Welcome back to our Food Science and Human Nutrition (FSHN): Day in the Life series! This series is part of our innovative UF/FSHN Careers Advancement Project (CAP), which captures what it’s really like to earn degrees in food science, nutritional sciences, and dietetics. This project will help you discover your career passion by learning about the daily lives of professionals in food science and human nutrition.
Today’s topic: working as a senior research and development (R&D) scientist in the food industry.
We are pleased to have Dr. Richie Li as our guest sharing a day in his life as a senior research & development scientist. In 2018, Richie graduated from the UF/FSHN department with a Ph.D. in food science. During his years as a student, he initiated the department’s award-winning involvement in product development competitions such as with Ocean Spray.
Read more about his fascinating background in his FSHN feature.
Meet Our UF/ FSHN CAP Guest
Name: Richie (Ruiqi) Li
Degree: Ph.D. Food Science
Job Title: Senior Research & Development Scientist at General Mills
Job Description: R&D scientists conduct experiments to develop and improve products and technologies in industries such as food science, engineering, pharmaceuticals, and many more. In the food industry, R&D scientists often innovate in laboratory settings while also collaborating with experts in areas like operations, marketing, and management.
Day in the Life: Richie Li, Senior Research & Development Scientist
|Time: AM||MORNING ACTIVITIES|
I am not a morning person, but I have to get up a bit early on days when I have a pilot plant run. Usually, those runs start at 7:30am or earlier. I will wake up at 6:45 AM and get ready to go to work.
|7:10||Get out of the door
I was lucky to buy a house a ten-minute drive away from the General Mills James Ford Bell Research Center (JFB), where I work. Traffic is usually not bad at all except for snowy days, which don’t happen that often.
|7:20||Arrive at JFB and get ready for the pilot plant run
I arrive at JFB, get to my office/lab area, and put on PPE (personal protection equipment) including a helmet, glasses, lab coat, and steel-toe shoes. Then I head over to the pilot plant area.
|7:30 to 11:30||Pilot plant run
Our regular team includes me (the R&D team lead), a technician, and an R&D engineer. On days with pilot plant runs, we team up with two or three pilot plant technicians who help run the equipment such as the dough mixer (50-lb batch size) and a rodo sheeter (a large size dough sheeter that can handle up to 15 pounds of dough, pressing the dough to the desired thickness and number of layers). Each team member has different focus tasks.We will start with a safety image talk about safety concerns and potential hazards, double-confirm the experimental plan, and make sure ingredients are onsite. After making the dough, cutting it, and rolling it to size, we transfer it into cans. We usually run five to eight batches of control and test formulas. Each batch makes make about 15 cans, and we save those for future product analysis.If I have gap times during the run, I sign on to my work laptop and catch up on emails. I try not to take meetings during the pilot plant run time.
After finishing the pilot plant run, we move products back to storage, and I catch up on emails. I order lunch on an app and pick it up at the JFB cafeteria at around noon. I usually have a lunch meeting with someone, such as a peer, a mentor, or a mentee, for career development, building connections, or just to catch up on how things are going. Within the walls of the JFB building, we have over 700 Research and Development Scientists and Engineers working on different brands under the General Mills umbrella. Therefore, lunchtime is always a great opportunity to catch up with someone and learn what’s going on elsewhere in the company.
|Time: PM||AFTERNOON ACTIVITIES|
|12:30||Project management and other tasks
After lunch and catchup meetings, I go back to my desk and start working on tasks that are required to make progress on projects I am managing. I manage four to six projects at the same time. In addition, I am leading the pipeline and strategy-building to reduce ingredient costs for Pillsbury’s refrigerated and frozen baked goods products, including Pillsbury canned dough, cookies, frozen biscuits, pies, and toaster strudels and scrambles. My tasks vary depending on the stages of the projects and include:
1. Writing project Charters, which are one-slide PowerPoint presentations to charter a project for the leadership team to approve so that R&D can start working on it.
2. Writing technical research plans, which outline the technical goals of a project, the approach needed, and the required resources to prove the concept. These resources include formulas or ingredients to test on the lab benchtop. If the benchtop test shows potential, the next step is to test the project in the pilot plant. If the pilot plant run shows that the new formula meets expectations, we will schedule a plant trial.
3. Sending emails to my cross-functional team partners, including marketing, sourcing, operation/plant manufacturing team, finance, labeling, or legal, to get the necessary information to push forward projects. A lot of time is spent scheduling meetings with cross-functional team partners to discuss projects’ next steps, concerns, and risks, as well as making decisions.
4. Working on a PowerPoint deck for an ideation session in which team members brainstorm new ideas for projects.
5. Doing administrative work for myself, such as booking a trip to the plants for trials or filling out an expense report.
|2:00||1:1 meeting with my manager or my team members
I have bi-weekly meetings with my manager to catch up on project progress, decide what to do next, answer questions and address concerns, and discuss what support I need to do my job. I also have team meetings to talk through experiment plans, such as deciding what to run during the next pilot plant run.
|2:30||Meeting with cross-functional team
I meet with the cross-functional team to discuss project updates, roadblocks, next steps, timelines, concerns, and more. We also work on coming up with new ideas for projects.
|3:00||R&D product cutting meeting
Our R&D team does product cutting, meaning that we make the product in the lab, taste it, and evaluate what is next to test. If we can move forward with a product, we come up with recommendations for the cross-functional team.
|3:30||Wrap up, catchup today’s work, and get ready for tomorrow’s tasks
We often have town hall meetings, platform meetings, meetings with the CEO, or meeting with our R&D Leader to talk about recent business updates across the company, such as the company’s next strategic focus. Sometimes, I attend these meetings live, but they are often recorded so I can watch them later on Microsoft Teams or Zoom.
Since I started my workday at 7:30am, I usually go home around 4:00pm. If I don’t have pilot plant runs, I will start at 8:00am, and I will finish the day around 4:30 or 5:00 pm.
Interested in learning more about careers in Food Science and Human Nutrition? Check out our UF/FSHN CAP series (links forthcoming):
(1) What Can I Do with My Degree?
(2) How to Become a …
(3) Day in the Life