Successful work based study, Daniel Vera and Aurora Barraza on their experience

Daniel and Aurora have been Masters in AgriFood participants with the AgriFood Training Partnership for several years and have recently moved job roles from PepsiCo Leicester to Ferrero in Northern Italy. Both are originally from Mexico but have worked in Europe for eight and six years respectively. Daniel and Aurora recently took time from their busy schedules to talk with Deborah Kendale - business development and marketing manager for the AFTP about their experiences of combining a demanding career and part time studies with the AFTP.

Although you were both in work, what made you sign up for a part time Masters course?

Both Daniel and Aurora stated that the Advanced Training Partnerships were a great opportunity to continue their professional education and to achieve a degree in a different country from their original studies. Both agreed it was a huge challenge but it would definitely improve their C.V.

Daniel and Aurora were awarded bursaries which definitely had an impact on their decision because at the time they started their studies a 100% bursary was on offer, so it was a ‘no brainer’. Daniel went on to explain that their employer was unable to offer them financial support so the bursary was instrumental at the time. PepsiCo were able to support Daniel and Aurora with time and flexibility. ‘It was fantastic to understand that this bursary was available and also PepsiCo supported us evaluating and filling out the paper work that entitled us to get the bursary straight away.’

How have you found managing your work, personal and professional obligations? How do you effectively manage your time?

The first year was said to be the most challenging, because of adapting work life balance and it was also an intense year with the number of modules they completed. ‘We completed half of the masters in the first year. I must say it was a bit exhausting because basically we were really working hard and the only time we had to do modules and assignments was at the weekend.’

‘It was exhausting but at the same time I would say it was really good because Aurora was doing the course at the same time so both of us supported each other. We did manage to do a few things outside with friends, but at the same time we supported each other to make the combination work and with maximum flexibility in our personal and professional life.’

In their second and third year, the course was more flexible because the modules were further apart and it was possible to select modules according to their professional needs and availability. However both Daniel and Aurora had to provide a greater input at work, working additional hours and using some holiday for course attendance.

Do you feel that your studies have made a tangible difference to your performance at work –can you give an example?

In addition to the enhanced skill of managing work and study effectively; because of the nature of the work they were doing (which is research and development) the participants are able to apply the techniques learnt as a Masters student in the workplace. ‘One of the key things I took from my studies was making sure that I ask my team to do some research if we’re doing a trial or a recipe change or scouting a new ingredient. This is now fully researched prior to going to trial making sure they’re properly prepared. In practice this can mean we undertake five industrial trials rather than ten which obviously saves a lot of time and money.’

Which modules/courses have you enjoyed the most and have you obtained a tangible benefit from any of them?

Surprisingly from a research and development professional Daniel cited the module Agrifood supply chain strategy operations and management as a course which gave him a completely different perspective on his business and how the product reaches the market. ‘This is something that I don’t do on a day-to-day basis. I had to put myself in the Supply Chain team’s shoes making sure we understand the timeframes that they work to and the impact that decisions we make might have on getting a product launched.’

Both Daniel and Aurora agreed that the food science and sensory modules were or immediate benefit in their day to day roles, giving them a better understanding of scientific techniques and being able to apply them in product development and industry trials.

What aspects of your studies have you particularly enjoyed or found difficult?

Both Daniel and Aurora were very positive about the opportunity to ‘go back to school’ and to network and interact with colleagues from across the industry. They also both mentioned the flexibility and support offered by the AFTP programme in allowing them to continue their studies across a long timeframe and with different employers.

In terms of difficulty they both highlighted again the balancing required for work and study and in terms of specific modules -statistics was mentioned by both of them.

Do you have any tips for anyone considering a course of this nature?

Aurora was quick to point out how fast paced the agrifood industry is and the related advantages of updating your knowledge in line with those changes. In addition the flexibility of the course lends itself to full time professionals.’ It’s flexible enough for you to do within a few years, like we have already mentioned but yes I would recommend people to be very organised and be disciplined with the time that they think works best them. For us it was the weekend for some other people it might be after work.’

Daniel was more reflective on the personal growth he has achieved by undertaking this programmeSometimes people are afraid to take that step to go back to school or committing themselves to studying. There are so many positive things that come from the continuous improvement of your education background. From the personal perspective it’s the recognition and feeling that you have achieved something new.’

Both Daniel and Aurora are hoping to finish their Masters in AgriFood this year by completing their work based research project.

If you’d like to find out more details of the MSc in AgriFood and other postgraduate programmes and awards please visit our postgraduate awards pages or email us at info@aftp.co.uk

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