[Student Interviews] Courtney Crist

Courtney Crist is a doctoral candidate in the Department of Food Science and Technology (FST) at Virginia Tech and is advised by Dr. Susan Duncan (Professor in FST and Co-Director of the Water IGEP). Courtney adeptly wears many hats as a researcher and teaching scholar, and is a strong proponent of interdisciplinary research as well as service. In this interview, she talks about her fascinating work on emotions and consumer behavior with respect to beverages, experiences in graduate school including the Water IGEP, giving back to society, and the dream career she plans to embark on when she gets her PhD.

Q1. How would you explain your research to a six year old?

Similar to Dora the Explorer, I explore and solve problems but in the world of food science. I work to learn more about why people like their favorite foods and how I can measure their love for the food (or the disgust for food). Most six year olds probably love mac n’ cheese and hot dogs while disliking vegetables. I investigate that emotional love or hate relationship by recording videos of people eating. I try to understand the faces they make while eating. In the future, I hope this helps with cooking and creating products kids like you enjoy – or even creating deceptively delicious foods that taste good and are healthy.

Q2. For your peers and fellow scientists, would you go into a bit more detail and describe the specifics of your work?

I investigate consumer emotional analysis and consumer behavior in relation to beverages (milk and water). I have two different objective areas: 1) the application of facial analysis technology to evaluating consumer experience with food and beverages and 2) assessing consumer behavior regarding reusable water bottles and water refill stations on campus using The Theory of Planned Behavior. Through the development and assessment of facial analysis technology and methodology to consumer acceptability, I aim to contribute to elucidating consumer’s “true” response to food and beverages using emotional facial analysis instead of just the standard hedonic scale. Secondly, by interviewing students who utilize reusable water bottles and water refill stations, I aim to determine the external and internal influences that contribute to this phenomenon. The results could contribute towards development of healthy behavior promotion materials, like increasing water consumption and improving hydration.

Q3. How did you find your way to Graduate School? How has your journey been as a scientist and a human being?

I have been very fortunate to have great parents and mentors who have allowed me the opportunity to explore my interests. An internship in milling quality assurance sparked my interest in transferring to pursue food science. As an undergraduate, I assisted other graduate students with their research. Through that experience, I decided to pursue my graduate career in food science. My thesis research was related to meat science as well as extension program development. At Virginia Tech, I have had the privilege to explore consumer sensory response and behavior using novel applications. The experience at Virginia Tech has expanded my knowledge of consumer behavior methodology. In addition to my involvement in the Water IGEP, I am also active in the College of Agriculture and Life Sciences Graduate Teaching Scholars Program (GTS). Collectively, my involvement in these programs has prepared me to pursue an academic career.

The longer I am in graduate school, the larger the world becomes. In other words, the more I learn, the more I realize how much there is to learn. As a scientist, my awareness for important crisis topics has increased (i.e. water shortages and feeding the world). Additionally, I have realized that most problems are interconnected and span disciplines. I have grown an appreciation for perspectives from other fields and welcome the opportunity to working with professionals not from my program area.

Courtney Crist - PhD Candidate in 'Food Science and Technology'
Courtney Crist – PhD Candidate in ‘Food Science and Technology’

Q4. Could you tell us about your experience in the Water IGEP?

I am very proud to be a member of the Water IGEP group. I have enjoyed getting to know the other students involved, taking classes, and learning how water influences their respective disciplines. As I mentioned, my awareness for water has expanded in a myriad ways (usage, health, treatment, processing, shortages, novel technologies, etc.). The classes and the students have broadened my knowledge about what “water” means in their field. More importantly, it has given me an opportunity to realize that water research is more essential than ever. As scientists, we must start communicating and working together to tackle problems. The Water IGEP has introduced and provided the avenue to start those conversations as well as a network for working in an interdisciplinary manner.

Q5. What are some activities that you have enjoyed doing both within and outside the IGEP?

As I mentioned previously, I am involved in the College of Agriculture and Life Sciences Graduate Teaching Scholars Program (GTS). The GTS program is committed to preparing doctoral students for positions in higher education in teaching positions. The program provides a forum and a structure for professional development, curriculum development, and classroom management. Through this program, I have been instructor of records and teacher of Functional Foods for Health. I have also served as a teaching assistant in my department for Wines and Vines and Functional Foods for Health.

Also, I am involved in Iota Delta Rho (Interdisciplinary Honor Society) at Virginia Tech. I have served as the chapter secretary and registration committee chair for the Annual IDR Day and Symposium. The IDR has been a wonderful experience, especially networking with more interdisciplinary students in different departments and learning about their research.

Additionally, I have had the pleasure of teaching in the Governor’s School of Agriculture. I taught a lecture about water sustainability and human health to students. Futhermore, I helped coordinate a food science perspective for the Youth Livestock Leadership Forum. Lastly, I volunteer in the community. I have been a volunteer with Big Brothers Big Sisters of Southwest Virginia for the past year.

Q6. Any ideas on what you want to do after you get your PhD?

After my PhD I hope to pursue a fulfilling career in academia. I have been influenced by the programs with which I am affiliated. I am a lifelong learner and enjoy troubleshooting problems as well as educating consumers, students, and businesses. I hope to have an academic position at a land-grant university where I can pursue the golden triad of extension, research and teaching.

Q7. What keeps you busy and happy when you are not doing research?

When I have time, I enjoy attending music events and festivals, spending time outdoors, going to the gym, and playing sports. Currently, my hobbies include spinning, music concerts, teaching myself bass guitar and convincing myself to do a sprint triathlon.

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One thought on “[Student Interviews] Courtney Crist

  1. I am the COO of a company that manufactures LEDIZOLV. This product removes lead dust and solubilizes it. Can we help with the Flint problem or other lead problems that you may be working on? LEDIZOLV has been around since the mid 90s and had been used for lead cleanup in HUD housing. Please let me know if you have any questions.

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