Afsane Kazerani is a master’s student from Spain, who is interested in pursuing her career in food product development. Hanna Koivula is a university lecturer at the University of Helsinki and teaches in the Master’s Programme in Food Sciences. She specialises in packaging technology.
Who is the Master’s Programme in Food Sciences for?
Hanna Koivula: ”It’s for anybody interested in studying natural sciences with a concrete application. You learn to conduct your own research in the lab and to analyse the outcomes. With a degree in Food Sciences, you will be able to make significant contributions to the lives of many people. After all, everyone needs to eat. We have to make sure that food is and continues to be healthy, nutritious and sustainable.”
Afsane Kazerani: “The programme is for someone who wants to delve deep into the production chain of food: what it consists of, how it is processed and how it makes its way to the consumers. In the programme, you learn by studying literature but also by doing research yourself. It is for someone who wants to know what it is like to work in the food industry and research. Studying in the programme is very useful for your career, because it is so practical and there is a lot of industry collaboration."
What is it like to study in the Master’s Programme in Food Sciences?
Koivula: ”In the programme, you can study a lot of different things. It provides a comprehensive view on different aspects of food chemistry, safety, technology and development. However, what is special about the programme is that you can see the results of your work. For example, I teach a course on packaging technology where the students develop their own food packaging ideas. At the end of the course, the students even have the opportunity to present their ideas for people in the industry.”
Kazerani: ”At the start, the courses are quite generic to ensure that everyone gets on the same page with their studies. However, soon they get more challenging. Sometimes you are assigned articles to read which will then be discussed together in class. They are not explained to you in advance and can be difficult at times, but it’s super useful for your future career. You get lots of experience in analysing research articles and using them as sources in your course assignments.
I especially enjoy the sensory science courses, because they are very practical. First, you need to read literature on the topic and complete a book exam. After this, the teacher will show you in class how to apply your knowledge into concrete research and gives a list of food products that the university researchers or different companies are developing. The products could be anything from vegetable balls to ice cream. You get to choose a product that you want to work with. Then you will conduct your own sensory study with participants testing the product and answering the questions that you have prepared. Finally, you analyse the results. This is valuable, because you learn how real research is done.”
What kind of career opportunities does the programme open?
Koivula: ”There are plenty of opportunities for graduates with a degree in Food Sciences. The structure of the programme allows you to immerse yourself in a few different areas. It means that you gain a truly comprehensive perspective on the field. For example, you could specialise in product development as well as a raw material of your choice, such as meat or grains. Upon graduating, you will understand both how food products are developed and how to treat this raw material.
This allows flexibility in terms of your career. For example, you could work as a researcher or specialist in the food industry, legislation or public health organisations. Some students also become entrepreneurs who develop their own product ideas.”
Kazerani: “I’d like to work in product development. It would be cool to put my own ideas into practise and see if people like them. I would like to work in a bigger company first and maybe later as an entrepreneur. However, I am also interested in continuing my studies as a PhD student. So it’s not certain yet what I’ll end up doing next.
At the moment, I’m working on my master’s thesis. I have already done a part of the experimental phase in the lab and I am now working on the literature review. I can’t talk about the specifics, because I am doing my thesis in collaboration with a postdoctoral researcher Fabio Valoppi. My topic could be patented so it has to be a secret. However, I can say that it has to do with the development of a new kind of sustainable healthy fats.”
Is Food Sciences an education for the future?
Koivula: “Absolutely, because in Food Sciences we are creating foods that help people eat sustainably. These include food products with a smaller carbon and water footprint, but also foods that are packaged properly so they keep well. Currently, a lot of food is wasted. We want to find solutions to this problem. We are also making sure that the food people eat in the future is healthy, nutritional and very tasty. People are always going to eat and we want to ensure that they can eat well.”
Kazerani: “Food Sciences is an education for the future, because our resources keep changing and also our mindset towards food is under constant fluctuation. We need to do more research on what people want to eat and what they need in terms of nutrition, and understand the backgrounds of these wants and needs.
Food Sciences also teach you to view problems from many perspectives, which is essential now and in the future. Let’s say that you are trying to create a sustainable food product. You have to think what the main material is that you are working with as well as how you will have to process and package it in order to keep it sustainable. You need to understand the full picture.”
What is it like to live and study in Helsinki?
Kazerani: “Studying at the University of Helsinki is not as stressful as I thought it would be. There is a very healthy work-life balance. People understand that you have a life outside the university as well. You have to take responsibility for your own studies but no one is pushing you to do more. Even though this year has been very busy for me, it’s ok as I have been able to choose what I do and how much I do. I love the fact that I am not told what to do and can plan my studies myself.
At the University of Helsinki, they trust the students. For example, the programme provides safety tours and teaches you how to work in the lab, but after that you can just go in and out of the labs as you like. You are treated as a professional. It’s amazing. The teachers are also very nice and always want to help. If you have a question that they can’t answer, they will connect you with someone who can. This really helps you build a strong knowledge on a topic.
On my free time, I like to go running and do different sports. The parks in Finland are crazy good and there are lots of them. I also work as a babysitter, because it is flexible and allows me to focus on something completely different. I also learn Finnish by babysitting, because children don’t care whether you are fluent or not. They are perfectly happy with yelling the same word at you even if you don’t understand it!”