Chris Downs headshot

Chris Downs

If you’re one of the thousands of people attending IFT FIRST: Annual Event and Expo this month, your to-do list may look a lot like mine:

  • Make sure any must-attend keynotes and sessions are on the calendar.
  • Decide which morning meetups and networking hours to attend.
  • Reach out to this person and that person to arrange a time to connect.
  • Block time to explore the Expo Hall and Startup Pavilion.
  • And the list goes on!

The wide array of networking opportunities is one of the most beneficial aspects of attending IFT FIRST, and this year’s event is shaping up to be truly exceptional. From the moment attendees step into McCormick Place each morning until they leave at night, there are countless scheduled and serendipitous chances to build strategic connections, discuss cutting-edge science, foster relationships with potential customers or suppliers, and advance their business, career, or work.

But what if you are only able to attend IFT FIRST for a day or two, or can’t come at all? Are you out of luck until next July? Not at all!

IFT’s mission is to connect global food system communities to promote and advance the science of food and its application—not just four days a year, but all year long. And while much has changed throughout its history, science of food professionals and students have been able to count on IFT as a place to collaborate, learn, and contribute for more than 80 years. It’s one of the things I value most in my membership and a sentiment we consistently hear from members at every stage of their careers.

"Today, IFT offers more opportunities than ever for members to forge relationships with others based on their goals and needs."

Today, IFT offers more opportunities than ever for members to forge relationships with others based on their goals and needs.

For those looking to connect with other professionals working in the same discipline or to deepen their knowledge of a new area, IFT offers 25 topic-based special interest groups known as Divisions. IFT Divisions provide spaces to engage, learn, and share information. Through a variety of online learning events and rich discussions within IFT’s members-only online community, there is a wealth of knowledge and information exchanged within each of these groups every day.

IFT member Jennifer Vuia-Riser participates in multiple IFT Divisions and says, “I have greatly appreciated having access to the network of IFT Divisions. It provides a community of experts in particular topic areas who can guide me, mentor me, and has helped me solve some very large challenges.”

Many members of our community find it beneficial to connect with others in their local or regional area.

Our 43 U.S.-based IFT Sections and four international IFT Sections in Canada, Japan, Mexico, and the United Kingdom give science of food professionals a place to develop relationships and seek recommendations from people who live and work relatively nearby. Each IFT Section hosts events throughout the year designed to facilitate networking, learning, and leadership development.

IFT member and British IFT Section Chair Bertrand Emond says he enjoys meeting people with common interests and helping people to connect with each other, as well as encouraging students to pursue a career in the food industry and supporting emerging talents to achieve their full potential. His leadership role in the British IFT Section allows him to do all those things and more.

The newest avenue for networking and connection within the IFT ecosystem, IFT’s three Member Resource Groups provide supportive spaces for communities that have historically been underrepresented or under supported and their allies. These member-led, identity-based groups, which include the African, African American, Black Resource Group, Women’s Resource Group, and Proud Resource Group for LGBTQIA+ members and allies, provide opportunities to foster inclusion, empowerment, learning, and belonging. A fourth Member Resource Group will be introduced this month at IFT FIRST. Stay tuned for more information.

Whether you attend an event, comment on a discussion post, or take a more active volunteer role, the benefits of engaging in this community are far-reaching. It’s not only about expanding your network. It’s about having people to turn to when you encounter a problem, need a recommendation, or want career advice from someone who understands. It’s also about coming together to tackle the immense challenges our global food system faces. Everyone benefits when we work together to achieve our common goals.

About the Author

Chris Downs, PhD, is IFT President, 2022–2023 ([email protected]).
Chris Downs headshot