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This is a guest blog written by final year BSc (Hons) Nutrition student,  Sam.

Sam is using a pipette in the lab

I was very fortunate to be selected for the Leatherhead Food Research summer placement scheme. Renowned by the UK food industry for high testing standards, the company was established over a century ago. The placement was in the ‘Cooking Instructions’ lab. Food Scientists cook food to the packet instructions, testing its safety and tasting its flavour! This often-overlooked job is vital to protect the health of the public (and ensure customer satisfaction).

Sam stands next to a sign for Science Group PLC, wearing black jeans, a white tee shirt with a graphic on it and sunglasses

This was a paid placement, working full-time for 10 weeks in the summer; between my second and final year at university. The first fortnight was training and working under supervision- a steep learning curve. After this, basic testing was expected to be completed to standard unsupervised, with a ‘lab buddy’ on hand if there were any issues. After a month, we (the placement students) were meeting the daily expected output volumes for full-time employees. By the end of the 10 weeks, I had played my part in opening and closing the lab, taking deliveries, and testing a wide range of foods.

Despite placement students only being temporary staff- the Leatherhead team made sure that we felt appreciated. I was invited to a staff night out at the nearby Epsom racecourse, which really made me feel like part of the team. It was a great fun- I even picked a winner! We also had a farewell afternoon tea with the lab staff, where everyone chipped-in, making sandwiches and cakes.

On a personal note, I really enjoyed living in London during the summer- there was so much going on! It was sunny every day- I experienced some great days out, such as a trip to Kew Gardens, live music in Hyde Park and tennis at Wimbledon.

Sam stands in a lab wearing a white lab coat, a hair net and beard net

A challenge I faced was when clients requested photographs of cooked products, in addition to a written description of outcomes. I am not the best photographer, and unfortunately my images were not up to the required standard. A manager, who was very good at photos, gave me a tutorial- and advised that I could use my phone instead of the supplied digital camera. I found using my phone to be much easier and the subsequent results were far better. I am pleased to say that I received some positive feedback for my photos thereafter.

As a student hoping to pursue a career in food science- gaining some practical food lab experience is invaluable. Additionally, the job required constant communication with the other lab staff and to other departments. I also got to work with professionals from a diverse range of cultural backgrounds. I think that these soft skills will be especially important in the future, where well-honed human qualities are advantageous in an increasingly automated world.

Inspired by my placement, I am now set on a career in food science. My aim is to work within food and drink manufacturing- either developing new products or controlling the quality of current operations. I am looking at a range of options: including postgraduate courses, local jobs, and careers overseas.

Sam is looking into a microscope with a man next to him doing the same

As a mature student, I would encourage those thinking of making a career change to take the plunge! Studying for a degree has been the hardest, but most rewarding, challenge I have ever undertaken. It’s never too late to learn!

Regarding work experience- don’t let financial complications put you off a good placement. Living and commuting in the London area was expensive; but the university has some help available for students working away, right from the first interview.

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