What Interviewing Seven Food Science Graduate Students Taught Me

Hey Everyone,

I’m Adam Yee from the My Food Job Rocks! Podcast.

Nicole has given me a great opportunity to write on her blog, mainly for career advice and how to be an awesome employee in the food industry. Recently, I did a little series where I interviewed 7 graduate students from all over the world. Most of our guests are from the United States, but also in Ireland, the Netherlands, and you also get some great perspectives from students that came from India and Greece.

Here’s ten lessons I learned from it.

1. It is Very Important to Get Funding!

All but one person received funding for graduate school, but everyone has always considered getting funding.

From what I understand from these interviews, funding is pretty much like getting a job offer. You have to work a bit harder, but there are some very helpful tips to get funding.

John Gleeson recommends a website called findaphd.com as a cold approach, but it seems like networking and knowing people seems to be the best result.

Some graduate school programs require funding and some do not. It really depends!

Though funding won’t pay for a home deposit, it will help you de-stress and let you focus your time in actually finishing your degree. Funding is an extremely important

From what I understand, most people will email professors to see if funding is available first. Of course, this is a colds approach (meaning this guy has no idea who you are) but it looks like the most successful people who get funded rely on a friend of a friend.

2. Leverage Your Network

Most if not all of our guests used their network one way or another. Fiona Salim asked her Manager if she knew anyone and that professor gave her free funding. Eleni Gallata (next monday!) met her current advisor at a conference, Deepak Kumar had connections for universities who worked in India.

If you’re a long time follower of the show, you realize that the industry is not only big, but loves to help each other out. The board members that are from IFTSA are always willing to share their connections and because they are the heart that connects a lot of graduate students, that network is limitless.

I find Linkedin as a very good espionage tool and a very good connecting tool. I’ve contacted many great people with the podcast using linkedin primarily, so funding will work in this regard.

3. It’s OK to Take Time Off

Caroline Campbell took a year off abroad, and many of our guests worked a bit before tackling Graduate school. Audrey Girard had 3 internships before going into graduate school, Amy DeJong actually got her company to work with her and fund her graduate school.

In fact, most of our guests did get work experience and many of them found that having work experience was vital for becoming a better graduate student. John hated is previous job, which is why he decided to apply to graduate school, Audrey had 3 different internships which proved invaluable to her work.

Fiona Salim’s example is probably the best. With her two years working at Nestle and going into graduate school, she realized that this was very useful. In our interview, we talk on how work experience actually makes things practical. Most students who don’t work will blame their machines if the data is “wrong” even though when you work in industry, you realize that either you messed up, or that well, data is data.

4. Research Everything About Your University

Research the location, the food scene, everything to make sure this move is right for you. You will be here for a while!

Most importantly, I believe you really need to research what the university is known for. For example, Kansas State has an amazing cereal course. Penn State is known for ice cream and chocolate, and UC Davis focuses on California Agriculture.

Not all schools have let’s say, an extruder, or a freeze dryer or even an HPLC machine (my school didn’t)

Being infatuated in what you study is vital to your future. In fact, a lot of PhD students get their thesis, become experts in their narrow field of study, and then get a lot of gigs if the topic becomes hot.

It’s pretty easy to be infatuated with a subject as tangible as food. Both Amy and her friend Maya were studying Candy and Ice Cream. Subjects that would make any field of study jealous.

The best part about having an advanced degree in food is that food is tangible and applicable. It’s also… delicious!

Overall, you need to do your research thoroughly. Graduate school can last 2 to 5 years so it’s important to do your research or else you’ll just be miserable there. Amy did a lot of research, and she also had a lot of options. Her company, Wrigley, was very supportive in her higher education endeavors and worked with her to find out where she would like to be, what their resources were, and what connections they had with academia.

5. Contact EVERYONE, Not Just Professors

Deepak Kumar used facebook groups, Caroline Campbell called students of these professors, and Eleni looked at her professor’s research publications. It is very important to really contact people who know the culture of the

It is important to find the culture of not only your professor, but also the lab environment. You have to know how your professor works such as how he or she manages projects, answers emails and sets meetings. Some want constant updates once a week, others will ask you to report to them once a month.

Interviewing the current lab mates are equally important. Are the labs clean, do they have the right equipment? Are your lab mates OCD? Are they messy? These are all very important questions!

Because the lab mates are very similar to you, they can also answer a variety of other questions such as what the town is like, what are the best places to eat, or dance at.

Also, what’s important to you? If you want a good religious community, it is so easy to contact the religious groups in facebook. You can contact the diversity area, or the multicultural center. Whatever!

6. Consider Graduate School in Another Country

If you loved Fiona Salim’s and John’s interview about graduate school in Europe, definitively try it! You don’t have to email professors and you don’t have to do complicated GRE BS so you might actually find it less stressful to apply out of country.

As you know, people do this all the time. Eleni Gallata and Deepak both came to the United States

Don’t you find that beautiful? That we can switch and intermingle different cultures and ideas and still progress in science. I find that really cool that people from all over the world want to work with other people.

From what I’ve learned, going to graduate school to a different country is a lot easier than you think.

7. The Power of Communicating as a Scientist

About half of the guests agreed that communication was one of the key challenges the food industry has to face. John and I had a very insightful discussion on how to communicate as scientists. Yes, scientists do suck at communicating, but we can get better.

Some actionable tips to be a better science communicator is to talk to your friends in casual settings. I used the example of how you can tell if a burger is done. You know, when the blood starts to rise to the top, then it’s almost ready to flip.

What’s hard about communicating is the farther your education goes, well, the most likely you will be further away from the people who aren’t informed. This is a common concept we call “the curse of knowledge”. Can an advanced degree make you a better communicator? Not alone. Being a better communicator is a soft skill that I believe you need to study and practice.

8. Join something like IFTSA

Amy DeJong, Caroline and John all were top dogs in the IFT student association and they absolutely loved it. Not only did IFTSA give them a powerful, unforgettable network, but they learned a ton of administrative leadership skills. All of them now know the importance of setting efficient meetings and creating polished Agendas.

Joining a group like IFTSA gives you a tremendous network and you can actually start right in your undergraduate. Katie joined IFTSA in her undergraduate and she used her connections there to research graduate school.

Though IFTSA is a great option, you can do other things. As Amy pointed out, you need to do something different. Do something like sports, or community gardening. You can’t be in research mode 100% of your time. You will miss out on amazing opportunities.

9. Really Love What You Do
(alternatively, if you don’t like it, it’s ok to leave)

Some people do it because they like teaching, or innovation, or they just love food. You need to really love what you do before committing to this. It will make things easier in the long run.

In all of our interviews, our guests loved being a graduate student but I’ve heard stories where this isn’t the case.

For example, there are so many people who leave graduate school after a year or two because they either received a better opportunity, got bored, whatever. I know people who went their first year, hated their life that first year, and are still feeling quiet miserable.

I had a friend who finished her first year of graduate school and she always told me when we meet up how much she hated it. I told her, “why don’t you quit?” There’s no good ending to the story. She decided not to quit because she didn’t want to be labeled as a “quitter”. I ended up not talking to her. Maybe she likes it now.

In my opinion, if you don’t love what you’re doing for a consistent 6 months, then you should leave and do something else. Life’s too short to be miserable for longer than 6 months.

10. It Will be Tough, But It’s Worth It

Graduate school is tough. From the application process, to actually doing your thesis, every step is hard to accomplish. However, it’s for a great cause. You are learning the soft skills to actually become a better scientist and hopefully a better leader.

Sticking with graduate school yields to higher prestige, a better network, and most importantly, a higher pay.

With an advanced degree, you can teach and inspire students, get mad money from consulting or become a director of science in a multimillion dollar company.

It is an amazing opportunity to be in a job that has a potential of benefiting mankind.

——-

I’ve gotten a ton of positive feedback from this little series. I will definitely do it again next year.

So I think the final thing I have to say is that did this change my mind about graduate school? Recall episode 30, where I didn’t have such a good experience. I have a job now, I’m making money… do I even have time to get an advanced degree and will it help me progress in the future?

I have 2 years of experience, an amazing network, and friends I can easily get letters of recommendation from my podcast guests. Should I apply to graduate school?

For me, I don’t think I need it yet. But now I know, through the people I’ve interviewed and through the amazing resources we’ve created here, I can do it, and this is important to really realize.

No matter what age, or where you are at life, as long as you are moving forward, you can always go to graduate school as a next step.

Want an audio version? Check out our podcast here.