Are you interested in Food Science? Awesome, because SA needs you. Read about Michael Jay’s experience with his B. Sc. in Food Science at Tuks and learn from this young man’s inspiring journey of passion and self-discovery.
I matriculated in 2011 at the Shangri-la Academy, a relatively small English and Christian private school in Kempton Park, Gauteng.
I had always had Medicine in mind as a field of study, and therefore chose Pure Maths, Physical Sciences, Life Sciences as my subjects. To keep other options open too, however, I also chose Accounting – part of the reason therefore was also my father who felt that it would be helpful to have some skills and knowledge in the business field. It is, after all, very useful to be able to work with financial documents, and I have indeed never regretted taking this subject.
Plan A – Trying for Medicine
I always wanted to study Medicine and become a doctor. I had taken an aptitude test in Grade 9 that offered some insight into the fact that I was pursuing the correct career decision, regarding Medicine. I imagined pursuing a specialisation in Oncology – the study and treatment of tumours. My interest in this field was very personal, as my mother had been diagnosed with breast cancer.
Both my parents were always very supportive of my final choices and would have supported me in any endeavor I wished to pursue, as long as I was passionate about it. My father hadn’t been able to study and pursue his dreams of architecture and he wanted to ensure that I had the opportunity to pursue my dreams. I think as a parent that is the best approach – to support your child’s dreams and to assist them where you can.
Plan B – Re-evaluating my Desires and Needs
I was, however, accepted to my second choice of Biological Sciences (B.Sc. in Biologial Sciences) at the universities of Stellenbosch, Pretoria, and Wits. Because I still wanted to study Medicine, I decided to go to Tuks (the University of Pretoria), because it provided the highest chances of my still getting into Medicine. The university’s 4-year programme holds 10 positions for students to transfer to Medicine, and I was intending to be one of them.
I didn’t get offered a place for transfer in 1st Year, and by the time 2nd Year came around, I had decided that I no longer wanted to pursue Medicine. It was too emotional. That year my mother passed away after losing her battle with breast cancer.
My father took me to a professor in Pretoria who did a number of tests that suggested continuing with a B.Sc. in a biological major was indeed a good alternative for me. The tests also revealed that I had the aptitude to pursue a Science degree. And so I directed all of my focus to the Biological stream that I was in.
At first I thought I’d pursue the Physiology and Genetics major to then conduct Oncology research. But in 3rd Year I re-evaluated my life and did a lot of self-reflection. I realised that I no longer held a passion for oncology…
Finding a Taste for Food Science
During the time of this big change, I went to see a number of departments on campus that were incredibly helpful. They helped me explore possible career options for after graduation.
I explored how I could combine my love for food with my love for science and research…and that is how I came to decided on majoring in Food Science at Tuks.
I’m now in my second year of the 3-4 year B.Sc. in Food Science at Tuks and will complete my undergrad studies in 2017. I would like to go on and pursue an Honours degree, as it’s generally demanded on your CV if you’d like to work in the private sector of the industry. It also sets you apart from the crowd.
This is roughly what to expect in the B. Sc. In Food Science:
In first year, you are exposed to the basics in
There is a focus on introducing the importance of research within your field and being able to understand scientific text.
In your second year, once you’ve selected your major (in this case Food Science), you begin to focus on
- Food Chemistry
- Food Engineering
- Nutrition (big focus on this one).
There is a drive to understand the Biochemistry, genetic and microbial components of this field.
In your final year, you are exposed primarily to the factory and plant side of things with regards to the food industry and learn to work with different machines and various methods/processes needed later in the field.
There is also a move towards dissertation and scientific writing. This, in essence, prepares you for postgraduate studies and research.
Studies in Food Science means that I could go into fields like
- food product development
- food quality
- control and safety
- food processing
Considering Career Opportunities…
Since I have not graduated yet, the job hunting hasn’t been too much of a topic yet. But given the fact that there is a scarcity of skilled food scientists in South Africa (in fact, in the world), there are a lot of job opportunities.
I would strongly suggest choosing a major that offers something aside from the general majors. So many students choose Genetics as a major and that field is incredibly oversupplied. This was the one of the main motivators to why I felt I needed to change my first field choice – to ensure career opportunities later on.
Reflecting on Challenges
- Living Logistics
I faced both academic and personal challenges when I began my studies. At first I had been living at home and drove through to varsity every day, but I applied for a place in residence by the time 2nd Semester started. The driving had become too much, and time constraints demanded that I move closer to campus.
I got a placement in TuksVillage, a modern and communal-based residence. We had our own grocer on-site and a kitchen where daily meals were provided. TuksVillage does not conform to the traditional res happenings, and no one forces you into some initiation programme or to partake in annual events.
The res is very academically motivating and you have to maintain an average of at least 65% to be placed there again the following year. So if you want to stay, you have to get good marks. It keeps the res students motivated and diligent. It’s also a way of teaching us to balance social and academic life. This keeps students motivated to remain diligent.
I would strongly recommend TuksVillage at the University of Pretoria to anyone looking into residence. You’ll have a lot of support, also from the block managers who serve as mentors. You’ll also have ‘house parents’ that can take on an incredibly supportive parental role within the res community.
My biggest academic challenge was dealing with the workload. I’d done very well in school and found that university was no longer about parrot fashion learning, but more about learning a principle and being able to apply it.
In my first year I failed WTW 133. It was a Maths module and they forced us to work without calculators. I was introduced to Radians – a principle I hadn’t learnt in school. I also failed CMY 117 and 127 in my second year. Chemistry is one of the most failed modules and, in my opinion, the university admits to using it as a weeding tool, distinguishing the strong from the weak.
With the loss of my mom, I admit that I neglected my studies in 2nd Year. My focus was more on being at the hospital than being in lectures. The fact that a loss of a family member will affect your academic performance is quite inevitable.
However, I have grown a lot as a person at university. It has given me much more than just an academic education. It has also transformed me on a personal level. I came out as gay during my first year at university, and found an immense amount of support from student life organisations on campus. I’ve made many friends within the gay community on campus and it’s so motivating to see how members of this community are making such great contributions in areas like Science, Engineering, and Art – in South Africa and internationally.
Tips for Students
- Attend Lectures
The best piece of advice I could give is never to miss a lecture. They are critical in joining all the well known pieces of the puzzle in a subject.
- Take Notes
This is very important, because it will help you tremendously in preparing for exams and completing assignments. You also need to take notes and continuously revise older work in order to maintain all the knowledge you have acquired in a subject.
- Get a Cool Part-Time Job
Yes, you can make time for a part-time job. I was able to tutor at a company called Teachme2 that works as an online recruiting agency for tutors in any field and area. I chose to specifically tutor Maths, Science, and Biology for high schoolers up to Grade 12.
I’ve developed some amazing relationships with my students, some of whom I’ve tutored for a couple years. It has shown me that I have a passion for teaching and may even one day consider pursuing a lecturing post at a university.
Passion is Key
I’ve observed that when my lecturers are passionate about their field, that passion inadvertently gets passed on to me. Even modules that might seem intimidating at first have become enjoyable because of the passion exuded from the lecturers’ side.
Whatever it is that you decide to pursue, do so because you are passionate about it. Studying a degree at any university is an incredibly hard path, and you need to hold some form of passion to keep things going in the darker hours.
We all put food into our bodies, and so Food Science affects every single one of us. If you’re fascinated by the way certain nutrition influences our bodies – chemically, physically, emotionally – then Food Science can be an extremely interesting field to explore. Your scientific knowledge of how certain nutrition affects the human body can end up helping all kinds of people, from athletes and models to patients with medical conditions such as diabetes, celiac disease, or bulimia.