Why I decided to go back to school and get a (non-food science) master’s degree

If you ever have listened to the FoodGrads podcast and listened to the introduction you would hear my (beautiful) voice say:

“I’m your host Veronica Hislop a molecular science graduate and career partner with FoodGrads”

This is quite a strange degree for someone to willingly choose when they already started their career in food safety. I thought a blog post was in order for me to explain myself. (Alternatively you could just listen to my podcast episode to explain the matter)

A little background about myself. I graduated with an undergraduate degree in Chemistry Co-Operative (Honours) with a minor in marketing. During my co-op terms I was grateful held positions in quality control, product development and a receiver at a warehouse.

In addition, during my fourth year I decided did an undergraduate thesis project under the supervision of Dr. Rousseau, a well known professor in the science of chocolate, emulsions and fat crystallization. My project was titled, “The characterization of cocoa butters based on country of origin.” At the time it was truly one of the most difficult things I did in school but I am grateful I took up the challenge because I got so much out of it.

As a senior year graduate I wasn’t sure if I wanted to pursue a master’s degree after graduation. I enjoyed research but to commit two more years that sounded rough to me at the time and I was really burnt out during my last year. So instead I decided to leave Ryerson behind and go work in Quality Assurance after I graduated.

So why after working only one year in QA did I decide to go back? Well here are the reasons.

I couldn’t stop thinking about research

Despite being well into my QA job I couldn’t stop thinking about research. Going into QA right out of school was an exciting experience I was learning about HACCP, SQF, audits, food safety and so many topics at once. On a daily basis I was problem-solving, collaborating and challenging myself in the best possible way. I enjoyed what I was doing but in the back of my mind I kept thinking “I want to do more research and study food science.” I couldn’t shake the thoughts.

I knew I had the grades

I always have believed that people shouldn’t limit themselves to a “dream job” or follow their “passion” because there are many jobs out there that might have not even been created yet. I think a lot of about Cal Newport’s book So good they can’t ignore you where he talk’s about how following your passion is flawed advice so instead focus on developing skills because that will take you farther in life.

That is why during school I made an effort to have grades that would satisfy the acceptance into a master’s program. I wanted the option should I choose to do one. I didn’t want to shoot myself in the foot and not have that option. Grades aren’t everything. I still believe that but for me at the time I just wanted to have more options.

Ryerson’s master’s program is unique

Ryerson’s molecular science program is unique that it is a catch all for any one wanting to do a thesis in biology or chemistry. The program has students performing research on everything from biomedical interactions, cells, genes, pathogens, surfaces, synthetic chemistry to environmental sciences. Because of this range in topics there is a lot exposure to topics outside of your field. It gives me the big picture of science when I attend my weekly seminars and doesn’t pigeon me into thinking small with in my own research. This can provide new insights and encourages collaboration between the department.

My thesis is really cool!

I study the rheology of water-in-oil emulsions stabilized by fat crystals. The overall application is creating lower calorie spreads but I focus on understanding the fundamental science. I study food as a material on a daily basis. It is so cool! The more I learn about my thesis they more curious I become and the more that I want to do. I realize that my research would be well suited to plant-based area where emulsion science is a key field of research to create plant based options.

I wouldn’t need to uproot my entire life

Simply put after school I still lived relatively close to Ryerson. Choosing to go to Ryerson would just mean a different bus route. If I choose to go to a different school this would require me to make big life decisions.

My supervisor and lab mates are fantastic

Just like a boss is important to your work having a good research supervisor for your research is just as important. During my undergraduate degree I had already had a taste of the Rousseau lab so I knew how Dr. Rousseau was as a supervisor. He challenges you but is also supportive. I couldn’t ask for a better environment to work in. My lab mates constantly collaborate and I have good relations with them all. Again, when thinking about graduate school I knew that your working environment is just as important as your research. Don’t take this reason lightly!

Overall, I don’t regret one bit doing a non-food science degree because at the end of the day I am learning food science. Ryerson has given me a lot of freedom that I can study what I want and my advice is don’t limit yourself to a degree name. There are way too many factors that contribute to graduate life. Though at the end of the day water-in-oil emulsions are so cool!

Author: Veronica Hislop is a Master’s thesis student in the Molecular Science program at Ryerson University. She is also a career partner with FoodGrads and has work experience in the food processing industry working both in R&D and QA.

Currently, she is performing research on water-in-oil emulsions stabilized by fat crystals. When she is not following her scientific endeavors you can find her enjoying Japanese anime, manga and video games.

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