Name: Matthew Taylor, PhD
Job title: Associate Professor – Food Safety Microbiology
Company: Texas A&M University, College Station, TX
How did you go about finding your current job?
I searched multiple jobs on sites like IFT’s online job listing, the American Society for Microbiology (ASM)’s online job listing, and others. Ultimately, I found the position listing on the website of the AAAS, an organization dedicated to American academic institutions development and professional development of academicians. From there, I completed the application and submitted it for review. When I got the call inviting me to come and join the faculty, I was honestly surprised. I was just very recently finished up my PhD with no post-doctoral experience, but I’ve been very blessed with this job.
What is your favorite perk and worst pitfall of your current job?
Best part, by far, is when students I teach come across information and knowledge of their own effort and I get to provide some form of guidance or assistance. Also, when I get notice of a grant getting funded or a paper getting accepted for publication, that’s a really great day. I still admittedly jump up to my feet and yell out something like, “Hell yeah,” though I know that’s pretty unprofessional. I just get excited because it means we get to keep working, exploring, researching, striving to enhance U.S. food safety! The worst pitfall sometimes is, in an institution like Texas A&M University, and any other institution like it, there’s great bureaucracy. That can lead to wastefulness, unnecessary procedures that feel very inefficient or mundane, or people you really don’t want to work with for various reasons. However, I’m very lucky to have the job I do and reach the people I reach. Most jobs I wouldn’t have the opportunities I do.
What is your “Dream Job”?
Strangely enough, what I’m doing. I say strangely because when was an undergraduate, academia didn’t really seem like something I thought I could or wanted to do. But the further in school I went, and due to failures to land jobs in the industry, I ended up here, and I’m really happy about that. My mother was a teacher and my dad a farmer, so doing what I do with food kind of fits into both their legacies to me. Yeah, there are definitely some things about my job I don’t enjoy, but that’s any job. I’m really loving what I do here at A&M!
What is a change you would like to see in your industry?
A greater understanding of the issues and interconnections of the industry. Our current regulatory framework prevents this to some extent, but there are some processes that are routine practice in the meat and poultry industries that other sectors of the food industry could adopt to their benefit, and vice versa. While the prevailing mindset about food safety is that it should not be an element of market competition, differing industry members should sometimes jump across not only company lines to aid food safety in the industry, but communicate and collaborate with others outside their sector the food industry.
How did you make your first dollar?
So my father was a produce farmer, and my brothers and I worked for him on the farm doing whatever he wanted. He was nice enough to pay us, but that’s how my first money was made. I remember I spent some of my first money as a teenager on a CD by a rock band that my dad made me return, but still that was my first real job outside the house. The first dollar I made in a job where my dad wasn’t my boss was when I worked as a student worker in the Department of Crop Science at NC State University as a freshman for a year in the laboratory of Robert Patterson, a soybean specialist. I also held jobs in the Department of Poultry Science and Food Science while an undergraduate, in addition to summer internships at Nabisco in NJ, Carolina Culinary Foods in SC, and Sealed Air Corp/Cryovac in SC.
Why did you join an IFT Division?
I joined Divisions to work with others interested in the microbiology and microbiological safety of foods, particularly meat and poultry. I also joined as a way to provide some service to the society and the science – something every student should find some way to do! We’ve been given so much – we need to find ways to give back.
What is the best career advice you have gotten?
Don’t give up on developing yourself and your work. Also, I’ve had a couple amazing department heads in Gary Acuff and Russell Cross, who’ve stood by me in both grant-funded and non-funded years. Advice has been sometimes sparse, but the best guidance I’ve gotten has come from others being patient with me, being willing to collaborate with me, and most importantly in some instances, being willing to forgive my errors and help me fix them, come to deeper understanding of the work going on, and keep the work going.
Last but not least, what is your favorite food?
That’s tough. I like a lot of stuff, but probably chopped pig BBQ with a Lexington, NC, or eastern North Carolina-style sauce. That, plus corn bread hushpuppies and sweet tea – that meal is home on a plate!