Another academic year is drawing to a close. Some students are preparing for commencement, others may be getting ready for summer internships, research projects, or their first “real” job, and others may be heading home for the summer. Regardless of what the future holds, one thing we all can agree on is it’s been an interesting year (to say the least).
It would be easy to drone on about the challenges our students and the academic community faced this year. Instead, we are struck by the many ways they have risen to the occasion, and in the process, developed important strengths that will serve them well in the years ahead.
Resilience and adaptability top the list of traits we’ve seen students develop this year, more than ever. Honestly, they had no choice. They could have allowed the pandemic to distract, discourage, or sidetrack their studies, research, and career goals, and perhaps for some it did. For the most part, we’ve seen students adapt quickly and impressively to the difficult situations they faced. They adjusted to the shift from in-person to online classes. They conducted labs in their kitchens rather than the laboratories on campus. They completed exams in different formats. They gave defenses and speeches virtually. They learned to present their strengths in job and internship interviews without being in the same room as their interviewer. Was it easy? Of course not. They did what they needed to do to face many obstacles, and these skills will serve them exceptionally well, no matter where the future takes them.
Students have also come to understand the immense value of connectedness, which is something they found within the IFT community. At a time when students couldn’t be on campus, and even if they were, classes and clubs were not able to meet in person, IFT provided a welcoming place to maintain connections, build relationships with peers around the world, and feel a sense of belonging. The increase in virtual meetings and events made it possible for students to attend things they might not have attended previously because of distance, time, or cost. The new IFT Connect platform makes it possible for students to ask questions, access resources, and increase engagement. IFT gave our students a safe space to stay involved, experience stability, and nurture their network, and these relationships and experiences will continue to help them as they enter the profession.
IFT’s innovative, forward-thinking approach to the challenges facing the science of food and the profession as a whole was another boon for students. They watched, learned, and in some cases, participated as IFT challenged conventional thinking, shifted mindsets, and strived to leverage the pandemic in positive, constructive ways. They experienced what it’s like to make difficult decisions and swift changes, to stay nimble and relevant, and to think ahead about the ways in which the science and the profession need to evolve to meet the challenges and demands of the future.
From entrepreneurship to large global food companies and everything in between, food scientists and technologists are in high demand. In fact, there’s often a shortage of students coming out of colleges and universities with the skills needed for science of food careers. With opportunities leveraging chemistry, biochemistry, microbiology, physics, engineering, nutrition, biology, math, and many other disciplines, the ability to contribute to this field is limitless. We are proud of today’s students for persevering through this time and are confident they will have a far-reaching impact no matter what direction their interests lead them.
No matter where you are in your education or career, we would like to share two pieces of advice. First, stay engaged in IFT. Those of us who have been members for any length of time will tell you that IFT will serve you in many ways at different stages in your career. In each of those stages, you’ll be glad you stayed connected and made this investment in yourself. Second, reach out and invite others to join you. IFT is a community, and communities grow better and stronger when people are invited and welcomed. We encourage you to ask yourself—who would benefit from being part of this community? Once you have your answer, extend the invitation.