I’d always wanted to go to university, but I never imagined becoming a scientist. Back in Kenya, and when my family first arrived in the UK, I was working as a secretary. Then I got a job in a food factory, in quality assurance (QA). That was when I realised that it made sense to study in the area I was actually working in, rather than doing something like international relations, where I’d be starting from scratch looking for a job after I graduated. I figured that if I was studying and working at the same time, I’d come out with an academic qualification and the practical experience to back it up.
Starting the course
That first semester was so tough. I remember sitting on the Tube, feeling so frustrated I wanted to cry. It was years since I’d studied and suddenly I was expected to know what to do, where to go, how to write a report – the pace was so fast. Every week something new was happening and I wondered how I’d ever keep up. But I put in a lot of work and by the second semester I was master of the game. I knew exactly what I was doing and what was expected of me.
The team at LSBU were so helpful and supportive. I learned so much just from being around them. They were such a positive influence. All these people with these amazing qualifications, knowledge and experience, but they were so approachable. Adam Cunliffe, who taught nutrition was brilliant. He’d struggled when he first started his undergraduate degree too, so I really felt like he knew what I was going through in those early days. I still see Ken Spears and Mandy Maidment regularly, as we’re all members of the Institute of Food Science and Technology. They’re always keen to know how I’m doing both personally and professionally, and to offer their help. Mandy even offered to come to my place of work to offer her support and expertise as I was worried about an upcoming audit. It’s great to feel like they’re still there with me, supporting me and encouraging me.
When I graduated with a first-class degree, I had this huge sense of having achieved something really great. I can’t even put it into words. It felt wonderful.
- Purity Hrisca
It definitely helps to have a strong support network. I got a lot of help from my family, and my employer was brilliant too. I worked all the way through my degree, and they were so flexible and accommodating. That definitely made it easier but even so, it’s hard. I basically had no life for the five years I was studying. When I graduated with a first-class degree, I had this huge sense of having achieved something really great. I can’t even put it into words. It felt wonderful.
Progressing career prospects
Believe it or not, the first thing I did after graduating from LSBU was enrol on a masters degree course. The job market is getting more and more competitive all the time. I felt it would really help my career prospects to have a postgraduate qualification. I also felt like if I stopped and took a break from all that work and all that pain, I’d never start again! Since my undergraduate degree ended up taking five years rather than six, I was able to negotiate with my employer to give me two days off each week to do my masters full-time.
As long as you’ve got determination and curiosity, age doesn’t matter at all
- Purity Hrisca
I came to work for Soulful Food because they offered the responsibility I was looking for. I’d been offered a job as a microbiologist with a big multinational, but I wouldn’t have been managing a team, and that felt like a step backwards. I really enjoying working closely with people, and building an effective team. I’ve just taken on a QA who’s currently studying at LSBU – it’s nice to feel like I’m putting something back in to the University. The other really great thing the role offers is a good work-life balance – the site is very close to my home in south-east London. It’s wonderful being able to get back and be there for the children, without a lengthy commute.
As long as people are eating, I figure there will always be a need for food scientists. It’s great to have that security. But it’s a profession that offers a lot of variety, too. In my current role, every day is different. There’s always something new to get your teeth in to, whether it’s dealing with a customer complaint or having to find alternatives to some crucial ingredient in order to keep production going.
There are pros and cons to studying later in life. My eldest daughter turns 18 this year, and I’m always telling her to study while she’s young and doesn’t have any other responsibilities. On the other hand, when you’re older, you’re more focused and determined: you don’t mess around. Knowing that if you don’t study and work hard, you’re probably going to end up in a minimum wage job is a huge incentive. It’s never too late. As long as you want it badly enough and you’ve got that determination and curiosity, age doesn’t matter at all.