I was asked to write a blog post about my transition from a military officer to going back to graduate school in food science. There are so many different aspects to this:
- transition from military to civilian
- transition from full time work to full time grad studying
- using a graduate degree as a springboard to change careers
- going back to school after almost a decade
- (most importantly) what I learned about food science along the way
This situation probably won’t fit many of you. I don’t know too many military members out there who are going into food science. In fact, there were only a couple who actually had a ballpark idea of what it was. Heck, up until about a year ago I didn’t know it was a thing.
Probably the most entertaining explanation I came across was from my Squadron Commander. “Clark Griswald! You’re gonna be like Clark Griswald.”
Me: *Quizzical look* ”Sir?”
SC: “Clark Griswald, from Christmas vacation. He made the coating so the cereal stayed crunchy.”
Me: “Yeah, sir. That’s my plan.”
So that’s where I’m going to focus this journey. How a B-52 Radar Navigator, acting as an Air Liaison Officer to the Army, preparing to go back to school as a physician’s assistant ended up going to graduate school for food science.
Since I’ve been in Germany I had a lot more free time than I have had in the past 6 years so I spent it in the kitchen. I started following chef’s such as Alton Brown and Kenji Lopez-Alt, admiring their pragmatic and scientific approaches to cooking. I’d spend whole weekends experimenting and making loads of food that I’d either eat for every meal until it ran out or bring into work for my shop to eat.
Everyone loves the boss who brings in treats, right? (It was probably more like “S*@!, the captain is using us as guinea pigs again”)
This is what it was like to have a passion?! This is what I’d been missing.
So now I had passion, but that’s about it.
I think there were a good couple of months where I was contemplating becoming a chef. Not to dissuade anyone who is thinking of doing that. I wish I had the courage to jump into that arena. The thing is the military paid me pretty well, and I’ve gotten used to nice things (healthcare, job security, etc.). While these things are definitely attainable as a chef, from what I understand it takes a while. I’m 31 and not getting any younger! So I was frantically trying to turn this passion into a job that paid well.
I don’t even remember how it happened, but I stumbled upon the profession of a research chef. Hours of googling and I found it. Later, I would join the Research Chefs Association and post a plea for someone to explain to me what this research chef thing was all about and how I get there.
The response from the community there was overwhelming, and I will always credit the RCA with getting this new career jump started.
I made a bunch of great contacts who were more than willing to chat on the phone or over email and provide advice to get this whole thing sorted. Kimberly is one of those contacts, and as you can see we still chat every now and then.
I started to get really smart on culinary science (Culinology as the RCA has recently coined it). I spent my weekends cooking, but now I was documenting it. I tried to make as many original recipe as I could. I used Cookpad
to document many of these recipes (if you’re interested that link will take you to my recipes).
A few months into my food science odyssey I started to focus on how to get into graduate school. I had no idea what food science actually entailed, so the majority of my most fruitful moves came later in the game.
Jon Valdez is a former Air Force officer
heading back to graduate school at University of Wisconsin-Madison to study
Food Science focusing on food chemistry and the health effects of
phytochemicals. He shares his experiences as a transitioning military officer
and food researcher here on PeasOnMoss. For more of his insights on the latest
in food science, nutrition, culinary science and general musings of a food
science graduate student visit his blog at foodplusscienceblog.wordpress.com