Friday, January 01, 2021
Working with a hugely diverse group of people from all over the world and collaborating with fellow scientists is the key motivator for Wilson. He’s fascinated by the complexities of flavour and really gets a buzz from his work: "My interest is to walk down the aisle of a supermarket and see products I've worked on appearing on the shelf!"
What is Your Career Path to Date?
I did my Bachelor's degree in Chemistry in Singapore, my home country, and then moved on to Food Science and Technology for my PhD, which was mainly in the area of modulating flavour profiles of coffee with fermentation.
I started my career at the Nestlé Research Center in Lausanne, Switzerland and had spent two years there when I heard from an ex- colleague about an opportunity at Mondelēz International. My wife and I decided that we wanted to settle down back in Singapore and I was offered the role with an aspect of research I wanted to explore.
The role is very challenging – I thought I was too young to get it. But it gives me the freedom to express myself and it allows me to learn more about flavor. I’m fascinated by flavor profiles, what different components can do, and how to differentiate flavors from each other. At the moment I'm enjoying it very much.
What Do You Do All Day?
My role has a laboratory component, because we are always trying to test ideas and concepts; to prove our concepts and put them into a prototype, to see if what we are thinking of will work.
Flavor is a complex area which is influenced so much by consumer choices. We need to have something tangible and we are consumers ourselves, so we test out the concepts that we have; we look at new ideas and at what is available in the market.
Consumer experiences are becoming more and more important for food companies, so there's always an emphasis on flavor development and that’s where I come in. What I would normally work on is a particular ingredient: is there any way we can change it with different processes, to modify it and deliver what consumers are wanting?
What Sort of Products Do You Work On?
My role does not limit me to one particular category, but in our group the emphasis is on cocoa at the moment. Eventually we will extend to other categories, for example biscuits, candy and gum.
What Makes Your Work Rewarding?
In my job I do lots of experiments, trying to determine the impacts different processes have on flavor profiles. It’s not often you make a big discovery. Most days we are taking small steps, but the surprise factor when you succeed – that motivates me!
My interest is to walk down the aisle of a supermarket and see products I've worked on appearing on the shelf. Nobody would know that you've done it but it's a pleasure to see things on sale that you put an effort into.
Is Your Work Collaborative?
I’m based in Singapore, but there are colleagues who are sitting globally. Although some of us haven’t yet met, I feel a strong sense of inclusiveness. The team includes people from different cultures, with different backgrounds and habits, and we have to collaborate. This is very challenging and interesting.
Colleagues in the lab here are mainly scientists working on other areas and we each occupy a specific position in the value chain. I talk to scientists downstream and others upstream, so you get this whole flow of information, which is a joy.
You might focus on your area, but you learn things from other areas, which is always very exciting. I’d like to build in-depth technical expertise and when I have enough knowledge, I would like to have the opportunity to take on a leadership role.
Can You Describe the Working Environment?
It's a very diverse group of men and women here, but it's a good mix. I think working with people from different cultural backgrounds means people bring different things to the table.
We have to be very flexible with working hours because of time zone differences, but we can arrange our work based around our schedules. For example, if I have calls in the evening, I can go in late the next day.
This is a really nice place to work. It's quite a new facility – a large, airy, open office - just over one year old. Analytical and other laboratories are next to me so I can often see what they’re doing and bring samples to them. There’s a high level of interaction, even within the labs.