Knowledge for a sustainable world

Linden Kemkaran

Ana Cristina left Mexico City to follow in her father’s footsteps and study for a Master’s at a university in the UK. As a mature student who’d been passionate about food and science from an early age, Ana embraced the lifestyle at NRI and quickly bonded with her much younger housemates. Ana took five minutes out of her day to Skype with Communications Officer Linden Kemkaran on what she learned, and what she’s doing now.

When I arrived at the University of Greenwich from my home country of Mexico, I already had five years of work experience under my belt at Grupo Bimbo – a very large baking company with a presence in 33 countries. I was very Ana Cristina Morales 750organized in my lifestyle, and professionally I was used to interacting with very senior people and making fast and efficient business decisions on a daily basis, so I thought that returning to university would be no big deal.

I remember so clearly my first encounter with my much younger room-mates – they were all 18 or 19 – and it was a bit of a shock to the system! I wasn’t sure how I would adjust from my usual work routine to hanging out with teenagers, but I needn’t have worried; they were and still are, amazing people who took me out of my comfort zone and made my brain work in a completely different way. I learned a huge amount from them and we are all still firm friends today.

There weren’t many other Latin Americans on my course that year, so for me it was a very positive experience and a good challenge, to be exposed to fresh ways of thinking and working that I’d not come across before.

Before coming to the UK, I studied chemical engineering in the National University of Mexico and then became an operations trainee at Grupo Bimbo, looking at product development and project management. After a while I transferred to their regional office in Mexico to work within the food safety and quality management area of the company.

I always knew that food safety was something I liked and in Latin America it’s a good area to get into because it’s not yet very robust within the food industry; it’s more driven by the retailers and the government. I decided to look at ways to study food regulation and food safety and that’s when I started looking at Master’s Degrees. The programmes offered by NRI at the University of Greenwich ticked all the right boxes for me, so I sent my papers and application forms and I was delighted to be accepted.

I had to have a conversation with my team in Mexico because there was already a plan for operations trainees like me, where the company would send us on a specialized course delivered by the American Institute of Baking. It was a very tough decision for me because I was all set up and ready to do that course but with hindsight, choosing NRI was exactly the right decision.

I did Food Safety and Quality Management and I have to say it was just one of the best experiences ever – in fact one of the best decisions I have ever made. It was my first time in the UK, but my father had graduated from Kent University, so I felt I was following family tradition in a way! My maternal grandmother was one of the first female chemists in Mexico and she had a lab for clinical analysis. When I was little I used to visit, and she’d let me look down her microscope and explain things to me; she inspired me to keep studying.

My main lecturers were Richard Fuchs, Linda Nicolaides and Claire Coote and right from the beginning I warmed to them and appreciated all the expertise they brought. They are all experts and in education it’s not always a level playing field – the standards vary hugely throughout the world –but our lecturers managed the classrooms and the students so well and helped everyone ‘level up’ and do their best.

They created a safe learning environment where everyone felt they could express themselves, have an opinion and share experiences. NRI prepared us all well to work, not just within UK or European industry regulations, but globally. Now that I’m working again, I can appreciate how important that was because knowing the requirements worldwide and being able to assess and implement what’s best gives you a real head start in this industry.

I graduated in 2014 and returned to work at Grupo Bimbo, my old company, and because I had my Master’s I was given the opportunity to become the regional manager for food safety and quality for all of Mexico. I held that position for four-and-a-half years and right now I am the Global Manager for the Technical Services Team, so I am very satisfied. Thanks to NRI, I learned how to take a regulation and apply it to all parts of the food operation, a really useful and transferable skill.

When I was at school, I always wanted to be a scientist and my current job certainly fulfills a large part of that ambition. But it’s better in a way, because I can see and get results very rapidly in my industry, which I like. I learned at NRI never to be satisfied with only one piece of research or one or two references. It was drilled into all of us to be curious, search things out and question everything, and that scientific rigour is part of what satisfies the little Ana Cristina that still exists within me, the grown-up version!

I love my career; the food industry is very small and everyone knows everyone. We all share a passion for food safety and quality, it drives us all, every day.

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