Leadership Spotlight: Niyati Parekh
Dr. Niyati Parekh is Associate Vice Provost of Faculty Initiatives
In this role she leads the Early Career Faculty Institute, a multilevel mentoring program for early career tenure-track and contract faculty across NYU, to mentor them towards tenure and promotion. She launched the Mid-Career Faculty Initiative, a career advancement program for mid-career faculty in Fall 2023. Dr. Parekh also works with the Office of Global Programs to enhance faculty engagement across the twelve portal sites of NYU and supports faculty other initiatives.
*this Q &A was conducted verbally and has been edited for clarity and brevity
Q: Can you please tell us about your role within the Office of the Provost?
A: I'm the Associate Vice Provost for faculty Initiatives. But of course, it's imperative to explain what these titles mean to most people. I started by launching mentoring programs for early career faculty who are in their first one to three years of appointment within NYU. My role then enhanced to be part of the Global Programs team. My work includes supporting faculty exchange and leveraging the sites for faculty initiatives.
Q: What made you want to take on a leadership position at NYU?
A: Typically those who want a faculty role struggle with this question. Most people will say, "oh, I don't want to be in leadership" and then realize they're in it anyway. Something similar happened to me. I was very focused on research for most of my career: I'm an epidemiologist by training and a Professor of Public Health Nutrition. I joined NYU approximately 17 years ago, as an Assistant Professor, and the main focus was to establish a robust research program on nutrition and chronic disease epidemiology.
It was a moment in time when the School of Global Public Health was being formed from ground zero. I was on the ground floor of all the conversations as NYU was building a new school and I felt that it was a natural time to get into leadership positions as opportunities were opening up. I initially questioned if this was something I should do and it was during COVID that I had some time to reflect. I realized that I had built many programs using my creativity and my people skills, and had done it well. Subsequently, I enrolled in a leadership program for women in higher education which was a very reflective journey and made me commit to a leadership path and added intentionality to my next steps.
Q: What changes for faculty initiatives have you implemented?
A: The Provost's Office has always endeavored to have a central-level mentoring programs for faculty to increase faculty job satisfaction, opportunities for faculty advancement and faculty retention. Separately, COVID made us feel distant and disconnected, and this was an opportune time for such programs to be rolled out because they also formed a sense of community. I've been developing and implementing two main mentoring programs along with partners such as the Office of Work Life and Division of the Libraries and NYU Press, to name a few.
Q: What are the Early and Mid-Career Faculty institutes and what services do they provide?
A: They are mentoring programs housed under NYU's Center for Faculty Advancement. The Early Career Faculty Institute is geared towards tenure and promotion. NYU is a very large and complex university. Connecting people, bringing forth the resources, and cultivating a culture of mentorship are some priorities of these initiatives. These are multi-level mentoring programs with inputs from all levels of the university leadership, from the school leadership to peer mentors and to faculty who've just recently gone through the process.
And the Mid-Career Faculty Initiative is similar but it's targeted and tailored to mid-career faculty who are getting ready for promotion to full-professor. Mid career faculty are valued members of NYU who have many years of scholarship under their belt, have made significant administrative contributions, and have taught a wide range of courses. We invite them to participate to better prepare them for the promotion process.
Something that came out of organic conversations with faculty is their ability to find time to write was restricted. This is why we started introducing writing salons. We did the first one in Tel Aviv in January 2023, and also began the writing bi-weekly salon in New York which continues to be a supportive environment for faculty to write.
Q: How did you become interested in studying non-communicable diseases?
I loved biology from the very beginning. I would take great pains in drawing diagrams of all the body systems. I loved learning about diseases.
As a child I accompanied my mother for her community outreach work in the villages outside of Mumbai and realized the importance of nutrition at her make-shift clinics. Many years later, I decided to study nutritional sciences, a form of applied biology. I became a Registered Dietitian. I then went to a cancer specialty hospital and received further training to be a specialist for cancer. I decided to integrate the two fields of cancer and nutrition and I worked at the bedside of cancer patients as a clinician. Following that experience, I came to the US and pursued my PhD in epidemiology. There are many risk factors for cardiovascular disease, diabetes, and obesity which are also very strong risk factors for cancer. I studied nutritional factors for all of these non communicable diseases.
Q: What are you currently researching or working on? What surprises you about research?
A. The overarching theme of my research program is to examine the role of nutrition and diet-related factors in the etiology of non-communicable diseases, with a particular focus on obesity, metabolic dysregulation and cancer. My current work is an expert report on nutrition during emerging adulthood for the American Heart Association. What surprises me in general is that there is consistent evidence on certain nutritional risk factors and disease, yet because of a lack of political will, there are have been no large changes made in policies that can move the needle on diseases that are major public health issues.
Q: What do you do for self - care and how do you practice what you preach?
I exercise 3-4 times a week and cook fresh and healthy meals (which makes a difference in knowing what ingredients are in my meals). I also prioritize sleep- or at least I think I do! I have healthy lifestyle habits in general which my family and friends can attest to. I love to travel and I get some wonderful opportunities to explore many places through work - that feeds my soul. And finally, I spend time with my lovely family and strive for work-life balance.