Breaking into the Industry: is Food Science the Only Option?

By: Yim Fan Yan

Some of us have wanted to major in food science since our first year of college. Some of us fell into it and never looked back. Still some of us are figuring it out class by class. One of the greatest things about being an undergraduate is having access to student-oriented opportunities and resources that illuminate our options. It’s all too easy to take for granted the advisors, career fairs, on-campus recruiters, research opportunities, seminars, and student organizations that are made available to us. Last summer, I got the chance to take on a research and development internship in the food industry, and what I found there was a mix of people who a) knew they had wanted to do their type of work all along b) fell into it and never looked back and c) were still figuring it out day by day. I met food scientists who were pursuing Master of Business Administration degrees to become managers. I met food engineers who left their engineering jobs to develop their own products, and I met chefs who became consultants for food manufacturers. I met chemists who ran analytical tests for food scientists and statisticians who analyzed the strengths and weaknesses of products. I met people without food science backgrounds who decided to become cheese makers. The take-home message was simple: no one path exists for everyone, and we have options, no matter what our undergraduate major.

Although there is a distinction between food science (study of food science concepts) and food technology (application of food science)1, the US Bureau of Labor Statistics2 (BLS) states that food scientists and technologists use chemistry, microbiology, engineering, and other sciences to do the following:

  • study the principles underlying the processing and deterioration of foods
  • analyze food content to determine levels of vitamins, fat, sugar, and protein
  • discover new food sources
  • research ways to make processed foods safe, palatable, and healthful
  • apply food science knowledge to determine best ways to process, package, preserve, store, and distribute food

This is straightforward enough, but food scientists and technologists aren’t the only players in the food industry, just as food manufacturers aren’t the only employers of food scientists. You’ve seen those job postings that state under the list of qualifications, “Candidates must be pursuing a degree in food science or related field,” or something to that effect, right? Companies in the food industry look for interns and entry-level candidates to work in consumer insight, customer development, finance, flavor and fragrance development, food law and regulation, human resources, information technology, marketing, packaging, quality assurance, research and development, sensory analysis and supply chain…the list goes on. Many majors qualify for these internships and entry-level positions. More obvious majors include animal science, biochemistry, biology, biotechnology, business, chemistry, engineering, food science, human resources, microbiology, marketing, nutrition and supply chain, but there are relevant majors that may seem surprising, like agricultural science, culinary arts, environmental science, physics, psychology, public policy, sociology, soil science and statistics.

It is definitely possible to cross over into different fields, but it’s also important to build a compelling case for yourself through activities that complement your “related field.” For instance, if you’d like to enter into a research profession, try reaching out to a professor for research opportunities during the school year. If you’re eyeing a job at a specific company, try approaching the on-campus recruiter with your interest at the next information session or career fair; the recruiter may be able to answer all of your questions about working at said company. IFT dinner meetings are also great for meeting industry professionals. Of course, it would be best to discuss your career goals with your academic advisor or career development office, but I would also encourage you to take advantage of the aforementioned student-oriented opportunities and resources. You never know what inspirations you might find.




Cover image:

Science Meets Food

The IFT Student Association (IFTSA) is a forward-looking, student-governed community of IFT members. Through competitions, scholarships, networking, and leadership opportunities, you’ll set yourself apart from your classmates (unless they’re members too).

1 Comment

  1. Thanks for the very interesting read. I am currently studying a bachelors in Consumer Science in Food Retail, and this article opened my eyes so much. Would it be possible for you to give me some insight as to what career paths I could cross into after completing my degree? Are there any other options besides focusing on a career in only food retail?

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