Jean McPolin considered studying dairy business or primary school teaching but was drawn to University College Cork’s Bachelor of Science in Food Marketing and Entrepreneurship degree programme.
With her sights set on the food industry, the 22-year-old enrolled in the four-year course in 2017, following the completion of her Leaving Certificate.
“I have always been a ‘foodie’. There has always been an interest in food, its origin and how it is produced from a very young age.” she explained to Catherina Cunnane, editor of That’s Farming.
“I recall attending many of the National Ploughing Championships and being amazed by the range of food produce exhibited on the day - these events really did open my eyes.”
“Researching small businesses, their backgrounds and how they have grown from indigenous companies to global-scale businesses has always been an interest of mine.” the Blarney, Co. Cork native added.
Jean was introduced to her current course by a career guidance councillor at Coláiste Choilm when she was in fifth-year.
Over the months that followed, she forged a connection with students who were undertaking the programme at the time, as well as graduates. “By doing so, I got an insight into their experience of the course itself and their career journey after graduation.”
“A close family friend, whose career is immersed in the food industry, highlighted the endless opportunities that arise from being part of the Irish food industry.”
“Upon hearing the great experiences and opportunities available through working in the Irish food sector, it made my decision much easier when filling out my CAO.”
The modules in the course are broad, ranging from business law and accounting, to global food policy, microbiology, and nutrition. “The course marries both food science and business studies in a way which is different to any other course on offer around the country,” she added.
A core part of the programme is work placement which takes place in the second semester of third year. Unfortunately, due to Covid-19 circumstances, this year’s placements did not go ahead as planned.
“Thankfully, my class completed our exams in early March before the lockdown was introduced. It is unfortunate that our placements couldn’t go ahead."
"Instead, the class had the option of either finding an alternative placement or completing a research project.” the 22-year-old explained.
Luckily, Jean secured a placement with Kinsale Gin based in Cork where she is working remotely from home. “I personally find that hands-on, practical experience is vital, going forward, in the food industry.”
“The course enables students to gain an in-depth insight into all aspects of the national and international food industries.”
Last summer, she completed a six-week internship with Musgrave on the Tramore Road in Cork, where she worked with the own-brand product development team consisting of marketers, technicians, graphic designers, and food scientists.
“While there, I had the opportunity to experience the journey that products take to eventually land on supermarket shelves - it is a long and tedious process which I now appreciate.”
“The course is very enjoyable - It is very practical which allows us to apply our learnings to every day life which is paramount,” explained Jean, who was awarded the title of college scholar based on her performance in last year’s examinations.
“The fact that the course is small, approximately 32 students in each year group, allows us to get to know other students in different year groups quite well.”
“Most lecturers know us by name which is very rare in other courses which have a larger head-count.”
Once she has attained her undergraduate degree, Jean plans to undertake a graduate programme with an Irish food company, with a view to becoming part of a firm which brings Irish food produce overseas to the ever-expanding market.
She also hopes to study a masters and to have the opportunity to travel abroad to experience the ways in which other countries produce, market, and sell their food produce.
“A career in marketing is most certainly on the cards. Global food trends are constantly changing which makes investigating the marketplace very interesting."
"The future of Ireland’s food industry is bright and is something I want to be a part of. With the current global pandemic, as well as the recent implementation of Brexit affecting our trading with the UK, I look forward to finding alternative markets for our premium Irish produce.” Jean concluded.
If you are a third-level student and you want to share your story, email – firstname.lastname@example.org