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A cornucopia of opportunities

food science and technology careers

Craig Duckham looks at opportunities provided by learned societies and professional bodies for supporting early careers in food science and technology.

One thing that we often overlook when setting out on a career in food science is the support available to help navigate the opportunities and pitfalls that lie ahead.

Learned societies and professional bodies

A source of support for the early stage food scientist or technologist can be found within the learned societies and professional bodies. Many now offer a raft of support services to students, postdocs and early career industry employees.

Those wishing to keep up to date with recent developments and meet people from industry and academia can find many opportunities within the IFST (Institute of Food Science and Technology)[1] and the SOFHT (Society of Food Hygiene Technology)[2], which are dedicated to the food sector, as well as the SCI (the Society of Chemical Industry)[3], the IChemE (Institute of Chemical Engineers)[4], the IoP (Institute of Physics)[5] and the RSC (Royal Society of Chemistry)[6], which all have food related technical interest groups.

The IFST has a long history of collaboration with the SCI Food Group and many food scientists are members of both organisations. The IFST runs an annual LaunchPad event at which advice and help is provided to students on career choices. It also provides an online management system for continuing professional development (myCPD) to help young food scientists keep a record of development activities for career progression and professional registration. In recent years, the SCI has established a number of early careers groups, including most recently the Agri-Food Early Careers Committee, formed in 2016, born out of the Food, Agrisciences, Lipids and Horticulture Technical Interest Groups. It provides a platform for hosting activities aimed at supporting personal and professional development, identifying and nurturing transferable skills and hosting regular symposia, where early career researchers from industry and academia can come together to showcase their research. The SCI has recently launched a new Mentoring Programme, designed to match early career members with an independent mentor who will help them to address specific goals in their careers.

Such events and activities provided by IFST, SCI and other institutions are good opportunities to mix with people from the industry, raise your profile, enhance your employability or be an ambassador for your company or university. They are also an excellent means of cross fertilisation between the disciplines, such as food chemistry, engineering, biochemistry, microbiology, formulation and sensory sciences.

Events and competitions

The IFST, supported by the SCI Food Group, hosts the annual Young Food Scientist competitions open to both undergraduate and postgraduate students, providing them with a chance to present their research to their peers and a panel of industry experts. The Nursten Postgraduate Flavour Symposium brings together researchers in flavour from the leading university departments across the UK and the Republic of Ireland to provide early career researchers with a chance to share their findings with other flavour chemists and sensory scientists. At these events, the best presentations are rewarded with prizes and the opportunity to gain recognition, get feedback on your research and create opportunities to present your work at other UK conferences.

The SCI Lipids Group hosts the Young Lipid Scientist Award to recognise excellence and emerging talent in research related to lipids, in any field across physics, life sciences and engineering. The Agrisciences Group hosts the SCI Young Researchers in Crop Sciences symposium, an event for early career scientists researching in biological, chemical, environmental and other relevant sciences, who would like to present their work, learn about recent developments in the sector and meet new talent in agrisciences. The SCI’s Young Chemist’s Panel, established in 1990, is affiliated with the Fine Chemicals Group and holds an annual Young Chemist in Industry symposium, which is primarily aimed at chemists working in the pharmaceutical, biotechnology or agrochemical sectors.

There are a number of business and product development focused competitions for the aspiring entrepreneur. Ecotrophelia is a competition that challenges student teams to develop the best innovative and sustainable food products. The UK competition is organised jointly by IFST and Campden BRI and is open to teams of students from UK universities[7]. The SCI’s recently launched Bright SCIdea challenge gives students in the UK and Republic of Ireland the opportunity to develop their business skills by turning a science-based innovation into a fully costed business plan. It offers a prize of £5,000 for the winning team with entrants receiving a course of video-based expert training, including advice on: identifying your target market, how to characterise the market need for your product, process or service, scaling up your product, taking your innovation from the lab to the market, managing the finances of a business, protecting your intellectual property and how to produce and present your business in a pitch[8].

Getting involved and entering these competitions can reap rewards that are not necessarily obvious at first glance. The people you engage with during the process may be your future friends, mentors, employers, business champions or financial backers! Not to mention the valuable experience and insights you get from taking part. The winners of competitions are typically invited to spend time with the organising groups and are encouraged to be ambassadors for the organisation at their host institutions or workplaces.

There are a number of business and product development focused competitions for the aspiring entrepreneur.

Awards

One of the many advantages of maintaining a membership of organisations, such as IFST and SCI, is access to scholarships, travel bursaries and awards. Access to most of the awards is competitive, but they do offer early careers researchers a chance to offset the costs of travelling to international conferences or to fund secondments in a global centre of excellence. Winning an award can make a valuable addition to your list of achievements when compiling your CV.

Social media

Most of the early careers groups promote themselves using one or more social media platforms. Clearly there are a number of pitfalls when engaging with social media, however, when used well, their reach can be phenomenal. LinkedIn, Twitter, Tumblr and Instagram are now all a great source of industry and academic news and events. Government agencies release alerts covering issues ranging from food recalls to research grant funding rounds. One consideration should be how to keep social and professional online activity separate. Both require a very different tone and content. Of course it is important to avoid frivolous or offensive postings. ‘Act in haste, repent at leisure’ is a phrase worth keeping in mind. All companies and volunteer organisations should have codes of conduct in place for the use of social media and for data privacy and these must be adhered to.

Industry experience

The importance of a period of experience in industry cannot be stressed enough, whether you are planning a career in academia or industry. A university career is likely to necessitate either collaboration with industry for funding or imparting industrial concepts and technologies to students. Often the gap in understanding between industry and academic partners can be a real barrier to success. Ahead of a move into industry, gaining an appreciation of what you are letting yourself in for will avoid disappointment and the shattering of unrealistic expectations. A ‘try before you buy’ opportunity shouldn’t be missed. The learned societies and professional bodies are all a great source of industry contacts that may have leads to potential internships and job prospects. The importance of effective networking, face to face, should not be underestimated and participating in events, either as an organiser or speaker can prove a very fruitful part of your career journey.

Publishing, conferences and exhibitions

An academic career necessitates presenting your findings to your peers and obtaining recognition in your field. This can be achieved by publication in a scientific journal or a poster at a symposium or conference. Any opportunity for polishing your presentation skills should be taken. Being able to communicate clearly and sell an idea effectively can be used equally to sell yourself in interviews, secure an investor for your invention, or sell a new food ingredient or processing equipment to your customers. When working in industry the opportunities for promoting yourself and your work are more limited, so taking the time to submit articles to trade journals, blogs or the company website are certainly worth the effort. Getting involved in early careers activities hosted by the learned societies and professional bodies provides you with opportunities to hone your skills in a risk-free, supportive environment. It could be a precursor of that senior management position that lies ahead of you!

References

1. www.ifst.org

2. www.soci.org

3. http://bit.ly/IChemE_FD

4. http://bit.ly/IoP_PFMG

5. http://www.rsc.org

6.  https://www.ifst.org/ecotrophelia

7. https://www.soci.org/brightscidea

Craig Duckham, PhD FRSB FIFST runs CD R&D Consultancy Services and is past Chair of the SCI Food Group

Email Craig.Duckham@CDRnD.co.uk

Website CDRnD.co.uk

LinkedIn uk.linkedin.com/in/scduckham

Twitter @CDRnD

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