The changing world of agriculture creates a new breed of ag students
by Emily Probst, Staff Writer, Successful Farming
Don’t be surprised if your child says, “I want to be a food scientist when I grow up.” College officials say it’s a popular career choice among ag school graduates.
Successful Farming magazine surveyed career placement officers from agriculture programs at 12 universities to find “the hottest careers in agriculture.” Judging by the career paths of recent and upcoming graduates, all but one of the respondents ranked food scientist in the top 10.
Food scientist was closely followed by business manager and technical service representative. Also in the rankings were public relations representative, landscape manager, market analyst, sales representative, geneticist, customer service representative, and account executive.
Redefining traditional careers
When Becky Wilk tells people she is a food scientist, she says most don’t know what it is. Wilk’s job-perhaps considered a nontraditional career in agriculture-involves the development of finished products from raw ingredients. A food scientist must understand the nature and composition of food and its behavior under certain conditions, such as how long a food can last on the grocery store shelf.
A lover of math and science, Wilk began work at Kellogg in Battle Creek, Michigan, shortly after receiving her bachelor’s degree in food science form Ohio State University in 1994.
For the first three and one-half years, Wilk worked in product development, where she teamed up with engineers, market researchers, and ingredient suppliers to develop products that strive for customer satisfaction. Other times she worked with the consumer, listening to taste-testers comment on products. Their feedback provided the starting block for her to manipulate a product’s ingredients.
“You’re given words and you have to turn it into food,” Wilk says.
No magic wand is needed. Wilk says it takes a person who is creative, enjoys science, works well in teams, and has good communication skills.