Post of the Month: July 2020

The Reflections of a Lecturer, PhD Researcher and Masters student during COVID-19

Dr. Paula Conroy, Lecturer at Galway Mayo Institute of Technology (GMIT), Ireland

Christina Dietz, Sensory and Brewing Science PhD student at the University of Nottingham, UK

Eunan Doherty, Student Applied Sports Nutrition, GMIT, Ireland

The year 2020 has unfolded in a way no one could ever have predicted. In a time where social distancing has become the new norm and individuals are more cautious than ever before, the academic life for students and lectures is very different to that of six months ago. Prior to the COVID-19 outbreak, face to face interactions with lecturers, academic staff and students was the manner in which the majority of students learned.

Any questions could be queried directly with any member of staff during or after classes. This learning process was through a magnitude of channels, including tutorials, labs and lectures. As our programme emphasizes student interactions, we needed to carefully (but quickly) examine how to keep the heart of our teaching/learning approaches online. Staff worked intensively with the administrative staff at GMIT to make this happen. Lectures needed to be tactical and find the most successful approach for their students in a very short period.

Teaching was all directed to online mediums. Within a short space of time delivering classes through Teams and Zoom became the new norm. However, we had several fresh challenges to bring our lectures online, as we needed to accommodate a much larger number of participants and had various student interactions such as case discussions, role play, and group discussions. Student engagement and participation is always key to ensuring a successful learning experience, however this can be compromised through teaching online. By keeping the classes interactive by engaging with different learning resources, discussion forums and communicating well with the class this was achieved.

Establishing online etiquette was intrinsic to the smooth running of classes. When students had a question, they would raise their hand using the ‘hands up function’ on Teams, all microphones would be muted, and cameras would be turned on during role call. Labs had to be directed online. One such lab I designed and conducted was with the MSc. Applied Sports Nutrition was the design and development of a sensory enhanced health bar for athletes. The student’s objective was to develop a sensory enhanced ‘health bar’ which would be suitable for the students chosen athletic target audience.

Different learning outcomes from this exercise was to gain a greater insight into the following:

  • Product development e.g. new products
  • Changes in recipe & production process
  • Quality control e.g. raw ingredients & products
  • Benchmarking e.g. comparing to the competition
  • Problem solving e.g. off-flavours & taints
  • Shelf life testing e.g. best before date

The students developed and reformulated traditional recipes to increase protein, decrease fat, increase fibre etc to cater for their target consumers.  The nutrition content of the bars was researched and nutrition labels were designed by the students. They also came up with a mood board on Padlet software whereby they designed the packaging of their finished product. The students performed hedonic sensory analysis. They examined attributes such as appearance, aroma, flavour and oral texture. All of which was conducted at the student’s home with their housemates or family being their sensory panel assessors. The students then came up with their own sales pitch which was delivered on Teams. The students established health claims associated with the health bar, costings of manufacture and sales prices. The students really embraced their new lab style. They developed health bars ranging from cyclists to school children’s vending machines and really took on the role of a Sensory Scientist in their own home. A few months ago, conducting such a lab would seem merely impossible outside the traditional laboratory, however I feel creativity in strenuous situations can always accomplish an outcome.

COVID-19 has presented many challenges for students and staff alike. However, a lot of these challenges were to our advantage. One such advantage is our upskilling in technology enhanced learning. Learning in the last few months has become interactive and accessible to every student across the country and globally. Although it does not replace face to face interactions and the experience of College life for students, it does contribute some advances in the way we teach and learn

Written by:

Dr. Paula Conroy, Lecturer at Galway Mayo Institute of Technology (GMIT) Ireland

There is no doubt that the COVID-19 pandemic has affected our everyday lives and will further change the future. In response to the social distancing rules at work, school and university closures and travel bans, it changed the way we communicate, work, lead, study, and let us question whether we actually need to meet in-person to solve this business problem. What became quite obvious during the past months is that in many cases it is actually possible to manage work from home and that Microsoft Teams, Microsoft Skype, Zoom Video Conferencing and other providers are very useful communication tools helping us to save a lot of time.

It was quite exciting that my inbox literally got flooded with offers for free or reduced-fee online courses, webinars, and virtual networking events at the start of the lockdown. So far, I could choose between more than 30 different webinars – all relevant for my current research projects or my professional development. Do you want to learn more about a sensory or a statistical analysis software? You could be sure that Compusense, XLSTAT, IBM SPSS and various other re-known providers had a suitable offer in their newsletters. National institutes, companies and societies offer webinars to diverse topics or relocating whole conferences into the digital world. Many of these online events adapt topics relevant to the current situation. For instance, the Institute of Food Science and Technology (IFST) host a Sensory Science Group Webinar on the 30th July on how to conduct sensory and consumer research during lockdown ( 

Thinking about my voluntary work and political engagement, all of a sudden I had access to meetings and debates for which I previously had to commute to another city, or even to another country. It seems that the current digital development is bringing us a little closer while we are asked to ‘socially distance’ from each other. Nevertheless, all of us crave for real-life coffee breaks with our colleagues and the after-work pint in the pub next door. Moreover, it was found that an overload of online meetings can cause tiredness and exhaustion, a phenomenon that got the name “video call fatigue”. It is certainly important to find a balance between in-person events and interacting virtually.

Written by:

Christina Dietz, Sensory and Brewing Science PhD student at the University of Nottingham, UK

My name is Eunan Doherty from Donegal, Ireland and I’m currently studying a Masters in Applied Sports & Exercise Nutrition.  I spent four years in IT Sligo, Ireland where I completed my Undergraduate Degree in Human Nutrition. 

I have always been interested in Nutrition from the basic principles of dieting to the laboratory specific testing carried out in food production.  I enjoy the prospect of working with athletes in the future yet I would also be interested in working in a laboratory setting if the opportunity were to arise. 

It’s been around four months since I found myself in a hotel room preparing for the first lab sessions of the semester.  This would be one of two sessions throughout the semester and is always a great time to meet with lecturers and classmates face-to-face.  The following day had began like any other session, a quick coffee and a catch up before getting down to business.  It was shortly after midday when the news was brought to us that we would not be able to complete our labs that day or the following day and the session was concluded.  This was the first direct impact that COVID-19 had on any of us.  It was unfamiliar territory for everyone and the worry of what was to come was starting to grow.  Questions were being asked that nobody could give a definitive answer to yet;  What does this mean for our lab assessments? How will this impact our marks and grades? What are we going to have to do to make up for it? etc.  It was hard to forecast the full impact the pandemic was going to have and the only benefit was that our lectures were able to continue as normal. 

Back at home places began to slowly close down from bars, shops, gyms, sports clubs and shortly the “lockdown” was in full effect.  Safe at home and not stuck at home was the message relayed to me every day from family members and my college work was the only sense of “normal” life I still had and for once felt grateful for having plenty to do.  My lecturers had settled the nerves and cleared the grey areas surrounding the coursework which took away concerns that admittedly were beginning to grow in the back of my head.  With the coursework all mapped out and a finishing line for the semester in sight, everything had appeared to be straightforward. 

The biggest barrier I had to tackle was motivation.  It wasn’t usually something I contended with as I had been completing lectures and coursework online for 6 months at this stage.  I think with everything being shut down and the 2km travel limit in play,  the motivation to really do anything wasn’t really there.  No gyms or leisure centers to occupy any spare time and training for football teams was also off-limits.  These were all great schedule fillers in between doing lectures and completing coursework, but my motivation had left me just as they had left my daily routine.  From playing scrabble with my parents to doing online 5km challenges nothing was the same.  I have to credit my classmates more than most as the constant communication we share over our WhatsApp group had finally got me going to get my work done.  Whether it was sitting on together on Microsoft teams going over coursework or just casual conversations on how to approach some assignments.  My motivation had slowly began to return. 

I must also credit my lecturers as extensions were given when needed and any issues were dealt with.  One of the highlights of the semester has to be an online sensory lab where we had to develop our own health bars and carry out sensory testing on our products with the little resources we had.  It was a great experience carrying out sensory testing like the Hedonic Scale test and seeing how its applied practically.  With my research project commencing in early September, I look forward to exploring the sensory science and its place among a sporting population.  I have experienced sensory analysis in my undergraduate studies and look forward to experimenting with it again.  It should be interesting to explore the sensory perceptions and taste preferences of athletes and it’s a challenge I look forward to.   It has been a strange semester in strange times and one I won’t forget in a hurry.  I hope some normality can return and I can achieve the targets put in front of me.

Written by:

Eunan Doherty, Student Applied Sports Nutrition, GMIT, Ireland.

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