolves around school right now. A typical day during the school year depends on my class schedule and the number of assignments I have (usually a lot). It always starts with a quick breakfast, and then when I have a morning class, I take the bus to campus and get there about a half hour before my class starts (I have to leave time in case there are unexpected public transit issues). While I’m waiting, I check my email and read assigned articles before going to class. Between classes, I eat lunch and work on assignments, and after my last class for the day, I take the bus back home. I check email and read a few websites before starting on whatever paper or major project I have. After dinner, I do more school work, but I usually try to stop to do something fun before going to bed. I work hard during the week to save time in the weekends for myself and for friends and family.
How did you get your current job in dietetics?
My undergraduate degree is in food science and human nutrition, and I wanted to expand my options and continue pursuing the RD credential, so I applied to the University of Washington’s coordinated public health nutrition program. During one of the required seminars, three people from the PapayaHead team presented about their company. Because of this, I got in touch with Dean Jenkins, the CEO, and we talked about job opportunities, which led to the job I have now.
What skills were you born with and what skills have you learned along the way?
One trait I was born with was intensity- my parents say that you could see it in my eyes as a child. That intensity helps me in the application of all my skills, and complements how I was raised: put God first, ask plenty of questions, use your imagination, work hard, and do your best. These lessons turned into skills in priority and goal setting, research, creativity, and work ethic.
What advice do you have for others wanting to be just as successful and fulfilled as you?
Ask for advice from everyone, and be ready and willing to listen when they give it (I am borrowing this one from my dad. He told it to me a few years ago and it’s really stuck with me). Another one that I remember often is “Do your best with the time you have.” My mom used to tell us this one all the time, and it helps me to focus on making projects manageable. You can always read one more article, or interview one more person, but in the end, you have to get the finished product in a reasonable amount of time. No one can be perfect, and that is something I am still learning!
If you could be paid for your job with something other than a paycheck, what would it be?
Plane tickets. I enjoy travelling, and getting tickets to visit different places would be very exciting.