Today is International Day of Women and Girls in Science (IDWGS), 11 February 2021, by resolution of the United Nations General Assembly on 22 December 2015. The day recognises the critical role women and girls play in science and technology. IFST wishes to celebrate this day by highlighting the achievements of our female members and the variety of food science careers available to them. As this is no ordinary year, we asked them the following three questions, so we can feature their varied experiences:
- What is your scientific background?
- Get to know the scientist
- At what point in your career did you consider yourself a scientist?
- We often experience a phenomenon called ‘imposter syndrome’ which may make us feel like an imposter in science, so it’s interesting to see at which point our scientists labelled themselves as a ‘scientist’.
- Has COVID-19 affected your progress as a scientist (either positively or negatively)?
- COVID-19 has been the reason why most of us have changed the way we work and live and restricted our interactions and this has had an obvious effect on various careers, which we’ll see in the article.
We’ve received fifteen replies from our esteemed members. Grab a warm drink and a snack and enjoy reading their responses below.
Meet our members:
- IFST President Helen Munday
- Nazanin Zand
- Delia Ojinnaka
- Genevieve Stone
- Badroonesha 'Esha' Aumjaud
- Nicole 'Ni' Yang
- Oonagh Monahan
- Preye Griffith
- Purity Hrisca
- Belinda Stuart-Moonlight
- Gihan Soliman
- Kate Baily
- Jessica Elgar
- Katherine Hurst
- Razan Al-Sous
Our members are from a wide range of backgrounds, from academia, industry, to consultancy and students. Click on the buttons below to navigate to each section.
“I have degrees in Agricultural and meat science and through my 30+ years in the food industry, I have achieved professional recognition in nutrition and food science. My first job was as a Raw Material Specification Technician at Pedigree Petfoods and I got to wear a white coat with my name on! Right from this first role, I considered myself a scientist, but this was cemented over the years as I progressed through roles such as Head of Research and now to Chief Scientific Officer at the Food and Drink Federation.”
“COVID-19 has probably helped me progress as a scientist as the role of science has been so important to our understanding of COVID-19 itself. In my view, the role of groups such as SAGE has helped the stature of scientists in society. Plus, in our organisations, the view of scientists such as myself have been sought out in the handling of the situations that have developed.”
Dr. Nazanin Zand is an Associate Professor in Food and Nutrition at the University of Greenwich and an internationally acclaimed expert in the field of infant nutrition. She is the author of a number of peer-reviewed publications and is frequently invited to deliver plenary and other invited lectures at major symposia and at international conferences on food and nutrition. She leads the M.Sc. in Food Innovation at the University of Greenwich and as a Fellow of the Institute of Food Science & Technology (FIFST) and provides food and nutrition advice to both the public and private sector such as Kent, Lewisham and Greenwich councils.
Dr Zand considers her degree in Food Science to have been the foundation for her scientific career in food, nutrition and diet. What she finds most fascinating in her career is that Food Science encompasses the principle from various disciplines to include manufacturing, process, chemistry, health, safety and design. However, having completed a PhD, continuing with research and generating publications, has been a pinnacle of her scientific career. In her view, having an enquiring mind, attention for detail and having the capability to think critically and systematically is what in essence, makes a scientist.
Commenting on the positive effect COVID-19 has had on her role, Dr Zand mentioned: “COVID-19 has, of course, come with challenges to include online teaching not having the ability to meet face to face. I have been fortunate to be able to deliver laboratory practical for students and carry on with research to a degree, despite the pandemic. On a positive note, the pandemic has provided an opportunity to focus and have more time for scholarly activities including the writing of research proposals.”
Dr Delia Ojinnaka is a senior academic at London South Bank University with over 25 years of teaching and research experience.
“My expertise and interest are in food safety, control, analysis and sustainability. I am a graduate of King's College, University of London (BSc; Biology), Leeds University (MSc; Food Science) and Cranfield University (PhD; Rheological characterisation of microbial polysaccharides). I was a visiting professor in Life Sciences, at Univ. Politècnica de València, Spain, from 2014 to 2019. I am a Fellow of IFST, UK and a Chartered Scientist. I am actively involved with IFST, through membership of the SE Branch, accreditation panel and the school mentoring scheme.
Reminiscing on her school days, Delia recollects the time she considered herself a scientist: “I have always seen myself as a scientist of some sort, right from my school days. This perception was born out of my love for biology and chemistry; I enjoyed the dissection of rats and the flame test. However, the turning moment was a biology school trip to Dorset.”
COVID-19 has affected not only Delia as a scientist but also her students: “The lockdowns and other restrictions during this pandemic have affected my students and me in a severe way, limiting our access to learning resources and laboratory activities normally available and thus impeding our progress significantly. Learning opportunity and practical experience are missed.”
“I am a Registered Nutritionist, with a speciality in Nutrition Science. I always hated science at school, particularly chemistry, and so all my early life qualifications were in the arts. Fast forward many years after a career in the printing industry and paper merchanting, and I found myself as a mature student at university, ready to start learning about nutrition, in all its forms and not just from the scientific perspective. I found myself completely absorbed by my lectures and labs in chemistry, anatomy and physiology, biochemistry and metabolism – suddenly, my love for the sciences was there. They were being taught with some context to them – science, when applied to nutrition, has relevance as well as being fascinating, and secondly, the use of scientific research provided the evidence that nutritionists rely upon for their practice.
My undergraduate dissertation was spent in the laboratory collecting microbiological data about the survival of probiotic bacteria in foods and I’ve considered myself a scientist ever since. Now, as a Senior Lecturer in nutrition, health and food sciences, my aim is to convey the wonder that is the human body, its metabolism, the impact of disease and the chemistry of foods to others in the complete opposite way that I was taught at school, to nurture interest, knowledge, understanding and passion about nutrition science in others.”
“I think that the coronavirus pandemic has brought to the fore the importance of the work of scientists and that it takes many kinds of scientists to get us through these difficult times. I have spent the past 16 months being treated for multiple myeloma as well as living through lockdowns etc., and it has certainly given me a break from every day to reassess my research focus. I hope that that is a positive to come out of both situations!”
Badroonesha ‘Esha’ Aumjaud is a lecturer in food science and technology at the Faculty of Agriculture, University of Mauritius.
“At secondary school, I was interested in chemistry, mathematics and food studies, and aspired to a food science career. I was awarded the State of Mauritius scholarship in 1987 to pursue a BSc (Hons) Nutrition/Food Science course (with one-year sandwich placement) at the University of Surrey, United Kingdom. In 1992, I joined the University of Mauritius as an academic. In 1997, I obtained the Association of Commonwealth Universities Scholarship to undertake an MSc Food Technology (Quality Assurance) course at the University of Reading, United Kingdom. Since 1998, I have been engaged in teaching a high proportion of young women (more than 80%) enrolled on undergraduate food science and technology courses (with work placement/internship). Food science and technology graduates are employed in the hospitality, food, agricultural and education sectors in Mauritius. The need to give meaning to scientific education and research has inspired my professional path. I am a scientist who believes in quality education for all and contributes to advance women’s education, youth employability and sustainable development.”
Esha sees COVID-19 as a chance for technology to develop and provide us with digital tools to better support education: “COVID-19 has created the opportunity for enhanced use of digital tools to ensure teaching continuity and sustain learner engagement. I have shared my reflections on emergency remote teaching practices in a research paper presented at digiTAL 2020, an international online conference on teaching, assessment and learning. The educational experience has provided insights and perspectives which will inform my transition to blended teaching towards higher education resilience.”
Dr Nicole ‘Ni’ Yang is an Assistant Professor in Flavour Science and a member of Equality, Diversity and Inclusion at the School of Biosciences at the University of Nottingham.
“Recently I have initiated projects to collaborate with the food industry and a UK charity to help those who suffer from loss of flavour perception due to ageing and COVID-19. Upon achievement of my BSc and MSc in Food Science, I started managing a Knowledge Transfer Partnership project, aiming to transfer flavour science and technology at the University of Nottingham to a UK flavour company. Our team successfully reformulated flavours for low-fat products to achieve similar flavour profiles in their high-fat versions using novel scientific approaches. I was fascinated to observe how science can be applied to innovate healthy food products without compromising their flavours. Through this opportunity, I completed my fully-sponsored PhD in Flavour Science and felt privileged to be a Food Scientist.
During the unprecedented times of the pandemic, there has been a shift of my role in supervising lab-based research to writing scientific articles, and I am delighted that two of them have recently been published in peer-reviewed journals. I also achieved a Postgraduate Certificate in Higher Education and status as a Fellow of the Higher Education Academy. With that, I was able to apply blended learning approaches to proactively convert face-to-face lectures and practicals to interactive online teaching. So, I feel COVID-19 has not hindered my career development but shaped me to be a more versatile and resilient scientist.”
She has a B.Sc. Microbiology & Biochemistry, PG Dip Food Science & Technology and M.Eng.Sc. Food Engineering – a research master’s for which she was awarded a scholarship from HJ Heinz to research emulsion stability and develop a standard curve to predict shelf life. Oonagh is also a Chartered Scientist since 2018, Fellow of the Institute of Food Science and Technology of Ireland and Member of Women in Technology & Science.
“I always considered myself a scientist, although I did move away from it for a while as my career progressed into management. After graduation, my first job was as a lab technician in a pharmaceutical multinational. From there I progressed to a role as R&D technician, then Quality Manager (Pharma and Food) and Production Manager (vaccine production). I set up a food, innovation and environmental consultancy in 2008 and in the past 10 years I’ve started to promote my scientific knowledge and skills more and in fact use it as a USP!”
Like Purity Hrisca, COVID-19 has minimal interruption to her progress as a scientist:
“No impact directly as my work has not been interrupted, thankfully. Most of it is EU / Government funded. However, my clients' work has been impacted, especially the University researchers, and my role as Research Project Manager has required me to react on their behalf and manage adjustments to research project timelines and deliverables as required.”
Preye Griffith describes herself as a “scientist-mom” balancing her work and responsibilities as a mother.
“I get great pleasure from seeing food science in action in the lab, and in the kitchen. From food foams becoming the most delightful crumb in a sponge to the beautiful glaze that comes about by non-enzymatic browning when I use an egg wash for my scones. Interestingly, I also have a passion for medicine and a deep curiosity about how the body works, so I decided to complete a Master’s in Physician Associate Studies - after becoming a Certified Food Scientist (CFS)! I achieved my CFS certification after having my fourth daughter. I was a stay-at-home mom who did ad hoc freelance food consultancy work, fitting in studying for the exam between dinner prep, breastfeeds, braiding my daughters’ hair, driving them to gymnastics, swimming - you name it! I was really happy to have passed on my first go.”
“I use my food science knowledge every day to teach my girls about the science of making food; and my medical education to teach them about our bodies. Therefore, I feel I really became a scientist when recently my 5-year told me she now knew that a love heart was not actually what the human heart looked like. She had a light-bulb moment when she saw an anatomical image of the heart in one of our nightly discussions about the body. As a scientist-mom, I felt fulfilled that I was able to simplify the material enough for my daughter to understand and learn! I wanted to share this to encourage other stay-at-home scientist-moms to embrace their unique identity and to infuse their day-to-day activities with science to inspire the next generation.”
Purity Hrisca CSci, MIFST is Technical Manager for a Retailer, and you may have met her in our Black History Month article we published last year.
“I graduated with a BSc (Hons) in Food Science and an MSc in Food Safety and Quality Management. I am a Chartered Scientist currently working as a Technical Manager for one of the retailers. It is difficult to say exactly when I considered myself a scientist. It was probably a gradual process during my undergraduate years. During this time, I came to terms with what it means to be a scientist. The expectations to uphold values such as research ethics, objectivity, and both individual and scientific integrity. I think being awarded the Bachelor of Science degree was the confirmation of my scientist status. I have continued with this mindset of a scientist since then, applying science in my work and keeping my knowledge up to date. I also maintain a CPD for my Chartered Scientist register.”
And on COVID-19 and its effect on her career, Purity said: “The impact of COVID-19 on my progress as a scientist is minimal because I had to adapt to the situation like many of us. This is not only about keeping my knowledge current, but it is also in terms of ways of working. I keep my knowledge up-to-date using what is currently available. Pre-COVID-19, I may have attended conferences or training to enrich my knowledge. With current physical distancing measures, training and conferences take place online.”
Dr Belinda Stuart-Moonlight an environmental health practitioner, managing director of her own consultancy business and expert witness.
“My initial career was as a generalist environmental health officer, a regulator, within local government. Here, I learned many of the tools of my trade including how to inspect businesses (for food and health and safety risk, and compliance), and how to navigate a regulatory framework.”
Thinking about the point in her career when she considered herself a scientist, Belinda explains: “As a regulator, I was duty-bound to require certain food businesses to improve hygiene. I became fascinated to understand how well legal requirements in relation to hygiene were borne out in science. I, therefore, went to King’s College, London, to examine bacterial survival on food contact surfaces in the context of legislation for my PhD. After spending three years in the microbiology laboratory studying the survival of pathogenic bacteria, I considered myself to be a scientist. This was 20 years ago, and I will always be grateful for that opportunity to conduct original research, as this knowledge and skillset have shaped my current practice.”
Has COVID-19 Affected Belinda’s progress as a scientist? “The pandemic is likely to mean a slight shift in my expert witness caseload. This has mainly focussed on foodborne infectious intestinal disease, but I foresee more COVID-19 litigation in the next year or two and, indeed, instructions have already been received.”
“I’m a registered food scientist (RSci) and a soil scientist (MI Soil Sci). Food science is fascinating because it overlaps in scope with agricultural science as well as nutrition and other knowledge fields such as chemistry, microbiology, and engineering. I hold a Master of Science degree from the Faculty of Science and Engineering at the University of Edinburgh and my thesis was about soil management for enhancing phosphate uptake by the plant roots for sustainable food intensification. Between a day job in a food-manufacturing environment and my voluntary activities as a Trustee and a member of the Permaculture Association (Britain), my expertise covers food safety, food processing, food security, soil management for sustainable food production, and food technology. My job involves the application of basic sciences and engineering to manage the physical, chemical, and biochemical characteristics of food for safety and quality during manufacturing.
My diverse background made me appreciate being a scientist even more. I started my career as an educator and became a scientist by the completion of an interdisciplinary master’s degree in science in 2016, followed by the relevant career development and receiving the ‘registered scientist’ status with the Institute of Food Science and Technology.
“As a food-safety professional, COVID-19 has intensified my responsibilities on site which, albeit exhausting sometimes, is a professionally positive experience. I love my job and work on developing my skills and knowledge every day to stay up to responsibility while enjoying the interaction at work and with civil society.”
“Having studied Food Science at the University of Leeds, my early career was in the area I enjoyed the most in my degree, product innovation & development. As part of this, I was fortunate enough to do a “job swap” for a year and found my new passion for consumer research & sensory! I love that my role is very people-centric, while still requiring skills in many branches of science including psychology, statistics, food chemistry, biology, food physics… the list goes on!”
Kate considered herself a scientist “from the word go”: “Early on, thinking about what I wanted to do in the future, I knew it had to involve people and science. There were so many exciting possibilities, it was difficult to choose, but I got to know someone who had done a food science degree. They had then pursued further research in the electronic nose field, which showed me how interesting, and how diverse, going into this area could be.”
Despite all the challenges COVID-19, Kate has seen this as an opportunity than a hindrance. “While the wider global impact of COVID-19 cannot be underestimated, and compassion goes out to anyone affected, we had to view this as an opportunity to think creatively in a challenging situation. As mentioned, my area is very people-focused, and carrying out research with people is an intrinsic part of the role. Examples of new ways of working include evaluating different methods and exercising my technical skills by switching from in-person to virtual research!”
“After studying food technology and biology for my A levels I became captivated by the science behind the food. I went on to study BSc Food & Nutrition at Sheffield Hallam University where my fascination grew. During my industrial placement year at a flavour house, I gained first-hand experience of sensory science which inspired me and led me to co-author a research paper on the impact of caffeine in energy drinks on liking, healthiness perception and intended use in my final year of university which I later presented as part of the IFST Young Scientist competition. Since leaving university, I have started my career as an Application technologist at Sensient, day to day I work on projects involving dairy, confectionery & bakery products.”
“I first considered myself as a scientist when I left university and started working as part of the technical team and appreciated the importance of food science in the industry and how the work that we did directly impacted the products in the supermarket shelves. Additionally, when the research paper I co-authored was published, it cemented my feeling of being a scientist as future research could reference something I worked on.”
For Jessica, COVID-19 was a challenge that helped improve her professional development: “COVID has proven to me that the work that food scientists do is critical to keeping the whole population safe and healthy. For me personally, I have worked throughout the pandemic and it has encouraged me to keep pushing boundaries and take any and every opportunity I get challenged with.”
Katherine Hurst is PhD researcher within the Food Flavour Group at the University of Nottingham. Kate is also one of our two Twitter Curators for the new IJFST Twitter page we have created to share research from our journal.
Reviewing her career, Katherine explains “Our team looks at a broad range of flavour related research including sugar/salt reduction strategies without the loss of consumer liking, real-time aroma release during consumption, food & flavour characterisation & much more. My PhD focuses on understanding saltiness perception both from product matrices and consumer perspectives, with the central aim of reducing sodium intake of the population.”
Katherine recalls a specific activity completed at university as the point she felt like a scientist. “I really felt like I had become a scientist was when I was using the Scanning Electron Microscope(SEM) at university. This piece of equipment uses powerful beams of electrons to produce images of samples at really high magnitudes. I remember feeling amazed that I could see such detail of the surface of the powders I had created.”
Has COVID-19 affected Katherine’s progress as a scientist (either positively or negatively)?
“I would say both! Similar to others, timelines for further studies were pushed back, and I had limited access to university facilities. However, it gave me more time to work on scientific papers & I submitted my first, first-author manuscript. It gave me a chance to step back, evaluate my research so far, and plan what is required next.”
“We came to the UK after the war in Syria in 2012. With my husband and three young children, we had lost almost everything and had to settle into a new life in Yorkshire. Initially, I began searching for a job but despite having a pharmacy degree and a scientific background my lack of references and work history in the UK made it extremely difficult. Later, I started to look at other options. I have three children and wanted so badly to build a bright future for them. So, I started to think what was around me – the expertise I could tap into and the sources of support and other opportunities available to me"
Thank you to all of our members who participated in our IDWGS campaign!