My graduate project focuses on the interplay of vitamin D and body composition in middle aged and older adults. Although vitamin D and obesity are undoubtedly related, the underlying biological mechanisms as well as the cause-effect-direction of this relationship are still undetermined. The main part of my doctoral thesis is based on data from the Cooperative Health Research in the Region of Augsburg (KORA) Study. However, I wanted to gain additional experience from another large study with a clear focus on vitamin D. Professor Robert Scragg, head of the section of Epidemiology and Biostatistics at the University of Auckland, New Zealand, is an expert on research related to vitamin D. He is principal investigator of the ViDA study, a large clinical trial designed to assess the effects of vitamin D supplementation in 5000 Auckland adults aged 50-84, and thus also experienced in research related to older adults.
I contacted Prof. Scragg directly, asking about the possibility to join the ViDA team as a visiting doctoral student. Fortunately, he was happy to host me and thanks to HELENA, I had sufficient funding. I arrived in Auckland at the end of January 2014 and was welcomed cordially both to the ViDA team and to the section of Epidemiology and Biostatistics. During my three months in Auckland, I started an analysis on the interaction of vitamin D and obesity in their association with hypertension and dyslipidemia, which will be a part of my doctoral thesis. Further, I worked in the ViDA study, thus gaining experience in the field work and data analysis of a large clinical trial. One of my tasks was to integrate the ViDA study data with data we received from the Accident Compensation Corporation, a New Zealand governmental organization which holds information on all kinds of injuries in New Zealand. As register data is very scarce in Germany, this was a great opportunity to improve my skills in data analysis.
Beside my daily work, I was able to attend several seminars of the different sections as well as the ViDA advisory board meeting. I got a lot of helpful advice on my graduate project, both constructive feedback on my current analyses and interesting ideas concerning the upcoming projects.
Inside and outside of work, I met many nice and interesting people. In my free time, I was able to see a bit the unique, beautiful landscape of New Zealand’s North Island. Personal highlights were the Tongariro Alpine Crossing and visiting Cape Reinga in the very North of New Zealand.
Overall, the lab exchange to Auckland was a great experience. I enlarged my knowledge on clinical trials and data analysis, started an interesting cooperation, extended my scientific network and made good friends. I really enjoyed these three months and I want to thank HELENA very much for making it possible.