Helen Coulson

Helen Coulson

What did you do after graduation?

My first role after graduation was at the Lever Faberge factory in R&D in Leeds.  I was a new product development scientist working on Sure antiperspirants. Whilst there I applied for a graduate position at Nestle and in September 2001 I started working at the Rowntree’s site in York in the production function.  On the graduate scheme I undertook a series of placements the first being as a team leader on the Aero Plant followed by a stint down in London at the Hayes factory where I worked for the industrial performance team implementing lean ways of working in the factories.  Finally I moved back to York and into the Scientific and Technical function, where I was the quality representative for a number of plants including Kit Kat, Yorkie and Drifter.  Having completed the graduate scheme, I went on to work in packaging for a short time before leaving Nestle in 2004 with a hunger to work more directly with food and specifically product development.  I then started a role with Kellogg’s as a Food Technologist based in the innovation area of the Research and Technology department at their headquarters in Manchester which is where I am currently.

What does your current role involve?

I work predominantly on the cereals side of Kellogg’s, creating the future of all our brands through innovation across the European market. We also cover renovation of existing products, some cost optimisation and technical support for all our factories.  What I do day to day is quite diverse; it can be making small scale prototypes in our pilot plant, running trials in our factories around Europe or even commissioning new equipment and plants.

Did having a Food Science degree help you get this job?

My degree certainly was key to getting my role at Kellogg’s. In the job description they required a degree in Food Science or equivalent but also wanted three years NPD experience.  I had had very little experience directly in that field to date but my degree and the fact it was a degree from Leeds University stood me in good stead and I got the job. I love the fact that I use my degree every day at work; there aren’t many people who can say that.

What are the links between your studies and your job?

All of the basic nutritional training is obviously key to what I do everyday as well as understanding the interactions of food and its components. Many of the modules directly apply to what I have to consider when I’m creating a new food, both in terms of what goes into the food, what will happen to it over time but also the processes used to make it.

What has been the highlight of your career so far?

I think every time I walk into the supermarket and see one of my products on the shelf and know what has gone into getting it there I feel a sense of achievement and pride.

How do you think that Food Science graduates would benefit from following your chosen career?

My role is ideal for Food Science graduates who are keen to work in new product development. It really uses what you have learned at university and gives you a very broad perspective of all aspects of the business as it touches so many of them; commercial, finance, production, supply chain.  It’s a fascinating and varied role and in my case has also afforded me a lot of travel both in Europe and the US.

Do you think that having a food science degree is of value to employers?

For what I do, I would have to say yes. It is a niche subject in some ways but you gain a very good general scientific background which can be applied in many other areas also. Food is such an important part of our lives though that it will always be very relevant in almost every industry.

What made you decide to study at Leeds?

Leeds was always my first choice and when I visited on the open day, it really confirmed my thoughts that it was the place for me. The course was perfect too in that it had a great balance of food science and technology as well as nutrition. I wanted to keep my options open and not major on nutrition as many of the food courses did then. On top of that I liked the city and all it had to offer.