Sunday, March 14, 2021

Spotlight on Abbey Thiel, a member of the Young Professional Common Interest Group

Abbey Thiel is a lecturer at the University Wisconsin-Madison (UW-Madison) where she teaches junior and senior-level classes. She helps instruct food functionality, food manufacturing, food chemistry and senior-level classes. She completed both her Bachelors and PhD in food science at UW-Madison. After the 2020-21 school year she will be leaving UW-Madison for a postdoc position in the dairy group at Wageningen University and Research, the Netherlands. Abbey is a member of the AOCS Young Professional Common Interest Group (YP CIG) and recently was a panelist for the AOCS Midweek Mixer: Habits and Rituals. 

Abbey was intereviewed by the newsletter editor of the YP CIG, Jing Zhou, Ingredion, Inc., USA. 

What excites you about your work? 

I’ve always really enjoyed working with students. I served as a teaching assistant for three years of graduate school and interacting with the students was always the highlight of my day. 

With the pandemic, it’s been quite isolating working from home several times a week. I’m used to seeing a building full of food scientists every day! I’ve noticed that during classes is when I feel energized and excited. 

It’s also been really fun to work with the seniors for the whole school year and see how much they’ve grown. It’s has been a really rewarding year even with all the challenges due to COVID-19.

How are you involved with AOCS? 

I first got involved with AOCS as a PhD student. My advisor encouraged me to join the community and it’s been a wonderful place to present my research into the fat systems within ice creams and whipped toppings. I have sporadically volunteered for opportunities like Midweek Mixers and writing for the student common interest group newsletter. I have always found the AOCS community to be very inviting.

How do you hope or how has AOCS helped in solving challenges you encounter in your work and/or career?

The experts in the fats and oil field that make up the membership of AOCS have been indispensable to my growth as a scientist. I remember being surprised as a PhD student to see how approachable people were and their willingness to share their expertise. The network I’ve cultivated has helped me with anything from research challenges to finding new opportunities like internships and jobs.

Could you describe the focus of your blog and YouTube Channel? What inspired you to create them? 

As soon as people find out I’m a food scientist I’m usually bombarded with questions. Is oat milk good for you? How long can meat sit out? Why is Champagne bubbly?

This has been the case ever since I was an undergraduate in food science. I became the contact person for any friends, family, and friends of friends who had food-related queries. 

After many years of answering these individual emails, texts, and calls someone suggested I start compiling my answers for everyone to see. I’ve learned that people really want information about their food but are unsure how to find it or have trouble interpreting technical documents.

At first, I started with written content on Medium since that’s what I was most comfortable with. It was 2018 and I figured I’d been writing articles all of graduate school, so this was a natural extension. My goal was to translate complex food science topics into content that allowed anyone, regardless of their background, to understand the science behind their food. Two years later I decided to build my own website to host the blog. 

My jump to YouTube came a couple years later in early 2020 when Wisconsin was in lockdown due to COVID-19. I was writing my PhD dissertation while being stuck alone in my tiny house. I craved some type of creative outlet and this was just the push I needed to start another project. 

I began translating the written content on my blog into videos. This was much more nerve-wracking since my audience would see me and I have no media or video training. There’s been a big learning curve with script writing, recording and editing videos among other things. 

As I started accumulating more and more videos, I took the plunge and started my own YouTube Channel named Abbey the Food Scientist. I’ve gotten lots of helpful feedback and encouragement, which keeps me motivated to continue making content amid an already busy schedule. I’ve also noticed that the skills I’ve gained while blogging or YouTubing are useful in other areas of my career. These side projects have absolutely helped me become a better speaker and lecturer as well as improved my writing skills.

Do you have any words of wisdom for other AOCS YP CIG members?

A recent piece of advice that was given to me was that “not making a choice is itself making a choice.” I was having a difficult time deciding where to take my next opportunity when one of my mentors emailed me that phrase. 

Thank you Abbey for your involvement with AOCS!

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