Now a Professor in Food Structure and Head of Division of Food Sciences at The University of Nottingham, Professor Tim Foster believes his past industry experience helped accelerate his academic career.
When his PhD raised interesting possibilities for Unilever, Tim went into industry and became a “died-in-the-wool company man”, enjoying over 15 years carrying out research that felt more akin to a passion than work. After relocating to the Netherlands in 2003, Tim’s role evolved towards strategy and partnership building and away from day to day research, motivating him to return his family to the UK and take up an academic position with The University of Nottingham.
“Skills learned in industry informed my teaching, benefiting students with cutting-edge critical thinking in food and food science… An understanding of industry challenges over longer-term, strategic matters helps develop relevant research agendas, and people management skills enable me to build successful networks and collaborations.”
Originally applying for a Professorship, Tim accepted an offer of Reader as his publication record did not meet Chair-level expectations despite his industry patents: “I was immediately required to research and publish in high quality journals, and set about applying for funding to support a new research group.”
Despite this relatively slow start – “it took two to three years to settle in” – Tim’s funding success catapulted him to Head of the Division of Food Sciences and he gained his Chair within seven years of re-entry to academia. He is now Director of the EPSRC Centre for Innovative Manufacturing in Food, collaborating with the University of Birmingham, Loughborough University and 70 industrial members.
Commenting on the differences between academia and industry, Tim reflects: “Academia faces an issue around promotion based on personal contribution alone rather than including contribution to teams. While collaboration is beginning to be recognised, it will be necessary to reward people in different ways in future.” Tim also believes that the translation of research into business requires ‘intelligent receivers’: “people in industry that speak the language of academia, and vice versa.”