In her 2008 commencement address at Duke University, American novelist Barbara Kingsolver said, “You can be as earnest and ridiculous as you need to be if you don’t attempt it in isolation. The ridiculously earnest are known to travel in groups. And they are known to change the world. Look at you. That could be you.”
As we think about the members of the IFT Student Association (IFTSA) in relation to this quote, we can’t help but smile. We wouldn’t necessarily describe them as ridiculous, but ridiculously earnest, passionate, persistent, and resilient certainly seem fitting. It’s impressive to see the excitement and intensity many students have for the profession, leadership, and their areas of expertise. It’s also extremely encouraging because the food system of tomorrow requires nothing less.
The future of food is fraught with challenges: providing our growing population with affordable access to safe and nutritious food; enhancing the positive impact of food on health; and improving the food supply chain to reduce the impact on the environment, eliminate food loss and waste, and ensure the traceability of products and goods. Underlining all these factors is perhaps the biggest challenge of all—gaining public trust in science while fighting misinformation and educating consumers on the impact of their food choices.
Despite the magnitude of these challenges, we are better positioned to address them than ever before with the help of our future food scientists. With many companies cutting R&D budgets, the research coming out of our colleges and universities is more critical than ever. In addition, the amount of research and information people entering the profession have at their fingertips today is leading to more innovation, as evidenced by the sharp increase in the number of startups formed by up-and-coming food scientists. Our young people’s commitment to social causes and making the world a better place drives their passion for using the knowledge and resources available to them to create positive change.
As Kingsolver indicated in her inspiring address, making an impact on the world—or in our case, the global food system—can’t be done in isolation. The real changemakers find their community and work together to solve big problems and make a difference. For students (and professionals) in the science of food, that community is IFT.
There are myriad ways IFT helps students, their mentors, and professors stay in tune with what’s happening in the science of food. The resources IFT makes available to members enable them to keep up with the latest research and trends. Our online community, IFT Connect, provides a source for getting questions answered and virtually connecting with people across the globe. Becoming involved in local sections and topical divisions related to their field of study enables students to learn more from experts and to start to build their professional networks. Attending IFT FIRST: Annual Event and Expo is a wonderful opportunity to discover the latest industry research and trends, connect with new people, explore and taste new ingredients, and have some fun. Everyone from first-year to graduate student should make it a priority to be there.
While the paths that brought each of us to IFT were a little different, there are many things we agree on: 1) Students should get involved in IFTSA as soon as possible; 2) There is no limit to how much being an IFT member can help you grow and learn; 3) Volunteering in IFT can open doors and change the trajectory of your career; 4) IFT is a place where you can try new things, knowing that if you fail or need help, there are countless individuals in your corner; 5) It’s never too early to find your passion and start making an impact; and 6) Our ridiculously earnest students are going to change the world, and their IFT community will be there cheering them on.