We live in a fiercely competitive, just-in-time, stress-intensive world in which everything is fought for and sought after. In our daily activities as food scientists, technologists, or engineers, we are constantly striving “to be the best we can be” within our own personal and family limits. For that, we need resources, often described as hours and dollars.
But it takes more than hours and dollars. As important as those resources are, knowledge is the resource that allows us to use them better. Knowledge is indispensable. It is also more personal than the hours and dollars that our companies or institutions fund.
As scientists and technologists, we acquire knowledge through education to qualify for a position and have a job. The knowledge we gain at that time sets the foundation, which must be replenished almost daily. We understand that science develops at an ever-increasing exponential rate. Food science is one of the youngest of sciences and one of the older technologies, so it is caught between rapid learning and old ways of doing things. Scientific understanding has changed the maxims—we now know that pH values below 4.6 aren’t always safe, and that fresh vegetables may harbor pathogens.
Updating a knowledge base isn’t enough these days—knowledge moves so fast that we must “unlearn” the old while learning the new. Learning must be continuous to ensure that we are “staying with the pack” or, if we are lucky, moving ahead. The latest knowledge is the indispensable working tool of our profession. The food scientist must keep up with new technologies in which scientific findings are utilized, and the technologist must keep abreast of new scientific discoveries that may affect the technology.
Many professional bodies invest in formal strategies for “continuing education,” “continuing professional development,” “life-long learning tools,” and “distance learning and outreach programs.” IFT offers its members a variety of tools to address this major challenge. By visiting the IFT Web site (www.ift.org), you can learn that more than 1,400 technical papers, 900 exhibitors, and 10 short course programs will be offered at the IFT Annual Meeting in New Orleans, along with four technical field trips. You can also access Food Technology magazine, Journal of Food Science, and The World of Food Science (a joint effort between IUFoST and IFT). A little more looking reveals the upcoming continuing education schedule, which includes “Labeling of FDA Regulated Foods,” “Food Safety Considerations in New Product Development,” and other programs, and the IFT InfoSource information portal—a directory of food science and technology resources on the Internet, including information regarding ingredients and food processing.
The list is endless. But we at IFT are not stopping there. We are planning for the future. For example, a Task Force on Enhancing Publication Efforts is considering new publications. Also, discussions are ongoing with the Three Presidents and key individuals involved in distance learning to determine if this is a critical area for the future of IFT. We are not standing still.
But even keeping up-to-date in our own food area is not enough. It is quite rare these days for a person’s career to move along a single, predetermined path. Gaining scientific knowledge isn’t usually enough–that information must be shared and used to enhance one’s career. Increasingly in industry and other institutions, scientists need to display additional skills beyond the scientific as part of their career development. After all, being a great scientist doesn’t count if the knowledge can’t be transferred or used.
There are other ways of expanding a scientific career. From a location standpoint, how many of you “only” work from your corporate, university, or government offices? “Offices” are established in homes, cars, trains, airports, and hotel rooms via computers, cellular phones, and Palm Pilots. The ability to work in a variety of locations extends one’s reach.
Individuals make deliberate choices about changes in career direction, or may decide to change direction as a result of mergers and acquisitions or company reorganizations. There have been many messages to me and to others from colleagues who have been “let go” or who have written with concern about their future employment.
Preparing oneself to deal with the worst, if it should happen, is never wasted. If the merger doesn’t occur or if the reorganization proves positive, the preparation helps one’s career development. Let me emphasize that continuing professional development is not just for the younger members of our profession but for everyone with any portion of their career still ahead of them. I assure you that I am just getting started on my learning path.
Finally, there is something more, something that we all hope to obtain one day: the experience-based wisdom needed to apply all this accumulated knowledge. This is at the heart of my President’s Page next month, so watch this space!
by MARY K. SCHMIDL
IFT President, 2000–01