Spotlight on Dr Terri Grassby: IFST Food Science and Nutrition Special Interest Group

1. Please provide your name and current role.

Dr Terri Grassby (MIFST, MRSC), Lecturer in Food Science

2. Briefly share your professional background.

I have almost 20 years of experience in academia, working as a PhD student, postdoc and then lecturer at Quadram, King’s College London and University of Surrey, respectively. I am a member of IFST and the Royal Society of Chemistry, which reflects my interest in food chemistry, particularly dietary fibre and polyphenols. I have been a lecturer at the University of Surrey for 8 years where I teach on the MSc Food Science and BSc Food Science and Nutrition programmes and supervise PhD students.

  1. Describe your journey into academia and explain what motivated you to join the Food and Nutrition Special Interest group.

My journey into academia has been quite an adventure. It all started with a job as a pharmacy customer assistant, driven by my love for chemistry.

A subsequent degree in chemistry from the University of Bristol, including a year in industry, convinced me that the finer points of organic chemistry/pharmacology were probably beyond me, but I loved working in the lab.

Following my degree, I took a temporary job with a medical dressings company, juggling quality control in the mornings and researching spider silk in the afternoons. The economic reality of producing spider silk soon put a stop to that project, but in the meantime, I’d secured a PhD studentship at the Institute of Food Research (now Quadram). This marked my entry into the world of food science, using analytical chemistry to figure out why Chinese water chestnuts stay crunchy when cooked.

Following my PhD, I moved on to a postdoc position at Kings College, London, where I used various techniques to explore how our bodies absorb nutrients from almonds, chickpeas, and wheat. This research went well and eventually led to my current role as a lecturer at Surrey.

Today, I teach, do research, and collaborate with colleagues both inside and outside the university. I joined the Food and Nutrition Special Interest Group, after attending the IFST conference because I wanted a strong link to the food industry, and this group provides just that.

4. Can you walk me through a typical day in your role as an academic at a university?

A typical day varies depending on whether it's during the semester or outside of it, but I generally split my time into three main categories: teaching, research, and administration/collegiality, roughly in a 40:40:20 ratio.

If I’m teaching in the morning, I will drive to work about an hour before it’s due to start, check for any urgent emails, and review my notes. I still write a script for every lecture, and then invariably go off script once I start talking (the script is useful for student accessibility though). Then I’ll head to whatever room I’m teaching in and log in. This allows me to access my lecture (which I will have written at least a week beforehand) and the recording and presenting software I need. A typical teaching session is 50 minutes or 1 hour 50 minutes.

After the lecture, there may be a few students asking questions. I would then usually go for a quick lunch, which I eat outside if the weather is good. I will quickly review the recording of the lecture, edit it if necessary and upload it for students to access. I would usually respond to emails then as well. I may have meetings in the afternoon, with my PhD students, project students or external collaborators to discuss ongoing or future research projects. There’s a lot of chopping and changing from one topic to another, which can be mentally tiring, so I’ll often finish the day by doing some simple finance or H&S admin. Outside of the semester, the teaching time may be taken up with marking, reading the literature, or writing papers and grant proposals.

5. Can you describe a recent project or initiative you worked on that involved applying your food science expertise to improve food products or processes?

As an academic, I tend to work on foods that are not necessarily going to be products, they are produced as a research tool to understand how different components interact with each other or elicit a hypothetical physiological response.

For instance, my current interests include resistant starch 5, which is the amylose portion of starch combined with free fatty acids (otherwise known as amylose-lipid complexes). As with other types of resistant starch, it is resistant to digestion with amylase, so it is important to be able to measure it in foods, however, we don’t have a good method to do that yet.

Therefore, we use extracted starches for our laboratory experiments and extrapolate the production processes to foods, which then must be tested in human studies. If the results are promising the production processes may eventually be used by the food industry through licensing agreements.

6. What role does your food science expertise play in product development and innovation within your organisation?

My expertise in food science, especially analytical chemistry, plays a crucial role in the development and innovation of products within our organisation. It enables me to comprehend the food we are working on at a molecular level, employing techniques like High Performance Liquid Chromatography (HPLC) and mass spectrometry.

Additionally, it also allows me to engage in meaningful discussions with Chemistry collaborators about the molecular modelling of amylose-lipid complexes and what the results mean.

It has given me a good grounding in Good Laboratory Practice (GLP), particularly taking accurate notes, which is vital when trying to reproduce processing conditions to get a consistent product/result.

In terms of transferable skills, I am always problem-solving, networking, working independently and in a team, and everything is underpinned by effective communication.