I love my job, but it’s no picnic—except when I am studying a Newfoundland boil-up, a prairie chuckwagon breakfast, or a West Coast clambake! As a professor who studies food, I travel widely and spend long hours researching and writing. I do spend time in front of a classroom, but the role of the university professor is changing really quickly. Today’s university professor can’t hide in the ivory tower. I work with government, local business, and non-profit organizations to ensure my research is helping build a wide range of industries from local farming to culinary tourism. I also have to keep on top of new technologies; my work uses geographic information systems and involves a lot of research using electronic databases. Even in the classroom on-line learning is playing a much larger role.
In the future, university jobs will remain competitive, and opportunities will become global. I don’t see face to face teaching in the classroom going away any time soon, but tomorrow’s professor is going to have to be even more tech-savvy, bringing the best information from around the world into the lab and classroom. Professors have to be entrepreneurial; we basically run small research companies that have to compete for funding, and we have to manage the employees in our research teams. In the future collaborations will likely span the globe, requiring strong management skills.
A student studying food research might take classes on food history, on the different foods of the world, or classes on nutrition are popular as well. It is interdisciplinary as a field, and draws on all sorts of areas—including trade and economics, sociology, and so on. Many students can choose to focus on the agricultural aspect, and learn how to farm as a result; they may run tractors and practice animal husbandry and such. Other programs include study into food and wine, including culinary and practical business management.
The competition for jobs in my field is fierce, but food researchers also find work in industry, hospitality, and journalism. Professors complete both a master’s degree and a doctorate, which takes a lot of time, but we usually get some funding for our studies and do a little university teaching along the way. Students need to maintain good grades, and also have to build up a strong resume of extracurricular activities. Programs in food studies are still rare, so students need to be willing to move, and professors have to be willing to move to find work and travel to conduct research. I love travel and meeting new people, so my job is a great fit. And food research does have a practical side; several of my students have opened their own restaurants!