1) Networking: It’s a universal truth regardless of industry: the bigger your professional network, the better. Food science is a particularly great community for networking—whether in-person (alumni gatherings, trade/ingredient shows, IFT18, etc.) or online (LinkedIn, IFT Connect, etc.)—because it comes with the added benefit of having people to ask for advice when you’re having an issue with a product or a project you’re working (or to lend advice on a topic you know well, which will help demonstrate your resourcefulness.) And, of course, from a career perspective, it’s always great to have an expansive network. After all, you never know when someone might be looking for somebody with your skillset, so the larger your network, the more potential opportunities you’re likely to have to advance your career.
2) Continuing Education: Staying current on the latest food science developments helps both you and your organization evolve. Continuing education should always be a priority: be it early in your career, as a way of demonstrating to your employer that you are committed to your profession and to career evolution; or later in your career, as you look for new trends and strategies to enhance your work.
3) Stay Flexible: Being proactive on projects and participating on things even if it doesn’t exactly match your job description will pay dividends later in your career. While you may start out in QA/QC, you may later want (or be asked) to work on a project in product development, or to liaise with a marketing project. Working cross-functionally with other teams can be a great way to get your foot in the door and open yourself up to new opportunities. That being said, you’ll sometimes need a way to demonstrate your proficiency across multiple food science disciplines, which leads us to…
4) Getting Your CFS Certification: Getting your Certified Food Scientist (CFS) can elevate your visibility as a food industry professional, giving you a valuable career advantage. It shows you have a unique, continuously evolving skillset with broad knowledge across many different areas in food science, which can give you a leg up with employers when you’re looking for a new job or trying to get that promotion. A CFS credential tells the world that you are savvy and capable enough to contribute in a wide variety of areas across the food science industry.
5) Set Goals: This one might seem obvious, but it’s worth noting. Setting concrete goals gives you something to focus on, both for the short-term and the long-term future. Where do you want to be? What do you want to be doing? Once you take the time to assess your long-term career goals, you’ll be better equipped to stay cognizant of what it’s going to take to get there.
Bonus Tip! 6) Get a Mentor: Do you have that goal (or goals) in mind? Good. Now, go find someone who has achieved some or all of those goals and ask them if they might be willing to give you some advice on building your career. It may be intimidating, and it may take some time, but the risk of having someone politely decline your request pales in comparison to the potential insights, knowledge a mentor can share.
IFT’s Chief Science and Technology Officer Maria Velissariou, PhD, reflects on the impact of COVID-19 on the global food supply chain, consumer behavior, and food security, and challenges science of food professionals to consider some tough questions as they redefine the path forward.
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