Welcome to the University of Florida Food Science and Technology Graduate Student Association! Learn about how food science graduate students in the Food Science and Human Nutrition (FSHN) Department founded this student-centered association and designed it to enhance the experiences of all UF food science graduate students.
70% of UF food science graduate students begin their first semesters as complete strangers to the university, the city of Gainesville, and their lab groups. Not only must they navigate some of the most challenging classes of their academic careers, but they must also tackle busy schedules without the support system that buoyed them through years of academic challenges.
Graduate students at UF are not alone in these struggles. According to a Harvard University survey, graduate students are three times more likely than the average American to experience mental health disorders and depression. In addition, the average Ph.D. student described greater loneliness than the average retired American.
Fortunately, resources can help students create their own support networks—including the new UF Food Science and Technology Graduate Student Association (FST-GSA).
How a Chicken Farm Inspired the FST-GSA
In mid-2022, food science graduate students Sharon Chuah and Devanshu Mehta identified a gap in support and professional development opportunities for their fellow students. Sharon had recently come to UF from North Carolina State University (NC State), where she earned her master’s degree.
“The NC State Poultry Science Department has a graduate student group that provides career-building experiences and social connection,” Sharon says. “They even had a chicken farm where they would host outdoor events, like movie and barbeque nights. I really felt like I bonded with the other graduate students.”
When she arrived at UF, Sharon initially felt lost. But when Devanshu reached out and helped her adjust to life at UF, she realized she wanted to provide the same experience for newer students. She and Devanshu spoke with Dr. Susan Percival and Dr. Keith Schneider about the feasibility of a graduate student association. Since Devanshu graduated in the spring of 2022, other graduate students reached out to continue the mission of creating a supportive group.
Six Founders Aim to Create a Supportive Community with Graduate Student Group
“I think that working towards creating a student-driven community will help connect students between the Lake Alfred campus and the main UF campus,” says LaTaunya Tillman, a food science graduate student and former FST-GSA vice president. LaTaunya recalled that it took her a while to feel part of the community in Gainesville. Unlike her, many of her fellow students had earned undergraduate degrees from UF.
Since she conducts her research at the Lake Alfred campus, which is over 100 miles south of the main UF campus, she was concerned that she would struggle to connect with students at the main campus. “There are aspects of the student experience that can’t be recreated between the Lake Alfred and main Gainesville campuses. Seeing Sharon’s passion for creating the FST-GSA inspired me. It seemed like the perfect opportunity to minimize the gap in student experience and community between the university sites.”
The founders hosted pizza parties for graduate students to evaluate their interest in the organization. The feedback was so overwhelmingly positive that they immediately began building the group.
They held roundtables to gather feedback on how best to support students and collected ideas on the resources the association would offer. Before long, UF awarded funding to the FST-GSA to help grow the association. In the fall of 2022, the FST-GSA was born with six founders: Sharon, LaTaunya, Clarissa Aurelia, Jonathan Lee, Nuria Castaneda, and Carolina Krivoy Sekler.
Networking and Friendship: A Student-Focused Organization
By formalizing a graduate student hub outside of the FSHN Department, the FST-GSA provides an outlet for students seeking career assistance and social bonding. “FST-GSA is an organization that serves as a hub for food science graduate students,” reads the association’s mission statement. “[It] provides networking, professional development, and industry opportunities.” Its three pillars consist of:
- Community/Interpersonal: Balancing academics and social experiences.
- Opportunity Platform: Engaging in leadership, communication, and competitions.
- Industry Connection: Participating in conferences and interacting with speakers and alumni.
For example, students in the association will have the opportunity to connect with alumni and learn about their career paths, gaining insight into their potential careers. Other experiences include participating in cooking demonstrations and—by popular request—building career skills like writing resumes and interviewing.
Looking Ahead for Opportunities
The FST-GSA is still young, but the members of the 2023-2024 executive board–Sharon, Dongjoo Kim, Kylee Mai, Mari Schroeder, Nikita Bhusal, and Haley Russo–have big plans for the association. For instance, they will connect eager students with volunteer opportunities with the Institute of Food Scientists (IFT) and other organizations. The valuable experience and connections these opportunities provide complement the services these students engage in to give back to the food science field.
In the fall of 2023, the association formed intramural sports teams and enjoyed a fun kickball season. The next plan is to host bonding events between the Lake Alfred campus and the main UF campus. By encouraging a cohesive group of motivated students, the members of the FST-GSA wish to be a helpful resource for the graduate student community.
“So far, the response from graduate students has been so supportive. We love seeing how the students encourage each other!” Sharon says. The association has a rapidly growing group chat dedicated to sharing resources and connecting with each other. Under the watchful eye of faculty advisor Dr. Keith Schneider, the group has grown from six founders to around 15 students, with room for more. Students wishing to join the FST-GSA or find out more information can check out the association’s Instagram page.
Follow the FST-GSA on Instagram here. For more graduate student resources, check out the links below.
Graduate programs at the College of Agricultural and Life Sciences (CALS)
Resources available to UF graduate students
Additional UF resources
What is the purpose of a resume?
Organizing your personal statement
Learn more about earning food science degrees at UF below.