In a world where career choices often resemble a winding road, some individuals are fortunate to find a path that perfectly aligns with their interests and passions.
One such story is that of Caroline Campbell, a dedicated Technical Assistant at Fonterra Research & Development Centre (FRDC).
Finding the Spark: A Blend of Science and Passion
"Growing up, I enjoyed science in school and baking at home and was also a competitive swimmer, so nutrition was an important part of my daily life". She was also hooked by the Food Network show "Good Eats", which made science behind food super engaging, often with puppets and costumes. Coupled with fantastic science teachers, this ignited her passion for science. "I quickly combined my love of science and cooking and became interested in explaining the chemistry behind my favourite recipes, such as why a cake would rise and brown during baking. This led me to study Food Science in university."
The Nexus of Passion and Expertise: A Fulfilling Career
Caroline's unique blend of interests and expertise found a perfect home at FRDC. As a former athlete, her passion for nutrition and healthy living resonated deeply with the dairy industry. Her focus primarily revolved around harnessing dairy proteins' potential to create delicious and nutritious food products.
"My Ph.D. research investigated how the texture of food impacts how we eat and how much we eat, and at Fonterra, I've worked specifically with the functionality and formulation of dairy proteins in yoghurt. Protein is great for making us feel full for longer after eating. It's fun to be part of teams that develop new protein ingredients and work with customers to demonstrate the wide range of yoghurt textures we can make with different types of protein ingredients."
Challenges to overcome: A Journey in STEM
While her parents' scientific background provided a supportive foundation, "they could answer my questions about potential career opportunities and what it would take to get a Masters or a PhD after university", and she always felt empowered by the significant female presence in her Food Science classes and workplaces, fostering a supportive environment. Applying for advanced degrees after her BSc was nerve-wracking. "Even with great support from my family and university professors, applying for Masters and Ph.D. programs after my BSc was definitely intimidating. I cold emailed a lot of professors across the US who were doing research I was interested in, and I wasn't sure whether I would ever hear back. Luckily, a number of them thought my interests and skillsets matched their research programs, and they had funding to take on a grad student, so I was able to visit a few campuses to see who and where was the best fit. In graduate school, your research project isn't laid out step by step for you; you need to review past research and plan your own experiments. Being able to take my learning into my own hands and think outside the box while also making mistakes along the way was fundamental to how I approach my work now."
Driving Force: Cultivating Diversity and Innovation
She's thrilled about transforming dairy nutrition into diverse formats and offering dairy training and R&D support. Collaborating with global teams at FRDC exposes her to different cultures and food preferences.
"I love finding new ways to incorporate dairy nutrition into different formats as well as providing dairy ingredient training and R&D support for customers. Our teams at FRDC and our customers are very geographically diverse, so I'm always learning something new about different cultures and the food preferences of our global customers and consumers. Working as part of multi-disciplinary teams at FRDC is also very fulfilling. It's fun to see what we can achieve together when we set out to develop a new ingredient or process."
The cultural celebrations at FRDC bring pure joy. With a team representing over 45 countries, celebrating Lunar New Year, Diwali, and more is a blast.
Her passion is fueled by the collective achievements she's a part of. Caroline recalls a significant milestone — Being part of a team that pioneered a groundbreaking protein ingredient for yoghurts, "I was part of a team a few years ago that developed a new to-world protein ingredient for yoghurts. It was fun to go from a concept to exploring different manufacturing processes to scaling up the process to one of our dairy factories to working with customers to understand how the protein ingredient worked in their products. We were also able to file a patent, my first!"
A Glimpse of the Future: Sustainability and Beyond
Beyond her personal journey, Caroline recognizes the significance of sustainability in the dairy industry, "Our sustainability credentials are really important and set NZ apart from the rest of the global dairy industry. As a Co-op, we're farmer-owned, and we know that if we look after our farmers and our land, they'll look after us in the long run and enable us to keep delivering high-quality dairy nutrition for generations to come."
If you're interested in a career in Science and Technology at Fonterra, why not take a look at our career opportunities here.