IGD’s Technical Leadership Forum (TLF) has been supporting and sponsoring the Food Science summer school programme for five years at Nottingham University and longer at Reading University. In 2013, a new summer school was launched at Leeds University.
The purpose of the programme is to inspire the next generation of food scientists and give young people a flavour of what it’s like working in the food and consumer industry. As of 2013, 459 students have attended a Food Science summer school and taken part in a wide range of activities. Many have gone on to study food science or related subjects including Emile Ayers, studying at University of Nottingham and currently on her undergraduate placement year at Sensory Dimensions.
I spoke to Emile about her experience at the Food Science summer school and how it inspired her.
Tell me about your current placement and describe a typical day?
I am working at Sensory Dimensions - a sensory science and consumer research consultancy, where I lead sensory panels to test different food and drink products for companies. I follow the entire process from setting up panels, collating the results and feeding back to the client. Panellists have to rate everything from appearance, texture and aroma to taste.
What do you like best about your job?
It’s a really fast paced environment as products have to be turned around so quickly. Also, although panels follow the same format, we test such varied products that every day is different. For example, earlier this week we were panelling breakfast biscuits looking at the amount of fruit consumers would expect, and another day we were conducting a triangle test on cereal to see if consumers could tell the reduced salt variety. We will also be panelling Christmas products soon, which I am very excited about!
Has your role changed the way you think about food and drink products?
Definitely. I had no idea how much work and research goes into every new product. I’m far more aware now when I’m shopping and eating out.
You completed the Nottingham Food Science summer school in 2009, what made you apply?
I was in year 11 and really enjoyed science and food economics so my teacher suggested I applied for it. I didn’t really know anything about food science or the potential careers in the industry, but thought it would be interesting to find out more. I applied and luckily was successful.
Was the summer school what you expected?
I previously thought that food science would be mainly in the kitchen so was surprised to spend so much time in a lab. It was also far more challenging than I thought - making me realise that food is much more complex than I first thought. It was really interesting and I learnt things that we would never have covered at school.
What was the most memorable part of the summer school?
Going to the pizza factory. I had never been to a factory before, and couldn’t believe the sheer scale of pizzas being made. We had a talk about the different types of pizzas; the various tiers and how they are differentiated by the ingredients and packaging.
We also took part in a product development workshop which was really interesting covering areas such as the product itself, the target consumer, cost of ingredients and processing logistics.
How did the summer school help you to choose your degree?
I was already interested in food and science so the summer school really opened my eyes to the opportunities available in the industry. Three students from my school took part in the summer school and we are all now doing food related degrees.
Would you have known your current job existed before you did the summer school?
No! I wouldn’t have realised, and thanks to the summer school I am now doing a placement in a really interesting area that I would like to work in when I graduate.
And how good are your sensory skills?!
Not too bad, I’m pretty good at taste, but some of the aromas can be quite tricky.
Are there any really surprising aspects about your placement?
I am learning so much in all areas but I was really surprised at the amount of technology in the non- food testing. For example panellists testing hair and shower products are given waterproof ipads so they can test their products in the shower. And deodorant panellists have to come in early, put on the deodorant and a special t shirt that monitors their perspiration levels throughout the day before returning their t shirt for analysis!
If someone was thinking about going on a food science summer school what would you say to them?
I would definitely recommend it. It is such a great opportunity to experience university life as well as an opportunity to learn about food science and the industry. It was great speaking to students and lecturers who are so passionate about food. I came away feeling very excited and certain that this was something I wanted to study.
IGD’s Technical Leadership Forum (TLF) members are technical directors of the major UK retailers and their own label suppliers. One of their aims is to attract students into food science and help them gain the skills required for the excellent career opportunities the industry has to offer. TLF member companies provide sponsorship for students attending these summer schools