Stempel College Ph.D. candidate – a first-generation college student – shares a passion for research

Dietetics and nutrition science continues to evolve because people like Priscilla Clayton can’t stop seeking answers.

A doctoral student in the Robert Stempel College of Public Health & Social Work’s dietetics and nutrition program, Clayton is passionate about research after developing a keen interest in nutrition and health as a teen. As she gained weight and then she grew tall and thin, she wanted to know how to keep herself healthy.

“I was just a kid back in Texas. I didn’t have an understanding of nutrition,” she recalls. “But I got really into fitness. All of the sudden, I wanted to know the benefits of eating an apple or an onion. I would hop on my little computer and just research.”

Asking the “why” questions – why certain foods were crucial for a balanced diet or why certain nutrition trends were occurring – became second nature. It led her to higher education. As an undergraduate student in Texas, Clayton became a McNair Scholar through the federal program of the same name. The program is designed to prepare undergraduate students for doctoral studies through involvement in research and other scholarly activities.

When she attended a McNair Scholars conference at FIU, she learned about the dietetics and nutrition program and met with administrators. She was sold. In 2017, she began a master’s degree at FIU with an eye toward earning a Ph.D.

Clayton has since accrued an impressive list of accomplishments and research experiences. She has worked under Professor Marianna Baum in a study focused on HIV and nutrition. She is currently working under Associate Professor Cristina Palacios on the MetA-Bone trial, researching adolescent bone development. And, in 2020, she earned the Stempel Research Day award for her study on factors that affect children and parents when deciding whether to join a clinical trial.

After graduating with her Ph.D. in 2022, Clayton hopes to continue uncovering the “whys” in the field. She says her thirst for knowledge is personal. Never having someone within her own home to consult about questions regarding school, she plans to continue working in research so that no one ever need question nutrition information.

With Clayton on the case, the answers cannot be far behind.