The field of food science dishes out something for everyone, by touching so many lives through nutrition, connecting to people across cultures through creativity and addressing pressing challenges in the food/agricultural industry through innovation.
Adrita Bannerjee, our next pathbreaker, Food Scientist at The Live Green, works on clean label, plant based formulations with a focus on new product developments while ensuring the specifications and safety regulations are met.
Adrita talks to Shyam Krishnamurthy from The Interview Portal about drifting towards the field of food science due to to its inter-disciplinary nature that combines applied sciences & technology.
For students, Food Science and Technology has always been an underrated career, but not anymore, thanks to the exciting research happening around the world in food & agriculture.
Adrita, Your background?
I grew up in the City of Joy, where food is celebrated to a great extent. Ever since I was a kid, my love for exploring different cuisines was prominent and well known by those around me. From an early age, I had to be self reliant because both my parents were working and I always preferred to do things independently. I believe that was the starting point of my relationship with food. During my teens, when I decided to pursue science in high school, I discovered my interest in Life sciences. Chemistry and biology piqued my interests particularly, so I decided to go ahead with the interdisciplinary field of food science which has components of both applied sciences & technology. Luckily enough, it happened to align with my passion.
What did you do for graduation/post graduation?
I graduated with a BSc (Hons.) in Food Science & Nutrition Management. Then, I pursued my Master’s in Food Science and Nutrition from Jadavpur University, Kolkata.
What made you choose such an offbeat, unconventional and cool career?
My inquisitive mind helped me take on a unique career path. Food Science and Technology has always been an underrated career but a highly essential field of study. Although I entered as a UG student simply for my interests in Biology, discovering the wonderful scope of innovations and technology in food science helped me stay true to the journey. The exciting research happening around food & agriculture also played a role in taking my interests farther.
Professors and industry mentors have been the biggest influencers in my career so far. They helped me gain insights and identify my specializations in the vast area of food science, nutrition and technology.
Taking active participation in college seminars, national conferences and workshops helped me stay abreast of the key areas of novel research happening around the world and lay down the foundation for exploring different angles.
During my post graduation, like most students, I was considering various career options available. That is when I discovered my interest in research and innovation. It was through my research project, that I got involved in the nitty gritties of conducting hands-on experiments, research methodologies and realised the social impact and contribution that it has. Being able to find out relevant solutions to emerging problems intrigued me.
How did you plan the steps to get into the career you wanted? Or how did you make a transition to a new career? Tell us about your career path
As I was inclined to work in R&D roles, my focus was on developing my skills and building a strong foundation for technical expertise, adaptable to both the industry and academia. My time at GeneSupport, Pune as a Nutrigenomics trainee helped develop strong interpersonal skills, and strengthen my researching abilities. I realized the untapped potential of food and nutritional sciences during this internship after witnessing how food components are linked to human genomics. I started preparing for the national level exams right after completing MSc and qualified for the UGC-NET. Soon after, I started my first job as a subject matter expert in Food Science. That helped me hone my research writing skills and expand my network. Simultaneously, I was also exploring different areas like book editing, and journal reviewing to become well-versed with scientific literature & writing. Besides working full-time, I continued to network with people from industry and received significant traction to take on consultancy projects. Being a certified food safety supervisor, I worked as a Food Label & Compliance consultant to verify brand claims & adherence to regulations.
How did you get your first break?
Although I gained valuable experience in my first stint, my first break came when I started as a Food Scientist, working in the research and development department. Networking and staying open to new things helped me achieve this.
What were some of the challenges you faced? How did you address them?
Challenge 1: Because of the varied industry standards and dearth of opportunities for entry-level positions, it was difficult to get into research roles right after graduation.
Challenge 2: After exploring different arenas, I observed that in India, there’s an unspoken rule that divides Food Science/Nutrition grads from the Food Technology grads. The former are almost always encouraged to pursue fields related to public health or dietetics even though they have the same knowledge of applied food science. I faced the same challenge, and I was determined to go through the grind and establish a career in food science, which I was interested in.
Where do you work now? Tell us about your role as Food Scientist
I work with The Live Green Company, a Chilean Food Tech Startup which combines AI and the power of ancestral food science. My domain is in the R&D of clean label, plant based formulations. As a researcher, I primarily work towards new product development, while ensuring the specifications and safety regulations are met. I am also responsible for innovation through novel ingredients and techniques. My work entails a rigorous analytical approach and patience to break down scientific data as well as the ability to cope with failures and move on to a better approach. The beauty of research is that you learn to dabble with both success and failure, but never let it get the better of you.
How does your work benefit society?
The field of food science dishes out something for everyone. It will drive you to become inquisitive, curious and resilient. And that is exactly why I love what I do. The sheer satisfaction of being the one behind innovations that touch so many lives through better food habits and to be able to contribute towards a healthier food economy, gives me immense pleasure. I believe food connects people, across regions and across cultures. When you merge food and technology, what you get is something so magical and life changing in the truest sense.
Tell us an example of a specific memorable work you did that is very close to you!
Recently, the launch of Live Green’s plant-based ice creams created a breakthrough in how consumers perceive non-dairy dessert products. The innovation and brainstorming that went behind making this happen, is something very close to my heart. It is a clean label ice cream which has been made sustainably and vouches of complete transparency to consumers.
Your advice to students based on your experience?
If you’re in this field, I would say you’re already halfway through the world of amazing discoveries. Let your senses guide you to your interests and never get demotivated by failures. Explore every opportunity that comes your way, as this field is so diverse. Networking and upgradation are key assets to thrive in this fast paced environment, so learn to use them well early on. Always remember, what you do with your knowledge & expertise of food will leave a great impact.
As of now, I want to proactively contribute to the pressing issues in the food-agri industry and address them by undertaking cutting-edge research. I hope that my work enables me to do that. I also plan to further my scope as a Scientist through a doctoral degree and conduct higher quality research work in the near future.