#AskLavina - Career and Professional Development (June 2024)

By Community Manager posted 26 days ago


In addition to being CFIN’s Regional Innovation Director for BC and Yukon, Lavina Gully is a food scientist and product developer with almost two decades of experience helping food and beverage companies innovate. In this series, Lavina answers questions from CFIN members on everything from product development, R&D, food industry careers, manufacturing best practices, and co-packingjust to name a few! 

If you have questions for Lavina, you can reach out to her directly and we can answer your question in next month’s mailbag. 

This month, Lavina answers your career and professional development questions. She answers questions about career planning for new food science graduates, plus the value of participating in food industry mentorship programs—as a mentor and a mentee. 


Q: As a recent food science graduate, I'm feeling overwhelmed by the possibility of taking my career in a direction that isn’t right for me. How should I approach career pathing in this field? 


A: I recently attended a graduation ceremony at the University of British Columbia as an alumni representative, which made me reflect on my career pathand the paths of my peers. Unlike other technical fields like nursing or engineering, where careers paths and outcomes are often more predictable, food science careers are rarely as linear. I can assure you that feeling overwhelmed or worried is not uncommon. 

While R&D and QA are the most thought of food science career paths, they are far from the only paths. There is a huge breadth and diversity of options that fall under “food science. The options are not always obvious and finding a path that resonates can indeed feel overwhelming, but I consider this one of the things that makes the field so compelling. There is a near endless variety of ways you can build a career in food science to not just match your current interests, but to evolve as your interests inevitably change over time. 

If you’re a recent graduate, the best place to start is by reflecting on what parts of your education excited you the most. Was it product research and development? Quality control and food safety? The same goes for work environments; maybe you love hands on lab work, the systems approach of QA in processing facilities, or perhaps you thrive in front of an audience, pitching new products to boardrooms of executives. 

Try writing down four or five tasks you really enjoy doing and find energizing, along with four or five that you find draining. It is a simple exercise, but I find it is an effective way to help clarify your priorities, values, and skills. Looking for patterns in your preferred tasks is a terrific way to uncover some potential food science career paths that may be less immediately obvious. For example, if you enjoy analytical and quantitative work, you could explore opportunities in consumer science. If you like ingredients, application specialist roles with ingredient companies are an excellent option. And if you like the strategic elements of bringing new products to market, you might be a great fit for a product manager role.  

The biggest mistake I see new food scientists make is getting hung up on taking the right direction, only to get stuck spinning their wheels for too long. It is important to consider your first step post-graduation as a starting point, not a be-all, end-all. Take my own career as an example: I have worked in labs, classrooms, corporate offices, and as a contractor. I have conducted analytical tests in labs, developed innovative new food products, managed large R&D teams, handled regulatory compliance processes, and worked in academia as a researcher and instructor. As you start walking your path, you will uncover aspects of food science you never thought you would enjoy, and vice versa. It doesn’t have to be the “perfect” decision. New opportunities will present themselves in ways you cannot even imagine until you just get started. 

Ultimately, I encourage new grads to simply be open to exploring different roles within food science and be patient with the process. You can also try connecting with other food scientists whose paths resonate with you by asking if they’d be willing to chat about their career path in an informational interview. You will find that most people are more than eager to help, especially when it involves talking about shared passions and career goals. 

Just because you might not know exactly where your path will take you does not mean that you aren’t still on your way somewhere. Remember to enjoy the journey! 



Q: I have an opportunity to join a mentorship program in the food industry. Have you ever participated in a mentorship program as a mentor? If so, what can I expect of the experience from a mentor’s perspective? 


A: This past winter, I participated as a mentor in CFIN’s Connextions Program. Many people imagine mentorship programs as being one-directional, with a mentee absorbing the knowledge, wisdom, and network of more experienced professionals in their field. This is obviously the primary goal of mentorship programs and makes participating as a mentor worthwhile and fulfilling in its own right, but I've discovered that mentorships can in fact be a learning experience for the mentor as well. 

Mentoring allows you to give back to the industry by helping the next generation of food scientists and professionals. This sense of giving back is rewarding and can add a new dimension of meaning to your own career experiences. Perhaps more surprisingly, mentors often find that they learn from their mentees. They have fresh perspectives and can challenge your pre-conceived notions in ways that can reinvigorate your own work. 

Taking on a mentee is also an excellent way to hone your leadership and coaching skills—incredibly valuable skillsets in any professional setting. These skills enhance your professional profile and provide personal satisfaction in seeing your mentee grow and succeed, knowing you’ve played a part in their journey. 

Mentoring is so much more accessible now with virtual meetings and the popularization of remote work environments, but I think it is important to strive for some in-person connection between mentors and mentees if possible. Look for mentorship opportunities local to you—your alma mater is a good place to start. Universities often run excellent programs, like UBC’s unique tri-mentoring model, which partners a junior student, a senior student/young professional, and an experienced professional together to enhance the traditional mentor/mentee configuration. 

Whether you’re seeking guidance or offering it, mentorship programs can be a deeply enriching career experience, and something I would recommend everyone to pursue if an opportunity presents itself! 




20 days ago

Ah mentorship. One of my obsessions for the past 2 decades - because when it works, it really works. It's a main focus for us at Pollinate Networks.  Nice to see it's a tactic that has become popular lately and @Lavina Gully, great to hear you had a positive experience.  The most recent research shows that unassisted, only 40% of guys and 24% of female identifying folks have a mentoring relationship - more is needed!
@Dana McCauley, to your point, replicating the chemistry of a mentoring program that organically happens is a challenge, but it can be done.  In fact, for mentoring to truly occur (and not some other kind of connection), according to our Indigenous partners, areas of "gifting" should be matched so that the partners are connecting from a place of shared perspective on how to operate and apply knowledge through your own uniqueness. Thoughtful matching beyond matching on topics is key! It does require some social alchemy. Mentoring research with entrepreneurs and innovators also shows that people can have good conversations and still only derive half of the value that they could have from a mentoring conversation. Preparation and skills around "learning to co-learn" can be a major asset to get all that's there.

25 days ago

I've been a mentor on a number of occasions, both in formal programs and as approached by people who wanted advice.  I can tell you that when the match is right, the experience is very rewarding!

What makes a good match?  Chemistry is essential and ineffable which makes formal programs sometimes less comfortable and enjoyable as it's hard for an algorithm or an third party to guess when people will mesh. So, I think it's important to be clear about what kind of dynamic is best for you.  I'd also only join a mentor program that has clear intentions, good ground rules and feedback mechanisms.  Two CFIN members with lots of experience in this area are @Kiran Bains and @Christy Pettit so I'm tagging them to see if they have pointers to add to Lavina's good advice and my personal experience.