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Profiles from our food research theme – University of Reading

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  • Research that makes a difference

    Addressing the issues relating to the food we eat and how we produce it

Profiles from our food research theme

Hear from our postgraduate researchers whose work comes under our Food research theme.

Luke Bell

Department of Food and Nutritional Sciences

Title of PhD: Rocket Science: Phytochemical, Postharvest, Shelf-life & Sensory Attributes Of Rocket Species

Briefly describe your area of research Photo of Luke Bell

I study rocket salad species in the context of the commercial food chain.

My work relates to several aspects of rocket diversity, including genetics, phytochemistry, sensory science, consumer acceptance and impacts of the supply chain. Rocket contains numerous health-beneficial compounds, such as isothiocyanates and flavonols.

The objective of my research is to identify chemical indicators in rocket that are important for human health and consumer acceptance. Through understanding the chemical components of leaves, the aim is to ultimately produce new rocket varieties with nutritive and sensorially enhanced properties that will benefit long-term human health.

Why did you select Reading?

I worked for Elsoms Seeds as a plant breeder and was interested in conducting research into the chemical components of rocket leaves. I was introduced to Dr Carol Wagstaff and our discussions began with the possibility of initiating a PhD project.

After touring the Food and Nutritional Sciences facilities at Reading, it was obviously an excellent choice for conducting such research. The access to analytical, sensory and consumer expertise all under one roof was unparalleled. The opportunity to study at Reading was too good to pass up, and so I left my job and relocated to do the PhD myself.

What do you enjoy about studying at Reading?

I enjoy the relaxed working atmosphere within the department and the informal interactions between professors, lecturers and students. There is a very supportive atmosphere in our department, where everyone is always willing to help somebody out and to help them succeed in their work.

I also enjoy the campus atmosphere, which is very conducive to self-governed learning. Access to journals and books is excellent, which is very useful for PhD students (especially if working in a niche area of research).

What has been your biggest challenge since starting your research?

The biggest challenge I've faced has been in learning many new analytical methods. I've also found it challenging to have confidence and to defend my hypotheses; some of which have been counter to previous understanding and assumptions. I have a sceptical nature, especially with regard to my own studies, assumptions and results. Learning to strike a balance between healthy scepticism and confidence in my own abilities has been (and still is) quite a challenge.

What advice would you give a new postgraduate researcher?

My advice would be, try not to worry about experiments and their results (easier said than done). Everybody has good days and bad days, but perseverance almost always pays off.

Embrace learning new things and don't be afraid of trying new techniques (even if it goes wrong). Even if things don't work out, there are usually alternatives.

Students should try to be independent as much as possible and not rely too heavily on others; but at the same time, know that it's also okay to ask for help every once in a while if you are struggling.

Where do you want to be in five years' time?

I can honestly say that I don't have any fixed goals, and I am mainly focusing on the final stages of my PhD and the subsequent postdoctoral LINK project that my supervisor and I have been awarded by the BBSRC.

While I don't know where I will be in five years, I would like to have produced a robust and sizeable body of published work, as writing is something that I enjoy. I would perhaps like to write a book relating to crop development and domestication.

Nurul Aqilah Binti Mohd Zaini

Department of Food and Nutritional Sciences

Title of PhD: Production of D-Lactic Acid from Dried Distillers Grains with Solubles (DDGS)

Briefly describe your area of research

My research area is manipulating industrial byproduct from food and food-related industries to something useful. For example Dried Distillers Grains with Solubles (DDGS), a byproduct from the bioethanol industry will be employed as a substrate for bacterial fermentation. In this process, glucose, xylose or arabinose will be extracted from DDGS and used as carbon sources for lactic acid fermentation.

Why did you select Reading?

The reason why I chose Reading was because it is among the top universities worldwide. Besides which, it has a very good research reputation, especially in agriculture and food, in the world. The instruments here are sophisticated and up to date to support my research. Furthermore, it's very close to London!

What do you enjoy about studying at Reading?

The people here (lecturers, students and staff) are very helpful and friendly. Besides, the environment in Reading is nice. It is also considered one of the most beautiful universities in the UK.

What has been your biggest challenge since starting your research?

The research area for my PhD is a new area for me; it is quite challenging. Besides which, the language barrier is also one of the challenges that I have to face since English is not my first language.

What advice would you give a new postgraduate researcher?

Plan your research properly. You have to know what you want to do. Something will definitely change during the journey but that's fine. Have a strong mindset that if other people can do it, it means that you can do it too. Have a good relationship with your supervisor. This will help you a lot!

Where do you want to be in five years' time?

Hopefully, after five years, I'll be a successful lecturer in Malaysia, especially in my research area and contribute to research in my country.

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