Volunteer Spotlight: Amanda Talhat

Article by Adam Duckett

Shining a light on the valuable work of IChemE volunteers

Amanda, until a few weeks ago, you were the Chair of IChemE’s Food & Drink Special Interest Group. Tell us a little about yourself.

I am currently based in Switzerland, and lead the Department of Technology at Nestlé Institute of Material Sciences here at Nestlé Research. We are a department of physicists, mathematicians and chemical engineers working at the forefront of food research to deliver cross-category solutions for the business. Prior to Nestlé, I worked at PepsiCo R&D Leicester. I studied natural sciences and later completed my PhD in Chemical Engineering and Biotechnology at Cambridge.

Why did you choose to study natural sciences?

I was always torn between biology and chemistry, so natural sciences was a good route into testing out the different options before I committed. In this case, I chose chemistry. I later switched to chemical engineering, so I can work on cocoa butter which is the key ingredient in chocolate. My doctorate was on the development of a real-time tool for studying the crystallisation behaviour of cocoa butter droplets, and then applying this to understand the impact of origin and processing conditions.

It seems a natural step, studying cocoa and then working for Nestlé

Yes, it would have been, but I was also curious to explore other industries. So upon finishing my PhD, I joined Cambridge Consultants to do both strategy consulting as well as technology development leveraging my chemistry/chemical engineering background. My projects ranged from developing innovation framework for radical innovation to point-of-dispense technologies for FMCG applications. It’s only after having tried out these industries that I realised my heart is still very much in food, and so I left my role in Cambridge Consultants to lead Physical Characterisation at PepsiCo R&D Leicester. I was later promoted to Technical PM in the Food Structure & Ingredient Sciences team before relocating to Switzerland to lead the Colloidal Systems Group at Nestlé Research.

How long had you been volunteering as SIG Chair?

I joined the Food & Drink SIG in February 2016, briefly took on the role of Secretary and became Chair in January 2018. After two years as Chair, and due to my increased responsibilities at work, I took the decision to step down and handed over the reins to Serafim Bakalis from the University of Nottingham.

Why do you choose to volunteer?

I have always been heavily involved in running extra-curricular clubs and activities throughout university, and that habit stuck. It was and still is a great development opportunity, and also an excellent way to network. But more recently, I volunteered because I genuinely cared about our mission and wanted to leverage this opportunity to encourage more young professionals to consider a career in food and drinks. It also helped that the SIG committee is full of wonderful characters who I enjoyed connecting and working with. Although I am no longer involved with the SIG, I still very much believe in the SIG’s mission and would highly encourage those that are interested to volunteer.

What skills have you found are required for successful volunteering?

Being able to strike a good balance between being proactive and being patient. Understanding that others are also volunteers and that sometimes, irrespective of how exciting your idea is, it will not be a priority for others unless you can excite them too.

What has been the most rewarding part of your volunteering experience?

Driving a cause that goes beyond my own professional career and giving back to the chemical engineering community. 

What is your proudest achievement to date in your life?

I used to have answers for these sort of questions along the lines of “being the youngest to do…” or “representing the group at …”. But these days, I am proud that I still wake up every morning looking forward to working and volunteering, that I enjoy every minute of my career.

And what is your proudest achievement to date in your personal life?

[Laughing]: That I have maintained a good work–life balance despite all these extracurricular activities!

What would we find you doing when you are away from work and not volunteering?

Now that I live in Switzerland, staying connected with friends is important. Then there’s sightseeing, and the thermal baths here are wonderful!

Finally, what advice would you have for others in the community who might be considering volunteering for IChemE?

Be clear on what you can commit in terms of time and energy, and also what you expect back. Take up roles or volunteer for activities which help you achieve your development goals. For example, organise conferences if you want to network, or organise webinars if you want to work on communication skills. Finally, there are no difficult people, just different priorities. Give others and yourself a break from time to time.

This the fifth article in a series that highlights the variety of work done by IChemE member volunteers.

To read more, visit the series hub 

Article by Adam Duckett

Editor, The Chemical Engineer

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