By Sergio Crespo Flores
On February 11th, iJOBS hosted a career panel on the Nutrition and Fragrance industry with most panelists being recent Rutgers graduates. As concerns over climate change rise, consumers are more inclined to assess their food choices, increasing demand for the nutrition industry. Similarly, consumers are becoming increasingly conscious on the types of cosmetics they use. That is why innovation to meet demand requires a diverse set of leaders. Five panelists represented various companies and startups, offering attendees a glimpse into different work environments, and career paths.
Dr. Ratna Mukherjea, PhD, is a senior director in the Food Innovation, Technology and Leadership Team at Benson Hill. She has been at this job for 7 months. Her career experiences prior to this position are vast, ranging from faculty member at UC Davis, to fellow at Dupont Corporation and at International Flavors & Fragrances (IFF). She encourages newly-graduated PhDs to not get caught up in the 9-to-5 work-life balance mantra. She shared stories about how her day started at 6:30 and ended at 3:30 pm at Dupont that allowed her to pick up her kids. At her current job Dr. Mukherjea leads her team to prioritizing to understand what makes food taste as it is a top factor consumers care about. As a part of her work, Dr. Mukherjea stays up to date with both literature that she is personally interested in, and that is related to her team’s project.
Dr. Dushyant Kshatriya, PhD, is a project manager/scientist at Research Diets, Inc. He has been in this position for seven and a half months. He joined Rutgers in 2016 as part of the graduate program in nutritional sciences. Early on, he realized that academia was not for him, so he joined the iJOBS program at Rutgers as a Phase 2 trainee to explore non-academic careers. Dr. Kshatriya graduated during the most impactful moments of the pandemic, causing his job search to be mostly online. One day, he came across a job posting, to which he applied and after two interviews, he was hired. A day at his job includes talking with research scientists to figure out what kind of food works for their experiments, sometimes over the phone or via Zoom! Another part of his job is to attend conferences to speak to the larger research scientific community about their research diets preferences for their experiments.
Dr. Julia Olayanju, PhD, is the founder and director of the Global Food Health Institute (GFHI) and Founder of FoodNiche. The goal of the GFHI is to teach people how what they eat affects their health through evidence-based research. Through FoodNiche, Dr. Olayanju partners with teachers in schools and creates lessons on the science of food. Dr. Olayanju received her PhD from Rutgers in microbiology and molecular genetics. During graduate school she set the groundwork for her startups. After working in the lab as a graduate student, she would travel to New York City to network. By the time she finished, she had built something substantial. Interestingly, her work in graduate school aimed to understand how compounds in food influence health, for example via anticancer properties, which influenced her post-graduation career. She says that as PhDs, we’ve spent 4-6 years problem solving and that is one of our biggest assets. When asked what her a day in her life looks like, Dr. Olayanju states that her workdays are segmented, where in some segments she reads, and in others she has meetings. Dr. Olayanju is a paragon of entrepreneurship and an inspiration.
Dr. Rob Assini, PhD, is a research investigator at IFF. After graduating from Rutgers in 2019, Assini knew he wanted to stay in science and began to lean more into industry. After taking the iJOBS class Molecules to Medicine, he decided to apply for positions in industry. Coincidentally, he was approached by a recruiter on LinkedIn for his current position. He encourages job applicants to think about their LinkedIn as a step into companies, where the skills you display on your profile can be exactly what recruiters are looking for. Leading a team to accomplish a specific project is what differentiates his current job with graduate school. Although this may seem more time demanding, Dr. Assini comments that work life balance is much better now than in graduate school. Dr. Bo Li, PhD, is also a research Investigator at IFF. Similarly, he graduated from Rutgers in 2019. Dr. Li had three job offers due to his background in chemistry, which he felt applied better here than to a drug development company.
A question was asked about how close your skills must match the job position you are applying for. Dr. Mukherjea spoke from personal experience, and she said that when it comes to hiring, recruiters are not necessarily looking for expertise, but rather, that you know how to think and develop experiments. Going back to what Dr. Olayanju mentioned, our ability to adapt and work out solutions comes from our PhD training, and that should be our selling point when applying for jobs.
The standouts from this panel are the trail-blazing women like Dr. Olayanju and Dr. Mukherjea. As founders of companies and leaders in their fields, they are inspirations for the younger generations. Every day, more and more people become increasingly conscious about what they purchase, and industries like these need diverse points of views at the forefront of innovation. That is why women and people of color need to be making the decisions if we want these industries to meet the demands of consumers.
This article was edited by Junior Editor Gina Sanchez and Senior Editor Samantha Avina.
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January 12, 2024