Graduation stories - food, glorious food!
Athina Papamargariti from Thessaloniki in Greece graduated last month from our MProf in Food & Drink Innovation (Packaging and Sustainability).
With a background in business studies, she had never been in a science laboratory before she came to Abertay, but managed to secure the only internship position available this year at Cargill Cocoa and Chocolate – one of the world’s largest companies.
Here, she tells us how the course enabled her to achieve her dream of working in the food industry and how what she learnt on the course helped her get where she is today.
Food, glorious food!
“My aspirations in life have always been related to the food and drink industry. It would be amazing one day to run my own food business! But my undergraduate degree was in business studies, which I chose because I am interested in every company and organisation. I wanted to get the bigger picture so that I could truly understand in-depth how businesses operate.
“However, my genuine interest and passion has always been in food and beverage companies. My father is a very talented engineer who designs and manufactures his own processing and packaging machinery for the food, beverage and cosmetics industries, and he’s had a great influence on me.
“Cooking and baking is also something that I’ve always really liked. It can be quite therapeutic. I love to improvise when I’m in the kitchen and play around with different ingredients, as in that case you are never hungry. You can always have tasty and nutritious food as long as you experiment.
“So when I finished my business studies degree I was trying to find a way to study food and I discovered that Abertay had a very interesting MProf programme in Food and Drink Innovation. I visited the university and had a discussion with the programme’s coordinator and then did my application the same day as I was so excited to find out that I could finally study my dream subject!”
Beetroot and butternut squash breakfast bars – one of your five-a-day!
“What I liked about the course was that we could focus on topics we were really interested in. These were, of course, relevant to specific modules – all of which are directly related to the food industry and provide you with the exact knowledge and skills that are essential for working in the sector.
“Alongside working independently, we were given the chance to work as part of a team on many of these topics. Some involved practical work on new product development where we had to create our own innovative food product. Others involved research on packaging.
“One project involved creating a product using alternative sweeteners. We wanted to create new cereal bars, and I decided that I wanted us to use dehydrated vegetables, such as beetroot and butternut squash, as there are no breakfast bars on the market like that and they are still sweet and tasty and, more importantly, one of your five-a-day.
“The project was very successful and I learned a lot, particularly gaining confidence working in a microbial lab. Coming from a non-science background in the beginning it was quite difficult to understand a few things – especially terminologies – however, I was determined to study and understand the science regarding food products.
“I was very excited to learn new things both in theory and practice and this was made possible with the guidance and help of the academic staff and lab technicians. Most importantly the three individuals who believed in me, shared their knowledge and insights during this year and were always there to help anytime I needed them: Dr Athina Tziboula-Clarke, Dr Jonathan Wilkin and David Flynn”
“I am currently doing a 10-month internship with Cargill Cocoa and Chocolate in the Food Safety Quality and Regulatory department at their site in York.
“There was only one position available, I am not sure how many applied, but at the final stage of the application process – a full day assessment at Cargill’s plant in Worksop – there were four candidates.
“The standard of the competition was extremely high and the rest of the candidates competing for this position had really strong academic backgrounds. So I was over the moon when I found out they’d chosen me!
“The plant I am currently working at is a big industrial manufacturing environment with a large production facility. You can see in the factory the whole process from the moment that raw beans arrive until the end product which is the cocoa liquor - the raw material to create chocolate. It is nice if you have a preference for dark chocolate, but it is a bit bitter.
“There are a lot of storage tanks filled with cocoa liquor and on a daily basis I have to test the colour of the liquor to ensure it meets our specifications, send samples for microbial testing which I have to monitor and, on a weekly basis, I also take swabs from around the factory to ensure that everything is clean and that we do everything it takes to produce a safe product.
“I get to taste a lot of chocolate and all the raw materials used towards chocolate making, like milk powders and sugar. This was especially the case when I was at our other plant in Worksop where the end product is produced before it reaches customer’s factories. However in York I get to taste on a daily basis our cocoa liquor which is the most important ingredient in chocolate making.
“It is a really demanding job, but I have always loved challenging environments and more importantly I love working for them.”
“The best thing about studying at Abertay University is that I met a lot of amazing individuals from various academic backgrounds. Also the engaging, approachable and knowledgeable staff members who are always there to help and find solutions to any issue that may arise.
“More importantly the fact that I had a chance to conduct scientific work that I never imagined I could do. It provided me with knowledge, confidence and skills to enter dynamically the confectionery industry.”
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