Amy Bowen - Research Fellow

Krista Habermehl
23 January 2012

Name: Amy Bowen

Field of Work: Sensory and Consumer Science

Place of Birth: Vancouver, British Columbia

Your job title: Research Fellow Consumer Insights and Product Innovation

Different varieties of fruits and vegetables appeal to the senses in different ways and there are actually scientists studying how consumers respond to different tastes, textures and smells. For example, Amy Bowen, a research fellow for Consumer Insights and Product Innovation at Vineland Research and Innovation Centre, surveys consumers likes and dislikes when it comes to different types of wines.

What is a Research fellow in Sensory and Consumer Science?

Sensory science is a scientific discipline used to evoke, measure, analyze and interpret reactions to stimuli perceived through the senses (sight, smell, touch, taste and hearing). At the Vineland Research and Innovation Centre, we do research on a wide variety of horticultural crops to understand how differences in growing conditions, varieties, production, processing and storage impact the taste, aroma, flavour, and/or texture of the finished product. Then we use consumer science to determine what the consumer likes best. My focus in this field is to work on wine related sensory and consumer studies.

What is a typical day like for you?

A typical day really varies which is what makes the work fun. It’s always something different! Some days I spend mostly at my desk doing literature searches, writing research outlines or proposal, answering emails or designing programs and surveys. The surveys and tasting programs are run using a sensory software program; therefore time is required to design and run the program. Other days I’m on my feet all day such as when I’m implementing a project. People are required to complete the survey or to taste the product and this may involve working off site at a winery recruiting consumers to complete a survey or have the people come in to taste the wines. Tastings days are long days because the samples have to be prepared the same day, precisely poured, and coded with random codes to ensure everyone has the same sensory experience. The samples have to be presented, and afterwards everything has to be cleaned up. Once the results are in I have to analyze them. This involves a lot of tables and statistics and then I write up the findings.

Did you always want to be a sensory scientist?

I always thought I would end up working in research but in the field of medical genetics. After I finished my undergraduate degree I wasn’t sure if that was the area I wanted to pursue. I was looking for a field with applied research where the results would be immediately applicable to the industry. Once I starting taking courses in viticulture (grape growing), oenology (wine-making) and sensory science I was hooked and have not looked back.

What courses in high school prepared you for this field?

Biology, Chemistry, Math, English, Computers

Where did you go to university/college?

BSc in Molecular Biology and Genetics at the University of Guelph PhD in Biological Sciences specializing in Plant Sciences, Oenology and Viticulture at Brock University

How did you decide where to go?

I decided to go the University of Guelph because it was a great school for what I wanted to study with a strong focus on student life and lots of hands on experience. I went to Brock University for graduate school because it is the only university in Canada to offer the specialization I was looking for.

Was there extra training required for this career after you finished college/university? If so, what?

Besides graduate school, I have taken additional course in sensory statistics and became a certified sommelier (professional wine steward/connoisseur) in order to better understand the medium I work with from both the scientific and the consumer perspective. In this field you are always learning and new techniques are being applied so it is important to keep on top of it. Attending conferences and meeting is another great way to keep up the latest trends and techniques in the field.

What is the coolest part of your job?

Working with wine and understanding how small differences in how it’s made can really influence its sensory properties and people’s preferences.

What’s the worst part of your job?

Dishes. Sensory research makes a lot of dishes! Recruiting consumers and trying to convince them to participate in our studies is always a huge challenge and takes up a lot of time.

What’s the salary range for this particular job and field?

For a research fellow just out of graduate school a typical salary is $35,000-55,000. After that it increases but by how much really varies depending on if you work in academia or industry and how big the organization is.

Ooooops! Everyone makes mistakes so what was the dumbest thing you've ever done at work?

I can’t say … my boss might read this. I’ll just say that you have to be very detail-oriented in this field because you deal with a lot of samples that look very similar and you don’t want to give out the wrong sample.

Do you have any advice that you would give others seeking a similar career?

Find a field you love and are passionate about – it’s the easiest way to stay motivated. A career in research can be very rewarding but requires a lot work, time and patience to see your projects to fruition. If you don’t love it, it’s hard to see the benefit and stay motivated.

What are some great web links or references for someone interesting in reading up more about this career?

The Sensometrics Society www.sensometric.org

Sensory and Consumer Science Division of IFT www.ift.org/divisions/sensory/

Tasting Science www.tastingscience.info

What’s your motto?

Go for it!

Chose a sandwich: Peanut butter and jelly or peanut butter and banana?

Peanut butter and jelly. I can’t stand bananas!!

What’s one thing you can’t do but really want to be able to?

Scuba Dive

What’s your zodiac sign?

Taurus

What’s your biggest pet peeve?

People who are incompetent.

Krista Habermehl

Hi! I'm Let's Talk Science's communications officer. I have an MA in Journalism from The University of Western Ontario and a BA in English Literature from The University of British Columbia. I've worked with Let's Talk Science since March of 2009. I help out with the day-to-day maintenance of CurioCity, among other things! 


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