Tell us a little about yourself – what are you passionate about?
My name’s Soumi and I am always smiling or singing or cooking. I am a proud mum of my ten year old son. I love reading books and volunteering for any STEM related activities in my son’s school or outside.
I am passionate about understanding more about our senses; how individual perception and preference lead to better personalised preferred food items in the future and how our sensory research can help in sustainable food future for our next generation. With everything that goes behind selecting a particular variety of crop to grow, consumer preference is an important contributing factor of the success of that crop (or any food) in the actual world.
Where did you grow up? What is your earliest memory of science?
My childhood was a very happy one, my sister and I both enjoyed school and I was encouraged by my parents to study whatever I felt passionate about. I am from a small town called Chinsurah in West Bengal. Bengali is my mother tongue and I believe my love and appreciation of food started from my childhood. You definitely need to know about Bengali food- the sweets, curries, daals and fries- yummm!! All the spices and flavour in my mum’s kitchen helped me develop a keen sense of identifying various nuances of cooking and how food changes while being cooked. I think those are my earliest memory of science at home. I was always curious to know more about food and how it changes when you cook or boil or fry it. I think that is all about chemistry and physics, isn’t it? All the chemical and physical changes that happen during cooking process can be linked very easily to a science experiment.
What did you do after you left school?
When I finished high school in 2000, everyone in my family and school believed that I would be a doctor and choose medicine as my field of work. But I ended up choosing Agriculture and Food Technology as my B.Sc. and M.Sc. fields of research and never regretted it. Later, I completed my PhD in Food Science, specialising in eliciting sensory and consumer preferences of Australian desi Chickpeas.
I was told during my Bachelor’s degree that I would only be able to work in a fertiliser company and nothing else if I did Agriculture. Well, I didn’t, and I can happily confirm that there are so many options if you choose Agriculture and Food Technology as your career. The human population still needs to grow crops and eat, so there is always a demand for great food.
What do you do now?
I am now working at the NSW Department of Primary Industries as a Sensory and Consumer Research Scientist for Horticultural research. I have had over 15 years of “Fast-Moving Consumer Goods” (FMCG) industry and academic experience in India, Italy and Australia with Nestle, Whirlpool Corporation and Goodman Fielder, to name a few.
I am a Conjoint Senior Lecturer at the University of Newcastle and an Adjunct Research Fellow at Charles Sturt University. I am also a professional member of Australian Institute of Food Science and Technology (AIFST) and the NSW Branch Chair. I volunteer as a Judge (or expert panel member) for Sydney Royal Fine Food Show for various food products, including olive oil, pasta, dairy and meat.
Tell us the story of your proudest achievement;
My proudest achievement was when I finished my PhD in Food Science. I am the first in my family to obtain an overseas doctorate degree. Having my parents travel from India to be with me during my graduation along with my husband and son was definitely the cherry on top. I had several lows beforehand, like when I did not get into the companies I wanted to be in through my Masters. But I learned how to accept the rejection and then came out of it with success!
Amidst all the COVID lockdowns, I achieved another dream of mine to complete a year-long Applied Certificate program from UC Davis on Sensory and Consumer Science. I started last year and finished with flying colours this September.
Why did you become a Curious Minds STEM Coach?
I believe strongly in giving back and mentoring. From my childhood, I was blessed to have great teachers during my school years along with my parents who always cheered for both me and my sister. During my University life and professional career, I have been privileged to have the support of my amazing husband and mentors throughout. When I reflect back, I strongly believe that if I can return the same favour to someone and help him or her during their journey by sharing my experience, I would be grateful for that opportunity. My own curiosity to know more about the science of food led me from a small suburb in India to one of biggest regional town of Australia, and it is still helping me to grow and learn.
What advice would you give to current female students thinking of pursuing a career in STEM?
Time has changed and so thus have the career options! Fly high with your vivid imagination and rest assured we are all there to support you.