Experiencing the powerful impact of collaboration with industry

Ingeborg Haagsma-Boels, R&D Director at Westland Kaas, feels in her element working in consortia with academia and industry; something she became acquainted with during her time as a PhD fellow at TiFN; the food scientist looks back.

“While studying Food Technology in Wageningen, I did a Unilever internship”, she says. “I wanted to become a project leader, but learnt I needed a PhD first. So, after graduating in 1996, I immediately applied for PhD positions and soon joined NIZO food research in Ede.”

A year later, Haagsma-Boels was presented with “A great opportunity for me to expand my academic network into industry.” NIZO colleagues Willem de Vos and Michiel Kleerebezem invited her to join a research group at TiFN/Wageningen Centre for Food Sciences.

Metabolic engineering
Haagsma-Boels’ research focussed on the metabolic engineering of Lactococcus lactis. “I revealed the mechanisms of polysaccharide production (the long-tailed molecules that give yoghurt its creamy mouthfeel) by these bacteria and identified how to increase yields”, she explains. The research was well-received by the industry, and her paper Increased exopolysaccharide production in Lactococcus lactis due to increased levels of expression of the NIZO B40 eps gene cluster was awarded the 2003 WCFS publication prize.

Moving between perspectives
Today, as R&D Director at Westland Kaas, Haagsma-Boels is no longer active within TiFN. “But, every day, I use the network, knowledge and skills I developed as a TiFN PhD”, she stresses. “At Westland Kaas we are heavily investing in collaboration with different research organizations and companies, within the Netherlands and abroad. At TIFN I experienced the powerful impact such collaboration with industry can make, and learnt with whom and how to develop mutually-valuable academic and business relationships. And working in a multidisciplinary team enabled me to look at any situation from multiple perspectives, which really helps when building new consortia.”

Creating a network
In the Netherlands, doing a PhD is no longer the strict condition for becoming a project leader that it used to be. “But in the rest of the world, it still is very important”, the R&D Director stresses. “So my advice to anyone who wants a career in research is do a PhD, and work hard to create a network that bridges academia and industry.”