Name: Laura Willis
Job title: Research Associate
Company: Novozymes Biologicals
Highest Level of Education/Degree: Master’s
What is your favorite quote? “Research is what I’m doing when I don’t know what I’m doing.” – Wernher von Braun
What does your schedule look like today? Today I will spend a lot of time checking my current experiment and troubleshooting. In between collecting data I will have some meetings and start thinking about planning the experiments for next week. The specifics about my work are considered extremely confidential, but basically I am in the world of submerged microbial fermentation. It is much more complicated work than fermenting wine at my two previous jobs, but it is very challenging and I am learning a lot.
Throughout the day I will also be hoping a thunderstorm that has been promised by the weather reporters will actually roll in so that our company softball practice can be cancelled and a live music event at the brewery down the road can be attended instead.
How did you go about finding your current job? I ran across recruiters from Novozymes at the career networking event this past summer at the IFT Expo in New Orleans, and decided to talk to them since I had just moved back from Copenhagen and knew the company was headquartered in Denmark. I found out more about what the company does and expressed interest in working there, and later when I was looking for job postings on the Novozymes site I reached out to the woman I spoke with at IFT (who had given me her business card) and she redirected me to a job that had not yet been posted. Soon after I had a phone interview, followed by an on-site interview, and here I am now!
If you weren’t a Food Scientist, what would you be doing? I would like to say I would be in space, but more realistically I would be a hydrologist or a baker.
Who do you think is the most influential person in your field and why? I have switched food science disciplines within the last few years, moving from enology to dairy to meat and then to sensory science, and am currently learning the ropes of more basic sporulation fermentation science so have yet to become acquainted with the most influential. My time during my undergraduate at Purdue was very fortunate, and I had the opportunity to work with many major influencers, such as Dr. Suzanne Nielsen and her work with food analysis. This fortune continued when getting my Master’s, and this past year at the University of Helsinki I felt very lucky to be working alongside Dr. Eero Puolanne and Dr. Marita Ruusunen, both of whom were extremely knowledgeable in the area of meat science.
When are you most inspired? On beautiful stormy days, especially right before a storm when you know it is about to start. I find the weather in the U.S. very inspiring and exciting and have missed it very much while spending the last two and a half years in northern Europe.
Why should I join the International Division or any other IFT Division? International collaboration with food science is so important that everyone should be in this division! The International Division gets to be involved with every aspect of food science and every type of food scientist, so it is obviously the most fun and the best 🙂 I hope to see many new faces at the ID events this summer at the expo in Chicago!
The most valuable thing I, as a student, can do to further my research/career as soon as I finish reading this interview is: Don’t be afraid to get involved in anything you are interested in! Any group or division – reach out to someone and get a dialogue going about how you can be more involved and what you would like to accomplish! It is amazing the amount of good a small gesture can make for your entire career. The same goes for applying for positions in academia and positions in the industry – connections can make such a difference and give you opportunities that you never would’ve thought to be an actual possibility! Attending as many events like the annual expos (and other division meetings) can be immensely beneficial – you never know who will sit down next to you!
And also to you students – the flexibility in your life after you graduate is priceless! Moving for a grape harvest in South America or taking an internship in Belgium are such fun opportunities that are so easy to do when you are generally possession-less, and you never know where they might lead you next! There are so many opportunities out there if you just take the time to look for them and apply!
What is your favorite food? The countless, amazing steaks and other cuts of meat that I ate while working in Argentina, sometimes just with bare hands over a campfire in the dark next to the vineyard – those were magical flavors.
Contact Laura at firstname.lastname@example.org.