post by Melissa Clover (2021 cohort)
This summer (2022) I undertook a 3-month placement with my partner company, Campden BRI. They specialise in food and drink science and innovation in the UK, based largely out of their site at Chipping Campden in the Cotswolds. Deciding to complete this at the end of my first year was a deliberate decision despite being aware that my skills and research are in the very early stages; the hope was that being able to familiarise myself with the company and the different areas in which it works, as well as doing considerable networking, would provide a sound foundation on which to build our working relationship as the PhD progresses. I am pleased to say that this hope was realised and that whilst I did not complete a set project for Campden during the placement, the time spent with them over the summer has greatly developed my understanding of the company, as well as providing my first exposure to Consumer & Sensory Science in industry.
Right from the outset, my partner supervisor and I were determined to create a varied schedule for the duration of the placement. I was eager to express interest in a diverse range of departments and activities, knowing that even where not directly related to my studies, the experience would be useful in some way. My partner supervisor was highly engaged and helpful in facilitating this, producing a 12-week schedule and contacting all of the different people on my behalf to set up initial meetings so that I could then make arrangements independently. This was a highly useful activity and I would recommend it to anyone undertaking a placement of this nature where your activities and duties vary week on week; it created a sense of structure and helped me remain focussed on initial objectives and activities – something that as we all know can be difficult from time to time. The objectives outlined at this early stage were as follows:
- To better understand Campden BRI as a business, getting to know how different departments are run and interact, what kind of data/databases are available as resources for the PhD research and how the member companies can be involved in the producer side of the research
- To be exposed to consumer and sensory science in practice
- To learn new methods of data collection and analysis within sensory and consumer
- To undertake a mini project that can be shared, potentially with the members in the next Member Interest Group (MIG)
Despite a positive Covid test the day before I was due to begin, the schedule kicked off (2 weeks later than expected) with a visit to the Packaging Pilot Plant on-site in Chipping Campden. On the whole I was working remotely, with an average of 3 visits a month, but where possible (as was the case with this first day), I tried to have initial meetings with people in person and take any opportunities for in-person activities, such as lab tours and consumer testing days. This helped form part of the working activities that enabled the objectives to be achieved; these were as follows:
- Shadowing/working with both the consumer & sensory team and packaging team
- Designing a survey to understand trade-offs for consumers when considering certain categories of food products that they buy
- Receiving training on Compusense and MaxDiff/Conjoint Analysis
- Being given time within the placement to read and analyse existing work already done by Campden BRI e.g., relevant reports
- Combining online work with visits to Campden and test centre in Leamington Spa depending on the nature of the work
- Delivering short presentations on my findings within the next Packaging and Sensory MIGS (tbc)
The experience gained from these placement activities stems further than the networking opportunities gained and professional skills developed (e.g., communication, problem solving, collating and writing up information, teamwork), as much of it will be useful within the context of my PhD research. From designing a survey to learning new statistical skills and acting as notetaker within focus groups, I was fortunate in being able to engage in practical activities that have added to the skillset I will require going forward. I felt that I was able to achieve a sound balance of academic and industry-related skills development; the former came from learning new statistical methods and how to use consumer-specific software and the latter largely from shadowing within different departments. Additionally, I was able to gain useful insights into the production and industrial side of food systems, being reminded of the constant need to think about application of research and ensure that the context within which a certain system functions is carefully considered.
Regarding my take-home messages and/or lessons learnt, one of my most prominent observations was that of the differing pace between academia and industry. In reality, the initial objectives from an academic perspective were highly ambitious, due to the logistics surrounding ethical approval for a survey to be undertaken. This was not an issue as such, rather required adaptations to the schedule which ended up being advantageous (being exposed to another department that is highly related to my area of work – regulatory). It simply highlighted that once again the context of applied research must be considered. This is of course not unique to industry, as similar discrepancies exist between policy and academia relating to pace, funding and overall objectives. It was however useful to be reminded that throughout the duration of the PhD, I need to be mindful of deadlines, pace and expectations when collaborating with Campden.
I am thrilled to be starting my second year with the foundation this placement provided and feel confident that the connections made will be useful as I continue researching. My hope is that as I get more research experience under my belt, I will have more to offer Campden by means of a potential second placement and/or via their bi-annual Member Interest Groups.