Merry Christmas!

I’m in America! Currently sitting in the San Francisco airport, slightly delirious from the first leg of the journey home (11 hour flight, oof) and SO READY to be back in Portland. I’m super excited that I get to be home for the holidays, partly for the whole seeing family bit and partly because I’ll have a real kitchen! I have big plans. Also, one of the best parts of school is this two week Christmas holiday—incredible.

The last few weeks have involved making several thousand cookies in a baking lab and writing a 20-page paper about everything we learned. It was a lot, to be sure, but I also had more fun than expected because I genuinely could talk about gluten proteins and dough hydration for a very long time. It’s interesting for me to see this process from a research angle because the work is pretty similar to what I’ve been doing for the past few years, but the approach is totally different. Rather than designing trials to get to the best product in the shortest amount of time, our focus now is more on making sure that we’re generating data that can answer the questions we want to ask. We also got to feed our cookies to a whole bunch of people for sensory testing, which was very fun. It’s not too hard to recruit people when you’re basically just giving out cookies.

Paris does its best to live up to its “City of Light” nickname in the Christmas season, and from what I saw they did a pretty good job of it. I loved getting to my destinations early this month so that I could walk around different neighborhoods and see all of the lights hung across streets, decorated shops, and elaborate window displays. Plus, knowing that I was coming home gave me an excellent excuse to explore chocolate shops and Christmas markets—my friends joked that half of my suitcase is food (not quite, but I’m not exactly coming home empty-handed).

My semester finishes up mid-January and then we’re off to Dublin! That last week and a half will be a doozy (we have a whole new class for a week plus two final projects), but the finish line is so close! I’ll miss Paris for sure—the baguettes and croissants more than all of the quality time on public transportation—but I can’t wait for Dublin.

Merry Christmas! Have a great holiday season!

All about school

3 weeks until Christmas! Not that I’m counting or anything. The last few weeks have been crazy busy and we’re in the final stretch of experimental work for our big project before the holidays. I’m loving all of the Christmas decorations and activities (ALL of the Christmas markets, please!), but I’m also super ready for a bit of a rest at home. So excited!

Since my life has been all about school lately, I figured I would finally fulfill Alice’s request for more about this program I’m doing and our classes. Our schedule is unusual–it changes every week, and sometimes we have a class full-time for just a few weeks while others we have a few times a week for the whole semester. Here’s a bit about each of our classes.
Food science and analysis: this class covered chemical reactivity (like browning reactions), microbial activity (good and bad), sensory analysis, and hydrocolloids (gums and thickeners). It was a LOT of information but it turns out that milk proteins are really fascinating.
Food process engineering: heating things up. Cooling them down. Doing both at the same time. Lots of math in this one (it has been a very long time since I thought about integration) and lots of milk again. It reminded me how great it is to solve problems with known answers and put tidy boxes around them.
Sustainability: mostly guest lectures from people doing work in the food sustainability realm. The best part of it was putting real numbers behind the talk about a product or a diet being “sustainable” and making us really define what we mean by the term.
Statistics: how to process your data and make graphs. It’s looking more and more useful as we get into our experimental work…
French: we’re split up into a few groups based on our level of language, and my class is mostly grammar and speaking. It’s a great excuse to watch TV and movies as long as they’re in French 🙂
Food structure: this was one of those short-but-intense classes, where we tried to apply materials science thinking to various food systems and understand the molecular components. I researched ice cream (I was serious about the milk proteins thing) and it made me wonder how I ever managed to turn out a decent batch of it because it’s so complicated.
Junior project: this is our big research project for the semester, where we work with companies to solve active R&D challenges. The partnership aspect is a very cool opportunity, and I’m stoked because I get to work on cookies (the best project, duh). Parts of it are similar to work I’ve done in the past, but it’s amazing to get this totally new perspective on it–lots of research and reading, much less just getting things done in the lab.
We also do a short stint of food formulation in January, and then the semester wraps up! It’s crazy to go over this list again because I really have learned so much in the past few months. It’s certainly overwhelming at times, but then I get way too excited about some subject and realize again that I’m definitely in the right field for me and it’s such an incredible opportunity.
Oh also, the program just got a success story video made about us–pretty cool!