Greater Challenges Greater Opportunities: Grace’s Career Journey as a Food Scientist

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Passion led us here. Source: Ian Schneider on Unsplash

“Achieving our goals in study and career involve complex challenges and struggles. However, these challenges indeed force us to tap into our creativity to surmount them.”

“In this article, Grace Mellisa Arifin, a Bachelor of Science (Food Science) graduate at The University of Melbourne, shared her experiences in overcoming struggles in study and career that led her to start her professional career as a food scientist in Australia.” 

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Grace and her decisions in study and career

When I was a child, being under the care of my parents was the safest choice in life. Life was good, and I would never want to stay away from them. However, staying in a comfort zone might not be too good for my personal growth.

In order to ensure that I grow to be an independent and reliable woman, my parents made a tough decision to send me off for school to a foreign neighbourhood country – Singapore. It was a challenging moment of my life as I was only 13 years old.

Grace completed her study at The University of Melbourne. Source: Personal documentation
Grace completed her study at The University of Melbourne. Source: Personal documentation

After completing my secondary school and diploma in Singapore, I faced another major choice in life. What’s next? Many people have different opinions and thoughts about education. Some said that I should try applying to study in Singapore universities. Others said that I should experience a university education in the USA. I had a massive dilemma in choosing the field of study for my major and the place to embark on my university life. It dawned upon me that others are entitled to their opinions, but ultimately I am the one who has to decide on what I truly want. This is my life. I have to take ownership of it.

I was blessed to have options to choose whether I should continue my bachelor’s degree in Singapore, the USA, or Australia. I did a lot of research and consulted my relatives who already made their education choices earlier on in life. After weighing the options and much consideration, I decided to go to Melbourne in Australia. Thank God that I got accepted into Melbourne University in 2015 to further my study in Bachelor of Science with a major in Food Science.

In the final year of my study, I was offered a position in a protein bar company. This company is called Sun Health Foods. I worked as a Quality Assurance Officer. I learned many invaluable lessons and techniques under the guidance and mentoring of more senior people than me in the industry. I was doing my best to absorb as much as I could like a sponge.

Farewell picture with the owner of Sun Health Foods. Source: Personal documentation
Farewell picture with the owner of Sun Health Foods. Source: Personal documentation

Others might have seen my growth spurt as I was trusted with a golden opportunity to take over the position of Quality Assurance Manager within four months of joining the company. It was indeed one of the most challenging times for me as I was in charge of the food safety audit; which was a crucial audit to put produced goods on the shelves of supermarkets. Being a fresh graduate with limited experience in the field, I spent a lot of my time doing a lot of readings on food safety codes. I would want to live up to the trust that others have put in me and wish to excel in the audit. In that year of 2016, we obtained a staggering score of 98% for the audit. It is the highest score that the company has ever achieved under my care.

An unexpected turn

Who knows that coming early into office would turn my life around? Indeed, my life went on an unexpected turn when I came very early to the office and met a man who was also waiting for the office gate to be opened. While waiting, we chatted about the food industry and trends in the market. It was not within my expectation that this man turned out to be one of the business owners of a Kombucha factory.

Developed the first alcoholic kombucha. Source: Personal documentation
Developed the first alcoholic kombucha. Source: Personal documentation

Kombucha is a fermented tea, flavoured and very well received as a healthy beverage in Australia. He was looking for a Quality Assurance Manager and Food Scientist for his new company. I was delighted when he offered me the position. I just could not refuse his offer! I consulted my seniors at Sun Health Foods, and they encouraged me to quench my thirst for knowledge in the beverage industry. They were pleased and grateful for the improvement and changes that I have done throughout the time I was working in the protein bar company. I trained one of my juniors to take over my position in Sun Health Foods and embarked on a new journey with the beverage company.

I worked in the kombucha business with Beverage Technologies Australia for about two years. During that period, I was entrusted with doing formulation for alcoholic kombucha, fermented pineapple, ginger, and many other flavorings. A plethora of responsibilities was given to me since I was working directly under the command of the company’s CEO. Seeing the products that I developed from bench scale to shelves of supermarkets is one of the most exciting experiences that I would not want to trade with anything else. I did fail many times while experimenting on products, and my supervisor / CEO was so patient in guiding me to ensure that we completed the project smoothly.

Working in this beverage company was definitely a step harder as compared to the previous one. I took the challenge to juggle between developing new products and maintaining the quality aspect of the products. These are both crucial points in ensuring the success of the project. I had to manage my time wisely and ensure that all detailed works for the projects were done within the strict timeline given by the clients. I leveled up my game and stayed focus to achieve success.

Attended 128th China import and export event on food packaging. Source: Personal documentation
Attended 128th China import and export event on food packaging. Source: Personal documentation

In my first year of working in Beverage Technologies Australia, I tried to apply for Permanent Residency (PR) in Australia. I was told that it was going to be difficult as the Australian government was only giving out a limited number of PR visas at that time. Thus, it would be impossible for me to be granted one. I witnessed when all of my friends started to pack their belongings to go back to Indonesia because their VISA had expired while they were waiting for the government to grant their PR application.

Despite all the negativity and knowing that there was absolutely no ground for me to hope on, I prayed. Months after months had passed, and I kept on hoping for the impossible. Eight months after my PR application, the Government of Australia granted me Permanent Residence in the country.  I could not forget the miracle that happened amid the pandemic in June 2019. This miracle has opened up my eyes. This has made me believe that there is still a calling and a purpose for me to stay in Australia.

Working in an international company

Doing experiment and testing beverage in Beverage Technologies Australia. Source: Personal documentation
Doing experiment and testing beverage in Beverage Technologies Australia. Source: Personal documentation

In May 2021, I was offered a position in an international company– Olam Orchards. This is a private labelling company on a much larger scale. After much contemplation, I decided to join them in June 2021. It is a totally different dynamic from working in a small family-owned beverage company to working in a well-known international group. I need to pick up on many other skills, be agile and adapt to the new culture.

I firmly believe that if God has sustained me through all the challenges that I have faced up until this moment, He will definitely sustain me till the end. At the end of the day, it is profoundly satisfying to realize what I have achieved thus far. Adding values to the companies, becoming the channel of blessings to the life of others through the products made, and improving myself in the process of it.

Though the path crossed might be bumpy rides, I am sure that I will learn and grow to stretch my own capacity throughout the journey. The end of a beautiful destination is the beginning of a new challenge.

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