I chose to pursue a bachelors degree in food science at Washington State University because I grew up in a family that valued health. My parents raised me to take nutrition seriously. Therefore, it seemed natural that as an adult I would develop an interest in the ways nutrition affects mood and physical well-being.
Washington State University seemed an ideal location to pursue my interest in nutrition since I had a friend attending the university at the time. In addition, I was struck by the beauty of the campus when I visited. Finally, the university’s distance from my home appealed to me.
I transferred from Western Washington University, so the admissions process for me was quick and painless. I simply completed a short essay, provided a few letters of recommendation and filled out the application.
My food science program took 4 years to complete. I would estimate that roughly 75% of the program was theoretical while 25% was practical lab work. The curriculum drew heavily from broad scientific disciplines such as biology and chemistry, which each required me to memorize tons of terms and concepts. In fact, compared to programs such as business, psychology and even nursing, my food science program seemed much more difficult.
The most valuable courses I took in my major, however, were about medical nutrition therapy and presentations. Medical nutrition therapy allowed me to put into practice everything I had learned in the food science field. We examined patient cases involving disease and illness and helped find solutions. This process made the principles of food science real and immediate to me. And in a very different way, my course on creating and giving presentations made me more confident in my abilities and skills in general.
I also found my elective courses valuable. I took several physical education courses, including dance, and an introductory fine arts class. All of the physical education courses were fun and kept me fit, as I expected. The fine arts course, however, was a surprise to me. It changed the way I view art and opened my eyes to its value. These areas may not have directly involved food science, but they certainly added to the value of my education.
One particular strength of my program was its small size. Professors always had the time to provide assistance or advice, and the students of the program became close friends. We had study parties and helped each other succeed. The only weakness of my program, in fact, was the rigor with which the professors pushed students to become dieticians. The professors were dieticians themselves, so perhaps they were naturally inclined in that direction. Nonetheless, many of the students intended to pursue other career paths.
The university provided special computers in the food science building and an extensive library to students. The computers could help plan menus and analyze foods, which were critical tools for those in the program. Food science students treated the computers like miniature libraries. The university library itself was also an excellent resource. If nothing else, it provided a quiet space for studying.
I did not complete an internship, but internships are common among food science majors who intend to become dieticians. The internships are competitive, however, and only a few people receive one each year.
I recommend that students use the tutors and open chemistry labs to help them through the more difficult science courses. The financial aid department can arrange for private tutors, which I found useful. Plus, the open chemistry labs often had graduate students in them who were happy to answer questions.
I chose to live off campus because I wanted to set my own rules and have my own space. I could come and go as I pleased and did not have to share my kitchen, bathroom or bedroom. However, a potential drawback of living off campus is the commute. In fact, I recommend students living off campus always try to stay as close to the university as possible. I made the mistake of living somewhere just a little too far from campus in my freshman year and had to endure long, chilly walks in the snow.
My program had a heavy homework requirement. However, many of my projects were group projects and, given the small size of the program, many of the students chose to work together even on smaller assignments or lab work, which we completed in the kitchen or science center. In a typical week, I spent 15 to 20 hours a week in class and between 10 and 15 hours studying.
My future goals involve working in a lab or hospital setting. Science degrees such as mine have several different applications, however. Dietician work is the most common application of a food science degree, but the public school food system is another option. Some graduates also choose to become athletic nutritionists with sports teams. Others become dietary managers in retirement homes and help support the nutritional health of the elderly.
The most lucrative careers in food science, however, require a masters degree. Dieticians, for example, make between $50,000 and $60,000. Generally speaking, the higher the degree in food science, the greater the potential for income.
Students who are serious about pursuing a degree in food science should avoid procrastinating, ask for help when they need it and consider masters degrees. The amount of work involved in a food science degree is daunting. Students must stay on top of their assignments and even complete them early whenever possible. In addition, they should ask for help if they are stumped. The coursework is tough in a bachelors program for food science, but professors are happy to help and the school can provide students with tutors, if necessary. All students need to do is ask. Finally, and most importantly, students should know that the economic climate has made it difficult for those with bachelors degrees in this field to find work. Consequently, they should consider pursuing a masters degree in food science to make themselves more desirable candidates for food science positions.