Alayne Ronnenberg, Ph.D.

Alayne Ronnenberg is an Associate Professor of Nutrition in the School of Public Health and Health Sciences at UMass Amherst.


How did you get into nutrition field?

After I finished my undergraduate degree in English, I took a basic nutrition course. I loved the course, the instructor was great, and he convinced me to get an MS and my RD.

What interest you in the nutrition research field?

I’m interested in the way that micronutrients (vitamins and minerals) affect reproductive health and resistance to infectious diseases and environmental exposures.

Describe your typical day.

Much of my time is spent interacting with students, both undergrads and graduates. I also interact with other faculty and occasionally with people from the community. Each day, I spend several hours reading and answering emails, preparing lectures, writing exams or homework assignments, and grading assignments. On days when I teach, I do last-minute lecture preparations and organize assignments that I plan to return to students. After teaching, I spend time planning research, directing laboratory work or statistical analyses, and reading student proposals or manuscripts. I also attend many meetings to discuss things like the undergraduate curriculum, human subjects research issues or scholarships. At the end of my day on campus, my work often comes home with me, where I may continue to prepare lectures, read student assignments, or search the literature on topics pertinent to my research.

Educational preparation for your position, advice for students?

I completed RD coursework and obtained an MS in Clinical Nutrition. I worked in hospitals for many years. Then I completed a year of doctoral coursework at Cornell before moving to Boston to work in a lab at Tufts. Eventually I completed my ScD in Reproductive Health at the Harvard School of Public Health, where I also minored in Nutrition and in Infectious Diseases. For the next three years, I completed post-doctoral work, also at the Harvard School of Public Health.

I’d advise students to try to do well in all of their classes. You never know what might end up being one of your interests. For instance, once I became interested in infectious diseases, I wished I had paid more attention in microbiology. Also, try to keep a balance between your work/academic life and your personal life. Do fun things. Exercise. Have a life.

What were your previous positions?

I worked as a hospital clinical dietitian for several years. I also taught at the university level for 2 years prior to starting doctoral coursework. I worked in an amino acid laboratory at Tufts for 3.5 years, and I was the managing editor of Nutrition Reviews for about 1.5 years. I also edited a quarterly vitamin newsletter for 7 years while completing my ScD and did a lot of health writing for various internet sites. In 2001, I began teaching a graduate course in Nutritional Biochemistry at Tufts, which I taught for 3 years. In the spring of 2004, I began teaching at UMass Amherst as a lecturer and was then offered my current tenure track position, which I began in the fall of 2004.

Advice for nutrition students?

My advice for students is to think hard about where you want to end up and then figure out how to get yourself there. Don’t panic if you change your mind; there are lots of different ways to be a nutritionist, and if you get tired of one kind of work, you can try another. Keep good relationships with people who know you and the kind of work you do. They may come in handy for networking, job promotion, etc.

Favorite thing about your job?

I like teaching and interacting with students. I like seeing students go from not knowing much about a topic to being competent and knowledgeable.

One thing you hate about your job?

I don’t like the pressure of too much work to complete and not enough time to complete it. It leads to burn-out, which can take the joy out of the job.

One thing you wish to change about your job?

I wish that I could spend more time on teaching and really revising the content of my courses. I’d like to increase student interaction in class, and I’d like to help students learn to communicate their nutrition knowledge effectively. I’d like to be able to do more international research that would include traveling, and I’d like to develop a course in nutrition and reproductive health.