Martha Skinner, AJ Banks Travel Bursary recipient, reports

In 2016, Martha Skinner was awarded an SCI Travel Bursary to attend the Eurosense 7th European Conference on Sensory and Consumer Research, which was held between 11 and 14 September 2016 in Dijon, France. Below, she tells us about the networking experiences she gained at the conference that allowed her to gain an insight into some of the European companies that she could consider for employment in the future.

‘I am a final year Food Science PhD student at the University of Nottingham. I am conducting a multi-disciplinary PhD which explores taste sensitivity by using Sensory Science to collect the perceptual response to taste, and functional Magnetic Resonance Imaging (fMRI) to measure the brain response. This involves an exciting collaboration between the Sensory Science Centre and Sir Peter Mansfield Imaging Centre at the University of Nottingham. I was delighted to be awarded the AJ Banks Travel Bursary, which offered a generous £850 towards expenses for my attendance of the Eurosense 7th European Conference on Sensory and Consumer Research held from 11-14 September 2016.

‘This year the conference was held in the beautiful location of Dijon, France. With 250 poster presentations, 8 invited speakers, and a broad range of oral presentations covering topics ranging from sensory fundamentals such as physiology, psychology and psychophysics, to challenges in sensory analysis with non-food products, it is no surprise that it attracted 664 delegates.

‘The scientific quality throughout was of a particularly high standard and exceeded my expectations. I felt privileged that my abstract to deliver an oral presentation was accepted, and, as this was my first presentation at an international conference, the experience was both exciting and nerve racking! My research explores variation in taste sensitivity across different taste phenotypes and genotypes, and my presentation (titled Mapping the brain response to ‘phantom’ taste in thermal tasters) focused on a fascinating group of the population who are termed thermal tasters because they perceive ‘phantom’ taste sensations when there is no chemical stimuli in the mouth, but when the tongue is simply warmed or cooled to certain temperatures using a temperature thermode. Literature shows 20-50% of the population experience these phantom tastes, so you may well be one yourself! Presenting my work allowed me to gain valuable feedback from professionals working on this area which gave me new insights and ideas to consider when interpreting my results, and during the remainder of my PhD.

‘Attending the conference not only provided the opportunity to present my work, it also offered many other benefits; the schedule included 2 workshops focused on taste sensitivity, which I was really pleased to be able to attend as this is very closely related to my project. The sessions included a total of 12 talks that all had relevance to my own research and thus gave me a great insight into what other research groups are currently working on. Gaining knowledge from other researchers exploring taste perception will influence my own work on this area, such as giving consideration to new methods of data collection. I’m group coordinator of the European Sensory Science (E3S) Student Group which has a committee of student representatives and student members from 11 different countries across Europe.

I organised a social gathering during the conference where the E3S students could get to know each other and discuss the progression of the group. The meeting was well attended by 16 students and was a rare and valuable opportunity as we usually rely on communicating via email and Skype. I really enjoyed putting a face to the names, getting to know people and hear about their projects. Although the conference schedule was very busy I did get time to network with other sensory professionals (often over a coffee and French pastry!) which was particularly useful to me as I’ll be completing my PhD in 2017 so it’s important to start meeting prospective employers and assessing the job market and options that will be available to me. Networking at this international conference allowed me to gain an insight to some of the European companies that I could consider for employment in the future.

‘On top of the poster sessions, invited talks, and parallel oral presentation sessions there were also a number of other activities offered throughout the conference which included 4 Sensometrics tutorials , and on the afternoon of Wednesday 14th September after the official conference closing ceremony attendees were invited to visit the Chemosens Platform at the Centre for Taste and Feeding Behaviour (CSGA) in Dijon. Here, they could see the facilities and attend presentations on different sensory methodologies including those suitable for data collection with children.

‘However, the organisers also provided a superb social programme which insured the event was definitely not all work and no play! This included wine and cheese tasting with produce from the local region, a walking tour around the picturesque sights of Dijon. The gala dinner was held in the stunning Palace of the Dukes and, after a superb meal, we danced the night away at the after dinner disco located at the Cellier de Clairvaux!’

Martha Skinner
PhD Student, University of Nottingham

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