Nutritional Sciences Student Receives Outstanding Dissertation Award
by Katy McCall
Texas Tech University's 2017 Outstanding Dissertation Award was presented to Nutritional Sciences Ph.D. student, Mandana Pahlavani; she received first place for her doctoral dissertation in the Biological and Life Sciences category.
Originally from Iran, Mandana came to Texas Tech University with a Master's in Food Science and the intention of completing her Ph.D. She was especially interested in research related to prevention of obesity and metabolic disorders.
When she discovered the Department of Animal and Food Sciences did not offer a Ph.D. program at the time, she was introduced to Dr. Debra Reed, Graduate Advisor of Nutritional Sciences.
"After talking with Dr. Reed, I realized that combining food science with nutritional sciences training would open multiple opportunities for me in both food, nutrition and agricultural applications. She recommended I meet Dr. Naïma Moustaïd-Moussa, Professor and Director of Obesity Cluster in Nutritional Sciences."
Dr. Moustaïd-Moussa advised Mandana throughout her Ph.D. studies and dissertation. With this guidance, Mandana discovered dietary approaches that decrease obesity by activating brown adipose tissue (BAT), a fairly new topic that distinguished her dissertation from others.
Upon learning of her achievement, Mandana was very excited to share the news with Dr. Moustaïd-Moussa, who nominated her for the award.
"After so much challenge and hard work during my Ph.D. research, writing the dissertation and defending it, and publishing my research, there is no better news than being awarded first place."
It took nearly three and a half years for Mandana to complete her dissertation, but she stayed motivated. With over 78 million U.S. adults facing obesity, she was determined to find preventative and treatment options.
"My Master's was in Food Science. I have been interested in identifying and making foods that prevent obesity. Preventing obesity only by controlling food intake is not easy for most of the people who suffer from obesity, so my doctoral dissertation topic which focused on activation of BAT was very appealing and motivated me to work harder to find some answers."
Mandana also said that Dr. Moustaïd-Moussa received a grant based on the data they generated in their BAT study, which motivated her to continue this work as a postdoc with her mentor and complete her Ph.D.
"I would like to express my deepest gratitude for Dr. Moustaïd-Moussa's excellent guidance, patience, motivation, and immense knowledge. Her extensive academic experience and guidance helped me tremendously throughout my graduate studies in my research and while writing my dissertation."
Mandana believes the key to her success in the Ph.D. program and her award is Dr. Moustaïd-Moussa's mentorship and care for her as a student.
"She is always available for me and for all her students, even when she is on personal leave or at conferences. During my Ph.D. program, she provided guidance in formulating scientific hypothesis, planning experiments, analyzing data and presenting them at national and international conferences."
Dr. Moustaïd-Moussa has served as a mentor to Mandana even beyond the Ph.D. program. She took time to discuss career interests and professional development opportunities, mentor undergraduate students, and introduce other nutrition and obesity experts.
"She also mentored me in responsible conduct for research, grant writing and encouraged me to participate in teaching workshops. She involved me in other lab projects and introduced me to other faculty and scientists at Texas Tech such as Obesity Research Cluster members, where I learned more about interdisciplinary research."
With Dr. Moustaïd-Moussa's support, Mandana has achieved a number of awards and scholarships and has published several papers high-rank journals such as Journal of Nutritional Biochemistry, Comprehensive Physiology, and Journal of Investigative Medicine.
In addition to being awarded first place Outstanding Dissertation Award in Biological Sciences, Mandana will be entered Council of Graduate School's annual CGS/ProQuest Distinguished Dissertation Award competition, which honors the dissertations that represent original work and significant contributions to the discipline being considered for the year.
Congratulations on all your achievements and good luck Mandana!