Dr. Emma Laing is a Clinical Associate Professor, Director of the Dietetics Program, and Director of Communications in the Department of Foods and Nutrition. Her research projects associated with the Bone and Body Composition Laboratory focus on osteoporosis and obesity prevention and related health outcomes. She has also taught several undergraduate- and graduate-level courses. Below she answers questions about her career so far at UGA.
Where did you earn your degrees and what are your current responsibilities at UGA?
I have been a member of the UGA community since 1997, as a graduate student (MS in 2000 and PhD in 2003), a staff member, and presently as faculty. My current appointment is Associate Research Scientist in the Bone and Body Composition Lab.
When did you come to UGA and what brought you here?
As I was nearing the completion of my dietetic internship at Emory University Hospital, I knew I was not yet finished pursuing higher education. Dr. Richard Lewis had an available masters-level assistantship in Sports Nutrition, and I couldn’t pass up the opportunity. I made the trip to Athens in 1996 as a prospective student and visited the Bone and Body Composition Lab. It was the right place for me, and I never looked back!
What are your favorite courses to teach and why?
I have taught Human Nutrition and Food (FDNS 2100), Nutrition in Exercise and Sport (FDNS/KINS 4220/6220), and Nutrition Related to the Human Lifecycle (FDNS 4510). I love them all! Why? The students make these courses so much fun. The students are hilarious and so clever, and each class has its own personality. I never know what type of 'class personality’ I will walk into at the start of a semester, but without fail, there are tears at the end of each one. I'm sure it's what the director of a play feels like when a long-running production comes to an end. I am fortunate that many of my former students stay in touch with me, so I can keep up with what careers or opportunities they enter into next.
What interests you about your field?
The field of nutrition and dietetics is ever changing. Over half of what I learned in school is different now. There are advances and discoveries in our field every day, and it is impossible to stay stagnant. I also enjoy teaching students how to spot a pseudo-scientist and debunk their ridiculous claims. “Debunking pseudo-scientists” could be a field in itself.
What are some highlights of your career?
I have enjoyed so many aspects of my career! My teaching accomplishments are near the top, and I am also proud of the publications that the Lewis Lab team has put forth and that we are invited to attend state-of-the-art professional meetings. I have served as PI or Co-I on several internal grants, as well as foundation and National Institutes of Health (NIH)-funded projects. I also enjoy serving on university (e.g., UGA Obesity Initiative collaborative teams) and statewide (e.g., Policy Leadership for Active Youth and Georgia Osteoporosis Foundation) health-promotion initiatives, as well as more explicit committees at UGA that have led to the facilitation and achievement of departmental, college, and university objectives.
What inspires you about mentoring others?
I am inspired if I can have a small role in helping others reach their leadership potential. At UGA, I mentor students as they develop research proposals, theses/dissertations, journal publications, and presentations for scientific meetings. I not only assist them with their degree requirements, but I also serve on their graduate committees. I have observed that doses of success, large or small, can have a profound impact on future achievements. If I can assist students in determining what sets them apart from others, and offer them opportunities to articulate this, I believe they will be better positioned for success in their professional and personal lives.
What do you hope students gain from their classroom experience with you?
I hope they figure out early on that I take my responsibility as a teacher seriously, i.e., to help them succeed. Each student learns differently. By working together, I can help cater the material to their interests and figure out how they learn best. I genuinely care about each of my students and I want them to excel not just in the classroom, but in their academic and future careers as well.
Describe your ideal student.
My ideal student thinks (or pretends to think) my jokes are funny.
What is your favorite place to be/activity to do on campus?
If there is an athletic event on campus, and my schedule allows, I will be there. Football, tennis, gymnastics, basketball, track and field, and baseball are some of our favorites, but I love them all. Go Dawgs!
What do you like to do beyond the UGA campus?
I try and practice what I preach when it comes to living an active lifestyle. I love WOW Bootcamp, 9Round kickboxing, running 5Ks, and taking my children to their various activities. My son is on a travel soccer team, he runs 5Ks with me, and he races dirt bikes (gasp!). My daughter loves gymnastics and being on stage singing and acting. My husband plays various sports, too, so we are typically on the go. I can't remember the last time we had an entire weekend at home! You can also find us enjoying live music, theatre, and comedy- both on campus and beyond.
What does your community/civic involvement include?
As writer John Bunyon stated, "You have not lived today until you have done something for someone who can never repay you." The intrinsic reward of belonging to a greater community by impacting others’ lives in a positive way is how I am 'repaid,' and this ultimately describes what community involvement means to me. For as long as I can remember, I have been involved in some type of community service. In the 1990s through early 2000s, my main philanthropic causes were gathering donations for the financially disadvantaged and helping with animal rescue efforts. In 2009, my husband and I assumed ownership of a nonprofit preschool that was intended for closure, and we began serving our community as advocates for quality early childhood education and health promotion in young children.
What is your favorite book/movie?
If I am channel surfing and I come across A League of their Own or The Color Purple, I will automatically start crying. I have a very close connection with my sister, so those sister-centered movies get me every time. On the flip side, I have a great appreciation for Monty Python movies - they never seem to get old.
What is your proudest moment at UGA?
So many moments at UGA have made me proud ; however, when I received the Teacher of the Week recognition from the UGA Center for Teaching and Learning (which “recognizes innovative, dynamic, and explorative teachers implementing transformative pedagogies”), WOW - that one is hard to top. Since the nominations for that award came directly from students, my heart was full!
Photo of Dr. Laing and students (credit: Cal Powell)