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An Academic’s Polar Plunge into the World of Food Safety Strategy

What happens when the mid-career blues knock on the door, and you yearn for an adventure to shake things up? In the fast-paced world of food safety, chaos is the melody that keeps many of us in tune. The busier, the better—the more challenges, the calmer the mind. For those who share this sentiment, the idea of a routine job can be stifling. And in my role as an Associate Professor and Extension Specialist at Virginia Tech, I would not say my job is stifling, but I did get the itch to sneak a peek beyond my comfort zone. My name is Laura, and I am deeply passionate about food safety and wear every hat in life a little better because of it. As the monotony of the everyday began to encroach, a serendipitous encounter with Jennifer McEntire presented an opportunity for a new adventure—an exploration into the realm of a food safety consultant.


The decision to embark on this journey was fueled by curiosity and a desire to understand the nuances of other food safety roles. What is the day-to-day like compared to a university research and extension job? How can one improve their craft by stepping outside their comfort zone? As Benjamin Franklin wisely said, “Tell me and I forget, teach me and I may remember, involve me and I learn.” And so, armed with enthusiasm and a thirst for knowledge, I took the plunge into the world of Food Safety Strategy.


The experience so far can be likened to a polar plunge—refreshing yet simultaneously shocking. Each client and each project have provided a unique experience on the vast buffet of food safety challenges. Lessons learned have been both reflective and practical:

  1. Listen with Intention:

  • In the diverse landscape of food safety, understanding client needs is paramount.

  • Tailoring solutions requires a keen ear and a collaborative mindset.

2.      Balance Excellence and Speed:

  • Striking the right balance between delivering excellent work and meeting deadlines is an art.

  • Efficiency is key in a world where time is money.

3.      Embrace Urgency:

  • Thriving in an environment of urgency has been a revelation.

  • The unpredictability keeps the energy high and the work exciting.

 

One month in, I reflect on the variety, the constant stream of requests for Food Safety Strategy assistance, and the addictive nature of the work. The cases and projects have yet to be mundane, reaffirming a love for the urgency that fuels productivity and purpose.


The experience has not only broadened my professional horizons but has also brought into focus the importance of time management. Tracking hours has been challenging, forcing a reevaluation of efficiency and purpose in every pursuit. The consultant’s mastery of time management becomes crucial for maintaining a sustainable workload. Beyond the comforts of a familiar sector (academia) or a specific piece of the food safety pie (produce), I have rediscovered the joys of the whole food safety pie. It’s akin to rediscovering a favorite pastime, where the question arises, “Why don’t I do this more often?” The diversity and cross-disciplinary work are brain candy - generating so many ideas that I now can’t even remember feeling any mid-career blues (but inspiration to take action)!


As the year draws to a close and thoughts turn to New Year’s Resolutions, I leave readers with a challenge—to take a version of the polar plunge. What adventure awaits you in the coming year? It’s a call to embrace the unknown, step outside the comfort zone, and discover the refreshing shock of walking in someone else’s shoes.

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