Interview with ASN Executive Officer John Courtney, Ph.D.

John Courtney, Ph.D., ASN Executive Officer

It’s telling when a scientific organization is truly engaged with its membership when one of its executive officers reaches out through social media and agrees to be interviewed by a member blogger. When I met John Courtney, Ph.D., ASN Executive Officer, it was in a hallway of the Westin Boston Waterfront, and he was highly enthusiastic about meeting and congratulated me on blogging for ASN at their meeting at EB 2013.

We then proceeded to sit down in a semi-quiet spot next to the gymnasium where he answered all the questions I had about ASN’s recent successes. For example, he shared that EB 2013 is the largest to date with a 25 percent increase in member registrants and more than 15 percent increase in abstracts compared to just a year before. In addition, their publications that include American Journal of Clinical Nutrition, Journal of Nutrition, and Advances in Nutrition receive more than four million hits a month. Those are pretty impressive numbers.

Dr. Courtney isn’t a stranger of success at building the membership of a scientific organization. Prior to his six years at ASN, John shared that he was chief staff officer for six years at the American Diabetes Association. He said that the impact of a scientific organization depends largely on strategic relationships with several communities. When I asked him what made ASN different, he told me, “One of the great things at ASN is everybody is at the table. We have our basic research community, translational community, clinical community, global community, people from academia, from medical schools, and from industry, and they’re all here looking for common goals.”

He added, “The society is in really in the right place on the right issues with the right leadership to make a huge impact. The issues are so timely. The member leaders that we have are forward thinking and asking ‘how can we improve people’s lives based upon nutrition researchers.’

Dr. Courtney also shared some of the organization’s current projects such as the upcoming ASN’s Advances & Controversies in Clinical Nutrition scheduled for December 5-7, its international initiatives, and its future goals in areas of education, publications, and its role in science advocacy and policy.

When I asked about current projects, he responded, “Our educational activities are really important to us. We have a couple of events coming up such as our clinical conference. It will be our third clinical conference and we expect that it may have an impact on dietary guidelines. The clinical conference brings medical practitioners, science writers, and policy makers together on how to apply nutritional research and how to best develop national policy that can emphasize prevention. There is this idea of ‘food as medicine’ and ASN will play a really important role in advancing that conservation.”

I asked what the future holds for ASN in terms of science advocacy and policy. According to Dr. Courtney, food will play an extremely important role in reducing healthcare costs. The organization expects to provide position papers and statements, “never with an agenda, but asking, “What does the science say about this?’ For example, the organization has provided position papers on topics such as sugar and fats in the past. The organization is also interested in advocating for nutrition research funding and appropriate policy that is backed by scientific evidence.

At the EB meeting on Saturday afternoon, for example, Dr. Courtney said that Massachusetts Congressman Jim McGovern highlighted the importance of the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP). “His focus is on hunger in America. We share his belief that it’s not talked about very much. There are many people in this country that are going hungry and we certainly need to address that issue.”

When I asked about international efforts of ASN, Dr. Courtney was quick to point out that although the name of the organization is “American Society for Nutrition,” it is really a global one. “We have 10 target markets and next year we’ll have our third conference in Dubai, a conference taking place in Berlin, and another in Asia,” he said. Furthermore, 60 percent of the journal articles in ASN’s publications are from researchers outside North America. In addition, 18 percent of membership exists outside North America. The organization also works directly with societies of other nations such as the UK Nutrition Society and Vietnamese Nutrition Society.

Lastly, I asked what he thought of social media and its role in membership education. He responded that the organization understood the importance of social media and was heavily engaged. He said, in fact, that thanks to efforts of the advancement team members, ASN had recently received an award for their social media outreach. “A lot of our members who are under 40 are engaged and our staff is engaged on social media. We have a great staff who have a passion for working hard and being successful. They take the vision that the members provide us and execute it.”

Published by David Despain, MS, CFS

David is a science and health writer living on Long Island, New York. He's written for a variety of publications including Scientific American, Outside Online, the American Society for Nutrition's (ASN) Nutrition Notes Daily, and Institute of Food Technologists' (IFT) Food Technology magazine and Live! blog. He's also covered new findings reported at scientific meetings including Experimental Biology, AAAS, AOCS, CASW, Sigma Xi, IFT, and others on his personal blog "Evolving Health." David is also an active member of organizations including the National Association of Science Writers (NASW), the American Association for the Advancement of Science (AAAS), the American Society for Nutrition, the Institute of Food Technologists, and the National Audubon Society. David has a master's degree in human nutrition from the University of Bridgeport, and a bachelor's degree in English from University of Illinois at Springfield. He also earned his Certified Food Scientist credential from the Institute of Food Technologists.

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