[Student Interviews] Dr. Shaun Riebl

Shaun Riebl comes across as soft-spoken, delightful and someone with a keen attention to detail, which isn’t surprising because he defended his PhD in Human Nutrition, Foods and Exercise a short while ago. He was advised by Dr. Brenda Davy (Associate Professor in HNFE and former Director of the Water IGEP) and they worked on “Understanding Adolescents’ Sugary Beverage Consumption: A Review and Application of the Theory of Planned Behavior”, which is also the title of his dissertation. Shaun’s work involved meta-analyses of studies utilizing the Theory of Planned Behavior for influencing diet-related behaviors in youth, a consequent investigation of parents’ and adolescents’ sugar-sweetened beverage (SSB) consumption patterns, and exploratory analyses of how parents responded to the consumption preferences of adolescents.

Shaun has been heavily involved in the Water IGEP since its inception, and was the first Science Contributor to this blog. Here, he talks about his graduate school years and research, his passion for the field, and what keeps him occupied when he isn’t working. Shaun is moving to UNC Chapel Hill in a few weeks where he will start off as a Clinical Assistant Professor. We wish him the very best in his future endeavors!

Q1 – How would you explain your research to your grandmother?
We looked into adolescents’ and their parents’ sugary beverage consumption, what drives their beverage choices, and if and how adolescents’ beverage choices are influenced by their parent’s reactions when they choose certain drinks.

Q2 – Could you expand on your previous answer and talk about your work for your peers who work in water and nutrition?
We used multiple 24-hour diet recalls in adolescents and the Beverage Intake Questionnaire (developed by Dr. Valisa Hedrick, a Water INTERface faculty member) in parents to evaluate beverage intake patterns. The Theory of Planned Behavior, which explores attitudes, subjective norms, perceptions of control, and intentions for a specific behavior, was used to understand and predict adolescents’ sugary beverage consumption.

Q3 – What specific findings in your research surprised you the most? Perhaps you can give us some key takeaways from your work?
The key takeaways are that parents and other important social figures in adolescents’ lives might influence their beverage choices. Adolescents’ intention, or their motivation, was the strongest predictor of sugary beverage intake. When parents’ reactions suggested encouraging of sugary beverage intake was high and adolescents’ intention to limit sugary beverage intake was low, sugary beverage intake was the highest. However, when parents’ reactions were high and adolescents’ intention to limit sugary beverages was high, sugary beverage intake was lowest. It seems that for some adolescents in our sample, parents’ reactions influence their beverage choices.

Dr. Shaun Riebl clicks a selfie for the blog
Dr. Shaun Riebl clicks a selfie for the blog

Q4 – What motivated you to come to Graduate School? How has the journey been?
Learning more; I enjoy learning. The journey was interesting. When I finished my masters work at the University of Colorado at Colorado Springs I was set to begin a PhD program, however, things didn’t seem right. I decided it would be best to apply for a dietetic internship first and after finishing I became a Registered Dietitian and worked for a few years. Throughout that time I applied to a few different schools and was rejected. Then I learned about the work that Dr. Brenda Davy did and where her research would be going. I started working with her the next fall.

Q5 – You have seen the Water IGEP form and grow over the years. Could you briefly talk about your experiences in the IGEP, the pros and cons of being an ‘Interdisciplinary’ student?
For me, the Water IGEP (and I hope all IGEPs at Tech) is (are) a reflection of how we need each other’s work to have an influence on the “greater good.” The IGEP gave me the opportunity to understanding how CEE and Food Science “feed” into and impact the recommendations we in Nutrition can make. The pros are being connected with and being able to collaborate with such intelligent people that makes our contribution to science holistic and of good quality.

Q6 – Besides research, what activities were you involved in during Grad school?
During grad school I was fortunate to have the opportunity to be a teaching assistant, player club roller hockey, and become a leader with the Graduate Christian Fellowship on campus.

Q7 – How do you unwind?
I enjoy being outdoors, specifically at the beach. Hiking, reading out in the sun, bike riding, walking, lifting, swimming…I guess I enjoy being active.

Q8 – What are your plans after crossing the PhD finish line? Where are you headed next?
I am so grateful to God to have been offered a position as a Clinical Assistant Professor at the University of North Carolina – Chapel Hill. I will be counseling people with chronic kidney disease, mentoring dietetic and medical students, and conducting research.

Q9 – Any advice you wish to offer current graduate students – HNFE or otherwise?
Be open to collaboration and jump through hoops. Accept that you don’t know everything and that what you think is your best work may be considered your worst by someone else…your worth isn’t in how you write or what your research shows. Be genuine and even though it will be tough sometimes try to enjoy the journey.

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