Grace’s Eurosense report


3d0c7c0E3S Student Award 2014 – Report from Eurosense

Grace Tan Hui Shan, Wageningen University, The Netherlands, awarded for her poster entitled:
Exploring the psychology and product factors underlying the acceptance and rejection of edible insects amongst Thai and Dutch consumers

By Grace Tan Hui Shan

This was my first attendance at a Eurosense conference, and it certainly has been a humbling and inspiring experience. While I try my best to understand what I don’t, what really expanded my horizons was the exposure to knowledge that I was not aware of, and to perspectives that I could never have myself thought of. This is to me one of the most gratifying aspects of attending an international conference—that in convening with people from different disciplinary and cultural backgrounds, I have become more aware of the boundaries of my knowledge and personal biases, and can look upon research with new eyes. What an exciting time it has been, and I am very grateful to have had the opportunity to connect with and exchange ideas with other researchers in the field. A couple of days have passed since the end of the conference, and as I flip through my book of notes and reflections, it impressed upon me how three days could make such an impact on one’s thoughts and emotions. I would like to share with you here some of the things that were memorable and that have left a deep impression on me.

grace 1 My window to the scientific world as a student has been mainly through literature that I read. From the serious tone of scholarly articles, it is easy to form a mental picture of stern academics guarding their beliefs, a far cry from what Eurosense was in reality – a lively and bustling setting where ideas are exchanged with enthusiasm. I enjoyed very much the collaborative spirit and atmosphere, and the willingness to share knowledge and give advice. I am also thrilled to have the opportunity to meet the authors of the literature that have inspired me to delve into this field in the first place, and not to mention, to share our perspectives over excellent food and wine (and fish swimming in the background). I have learned a lot about the challenges of working in this field, and while these realizations initially brought about moments of frustration and self-hatred, through them I gained many new insights on how to improve and make the necessary steps forward.

While I began my university education and training in food chemistry and nutrition, I realized at some point that understanding food properties and their interactions with the human body is insufficient to navigate the complexities involved in influencing people towards healthier choices. This complexity was nicely highlighted during the conference, where issues ranging from consumer behavior and the difficulties of measuring sensory perception were covered. I particularly enjoyed the day of the conference where topics were addressed in relation to health and quality of life across the lifespan. I learned that consumers do not think the way experts do, and that they also do not necessarily respond in the way experts expect them to. I also appreciate that much attention was paid to the challenges due to individual differences in perception and difficulties in devising methods to reliably and consistently measure perceptions, but at the same time that also left me pondering about what mechanisms underlie these differences in perception and what are the implications of these findings? I am curious to see more research in the future that measures the correspondence between reported preferences and actual behavior.

There were indeed many takeaways from the conference. grace 2While I initially approached it with specific research problems I wanted to answer, ultimately I was rewarded with much more than I could have expected. As a PhD student, it is easy to get lost and trapped within project-specific issues and bouts of attempts to save the situation after things have gone ‘wrong’. I realized at Eurosense the importance of recognizing where we as junior researchers stand in the big picture and the challenges in experimental design and data analysis, in order for current research to be purposefully designed. On this note, I was particularly inspired by the final keynote by Sara Jaeger where she put the issues of the field in perspective and gave indications on interesting and impactful ways to proceed with our research. Coming from an Asian background, and having lived several years in Europe, I also related very much to her call for more cross-cultural research. The current focus of sensory and consumer science is based largely on consumers in Western societies, where the socio-cultural meanings underlying food and food behaviors differ greatly from how I have experienced it in Asia. Earlier this year, I was fortunate to have a chance to attend SenseAsia in my home country, where many Europeans were present, and thus I have high hopes to see more Asians presenting research at future Eurosense conferences.

I had a very rewarding time in Copenhagen meeting with people who share a common passion, and it was also great catching up with ex-classmates and colleagues. While I enjoy doing research very much, doing it together with other passionate and humorous people adds to the joy and the creative spirit. My wish is for other students to have the opportunity to be inspired by a conference at an early stage of their research, at a time when a broad knowledge of the field can have a strong impact on how one approaches the science. At the same time, I recognize that conferences are costly and support for student attendance is very special. I would like to express my gratitude to E3S for supporting my attendance at EuroSense. I have been extremely fortunate to be chosen from many other excellent candidates. I am feeling encouraged and excited to strive onwards, and I hope to see everyone again very soon!