Spotlight on Dietitian Speaker Paula Quatromoni
Multi-talented Researcher, Educator, Clinician, Author & #DietitianSpeaker @PaulaQuatromoni is the gift who keeps on giving. Read on for the fascinating story of her evolution as a speaker and the lessons she’s happy for us to share.
DS: Paula, tell us about your evolution as a dietitian speaker and some highlights that stand out in your mind.
PQ: My speaking has evolved quite a bit with the evolution of technology! My first conference talk was when I was in grad school earning my Master’s degree. My faculty mentor encouraged me to present my thesis research in a student session at a national nutrition education conference in D.C. This was before technology and PowerPoints, so I presented using an overhead projector and a set of strategically organized transparencies.
I’ve spoken to live audiences of more than 500 and to classrooms of 15 middle-school students. My first big media interview was for Here and Now on WBUR more than a decade ago (in 2009), discussing eating disorders in sport alongside a former track star from Boston University, David Proctor. That interview led to a pivotal moment in my career.
I had the idea to speak side-by-side about our experience working together – something I had never seen at a professional conference. David lived in the UK so I pitched the idea to him for a sport science summit coming up in London: how about if we propose to co-present his story? He agreed, we gave the talk which we entitled Two Voices, and it was life-changing!
I had never had a speaking experience galvanize me more than this one. It was epic. It was a small conference, but the talk resonated with the audience and spurred David and I to write up the story of his case and publish it. It also electrified our intent to bring this talk to the US. We’ve since given the talk about ten times to a range of audiences from nutrition professionals to sports medicine colleagues to eating disorder professionals and podcast audiences. The power of that speaking engagement in London set the stage for a significant new chapter of my career.
In 2019, I was interviewed by Soledad O’Brien for a segment on Real Sports with Bryant Gumbel that shined a spotlight on eating disorders in male athletes, and more recently, I’ve been invited to be a guest on several podcasts, mostly on the topic of eating disorders in sport. That’s a whole new venue for me as I’m much more experienced speaking live versus being recorded.
On top of all that, I also teach in Italy every summer, except during COVID.
DS: Paula, that’s incredible! Have you had a similar evolution with charging to speak? Or do you still just speak as a part of your job?
PQ: As an academic, speaking at conferences has always been a career expectation. A research career requires dissemination of the research findings, and conference presentations are an effective way not only to disseminate emerging research but also to network with colleagues, build new collaborations, and draw excited students to our university and into our research group. It’s what helps to market our programs and keep the engine in the lab churning, so to speak.
Expecting to be paid when I speak outside of my job is very challenging for me because in academia, we’re expected to share our knowledge and expertise freely. We’re teachers, so we teach, we share our knowledge, and we show up as experts when called upon. It’s a professional expectation to be collegial and give talks.
I still do a lot of that for free, or at least with an expectation of professional reciprocity. I give talks in colleagues’ classes and then invite them into mine. But it’s usually quite imbalanced with me much more on the giving than receiving side of that equation. I can say with certainty and a bit of private shame that I do way more talks for free than is in my best interest. It’s personally hard for me to say “no” (something I’m getting better at as I get older, only because I force myself to practice) and it’s extremely hard to say “no” or ask for payment once you set a precedent.
DS: Any advice to share from your experience navigating through this process
PQ: I’ve had to work purposefully to separate my academic life from my private practice or consulting life. So while I may give academic talks for free, I’ve had to put a value on my speaking engagements outside of academia. That has been the biggest challenge for me because those lines can be quite blurred. Most people, organizations, and agencies will say they don’t have a budget to pay for our services; they expect us to do this work for free. But it’s hours and hours of time and effort to put together and deliver an outstanding talk. We deserve to be paid for that effort because that’s time and effort we’re not investing in other pursuits that will earn us payment or career advancement in other areas of professional life.
No one works for free. Why should we? I think that as dietitians, as helping professionals, we’re afraid of others without the credentials and credibility infringing on our field and giving wrong information, that we’re willing to “just do it” in service to mankind. We’re selfless as a profession, and that can undermine our own professional well-being if we’re not careful.