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'Studying food will open more doors for you than you can imagine.': Meet Charlie Whitaker

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29 September 2020

All of our courses cover the many industries that stretch between farm gate and plate. Whether you’re learning about the environment and the habitats that make it possible to grow our food; the machinery that helps to transport it across the nation; or what really draws in a customer to buying into a brand name product, our degrees that matter cover all aspects of this journey. Charlie Whitaker, who is studying BSc (Hons) Food Technology and Product Development and going into his final year, shares why studying food is a great pursuit to opening many career doors and having fun while you do so.

Why study food? Charlie explained: “Simply because there are so many paths in the food industry.

“Human food, pet food, bacteria analysis, packaging for food products, food styling, nutrition, supply chain management are just a few different sections in the food industry which you will study at Harper Adams.

“During your time studying, you will learn skills which will stick with you for all of your career, whether it's learning how to cook a certain dish or trick of the supermarket so you can get yourself the best deal. Truly, studying food will open more doors for you than you can imagine.”

 With a passion for food and a desire for an exciting career, Charlie knew he need to find the right course at the right institution. He shared why Harper was the place for him, saying: “I picked Harper Adams because I liked the heritage and the location of the university.

“I am not a farmer of any kind but I grew up around the countryside and farmers. Most of my friends back home in Derbyshire are farmers. I wanted to pick a university that would reflect my views and lifestyle.

“Yes I enjoy going into the city, but I couldn’t manage living there. Harper Adams is the perfect place. Based in the countryside but it's not far from Birmingham on the train or Telford.”

With local links to help him get the best of both country and city life, our stunning rural campus felt like a second home to Charlie. But what was most important for him was the degree pathway and the chance to balance his learning both in and out of the classroom. He said: “The course offers a range of different subjects, from practical work to theory based sessions.

“At first all of the different subjects are complex but soon you understand why and how they interlock with each other. The course overall helps build the foundations for any area of the food industry.

“The course also offers subject areas which initially I did not think related to the food industry such as Retail Environment and Operations and Food Creativity, Styling and Photography. Both subjects I really enjoyed.”

Speaking to Charlie, his enthusiasm for creativity and styling was evident, especially as he shared some of his favourite creations. He commented: “Developing the classic scone for new consumers and putting a twist on it was amazing. It was such an open brief and we were free to take in any direction we wanted. I took mine in a savoury route, based off of Indian flavours. It could be enjoyed toasted for lunch, with a curry, with any sauce. It went particularly well with spicy tomato chutney and sweet mango chutney. 

“I also enjoyed developing a vegan dish for a different module just because we were able to take it in any direction we wanted. It felt very realistic and how the industry works. Ten out of ten - my favourite module!”

While we all have our favourite classes, others can be more challenging. Charlie shared his, and how he has overcome the obstacles in his way: “Some of the challenges have been learning the theory in a classroom. I like to learn practically however, the course offers practical sessions as well. For example, learning how to perform certain ways to laboratory work in a classroom might not be your cup of tea, but once you are actually doing it, everything just falls into place.”

And everything did fall into place during Charlie’s placement year, highlighting to him where he envisions his future career taking him. He explained: “My placement was really interesting; I worked for a dog food company in Shrewsbury. Some aspects of the job were really challenging but it was also really rewarding. I enjoyed getting hands on and gaining first hand experience.

“Doing an industry placement allowed me to gain a working insight and build upon my knowledge. I learnt which sections of the food industry I liked and I now want to go for a career in procurement for a company or process development. I had two projects which covered those areas and I really enjoyed it.”

However, before pursuing his industry ambitions, Charlie has his final year of his degree to complete. When asked what he was most looking forward to about returning to Harper, he said: “I am mostly looking forward to being back with my friends as it’s been difficult to see everyone this year due to placements being all over the country. 

“I am also looking forward to working on my dissertation. I’m going to be researching edible insects as I strongly believe that edible insects will be a staple in the future.

“For my research I want to see if insects can improve certain characteristics such as aroma, texture or taste. It would also be interesting to see if the average UK consumer would be willing to try a product with edible insects in them.

“So far, I have a rough idea, but I’m not sure what product to incorporate insects into. I did start the idea of a protein bar style snack which could be eaten on the go or looking into making a biltong inspired insect product. The overall aim is for the product to be made out of fruit, vegetables and insects in varying amounts. I’m sure once I’m back and had a long chat with my dissertation advisor we will come to a decision on which path to take!”

From his placement year, and working towards his Honours Research Project, Charlie would like to combine both in his work after graduation. He commented on where he’d like to see himself next: “I aim to work for a company which is making positive changes in the food industry.

“I would love to work for a company which is using insects as its main ingredient. Although some may disagree, I do think insects will be in our shops and a regular in our food products soon. I would love to be a part of that change, whether I would be in product development or in procurement. I just find the whole subject area fascinating.”

From sustainability to specialist knowledge, our food degree pathways explore the furthest reaches of the industry, enabling students to find their place in the sector and make a difference to the way the world eats their food. To find out how you could be part of this innovative and influential industry, start your search today by exploring our undergraduate course options. Likewise, to get a feel for the specialist facilities for food students, speak to staff, or to learn more about life at Harper, join us at our Virtual Open Day on October 10. Sign up now to secure your place!

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