Hello everyone! I have a little non-traditional post for today. The high season for applications to the MSc program I am currently studying is on and I've been receiving questions from potential applicants - so I thought I'd share my experience with applying and studying Food Innovation and Product Design. If you don't find the answer to your question in this article, feel free to ask me about whatever interests you!
So what do you actually study in FIPDes?
FIPDes is a multidisciplinary program that doesn't only go farm to fork - it goes basically from farm to the thrash can and beyond. You will study the food industry from all possible perspectives. In Paris, during the first semester, the focus is on food science, analysis and engineering. You will study about food chemistry and structure, take a glimpse at molecular gastronomy and note by note cooking (with Herve This himself), learn how to process the data and all the useful food physics. There will be a junior project too - you will work in a team on a challenging task given to you by a food company. It's not your average student project, either - the issues you will deal with are actual problems the R&D of the company really needs to solve.
In Dublin, it's all about designing a new food product (yes, you will actually dream up your own food product and make it from scratch in one of the culinary school kitchens) and selling it. You will learn about marketing, consumer behavior, business planning and food legislation.
In year 2, you will split in three groups. Either you can continue studying the Paris' topics back in the city, or you can focus on nutrition, physiology and biochemistry of food in Naples, or you can do what I did and move to Lund to pursue packaging and logistics of not only food and to do some sustainability and innovation on the side.
Thesis, the last task, depends heavily on your third semester. Lund university is very open to students collaborating with companies or going abroad.
Why should FIPDes be better than other MSc programs?
The very best thing about FIPDes is that it is by nature an international program. You study with classmates from all over the world and you change locations at least three times during your study. Believe me, that is an extremely enriching experience. You will get much much more insight about the food industry than if you sit in one place for two years. You will get inspired by each other and by the different places and you will see the food sector in a much more complex picture.
Another good point is that the universities specialize in different fields, thus enabling such a multidisciplinary program to exist. If you tried to teach both science and business at one university, the quality might suffer a lot.
And speaking about quality, all FIPDes universities rank very well, with Lund University being in top 100 worldwide.
I also appreciate the close link with the food industry and the possibility to attend lectures by industry experts, as well as working on real life problems for companies such as Danone, Tetra Pak, Flextrus, Oatly etc.
Is the FIPDes FAQ and eligibility requirements sacred?
Yes. And there is, as mentioned on the website, a first screen to eliminate those that think they're not.
What are my chances of being accepted?
To be honest, not that great. There are hundreds of applicants and only up to 25 can be accepted (depending on each year), and only a fraction of these can get a scholarship. Moreover, the number of applicants is growing quickly every year, especially in certain countries. To succeed, you need to be good at what you do and have something that will set you apart from other people. Honestly, most of us, FIPDes 3.0, have only a very vague idea why we made it here - my guess is that my experience with genetically modified food and strong background in biochemistry set me apart from others. Gerald has had two food businesses before even graduating, and an impressive record of international environment-related conferences. But most FIPDesians come from more traditional backgrounds, mainly food technology, food engineering, nutrition etc. In the end, whether you will be accepted or not depends not only on your CV, but also on luck and the number of applicants from a particular region.
Do I have to have straight A's?
As you can read on FIPDes website, minimum required GPA is 70%. I don't know how they manage to recalculate all the different types of grading into that, so I cannot really comment on how difficult that is (for example, at my previous university, 70% would most likely be the last grade before failing, but at DIT it corresponds to a B I think). In any case, I had the impression that grades might matter to a certain degree, since many of FIPDes people in my year, especially those straight from undergrad, were one of the top students in their class. But obviously it's not the only thing that matters. As long as you can pass the 70% line you should apply.
Do I have to have work experience?
You do not have to, but many other applicants will. Again, in my year, the majority has some sort of work experience, being it owning own business, working for a big company or in academia. I worked only in labs at research institutes in my free time after classes and I did it for free - it doesn't need to be a traditional job. Obviously you will need something to make you special among all the other candidates, and having something to do after/during school is a good way to show it. But it can be anything you can think of - student competitios, not for profit organizations, research, job, running a campaign to make your classmates sort trash properly or finish their lunches...
Can I survive on the scholarship alone?
Since the scholarship system has been changed a short while ago, luckily for you, you can. Even the category B scholarship from now on will be enough to live off. For comparison, my average monthly expenses throughout the first year (including the transportation between locations and an internship in South Korea) were 890 Euros per month. My monthly scholarship is 500 Euros and no travel expenses at all, except for hopefully 3000 Euros next semester to finish my MSc thesis in Korea. But with the new system, as you can see, this kind of expenses would be easily manageable even for European students (non-European students get way more money than they even need - so if you fall under category A, no need to worry). However, there will be fewer of these scholarships than before, too - so it'd be smart to look elsewhere for money too, since if you do not receive the EU scholarship, you will also have to cover tuition fees which are free for scholarship holders.
Can I really survive without French?
Yes, you can. There will for sure be some FIPDes students who speak some French to serve as the official FIPDes translator when it comes to dealing with the dorm, sim card, bank, post office etc. The worst thing that happens is that some slides are in French as well as computer programs, but everybody managed - a lot of the work is group work, so just pair yourself up with a French speaking person. You do not need any prior knowledge of French to study FIPDes, it can just make it easier to live in Paris.
How about the housing?
In France, you will be automatically guaranteed places in MIAA dorm, last year the fees were around 320 - 345 Euros/month for a shared room per person and 500 Euros/month for a signle room. To be honest it's far from the best dorm in Cité, the kitchen stoves and microwaves were often broken and rarely fixed and the showers have seen much better days as well as the rooms, but most people are very nice and the location is great. For those returning for their second year, many people opted to switch to newer dorms. No bed bugs and just a couple cockroaches and flies.
In Dublin and Naples, you have to find your own housing - student dorms are often more expensive than private apartments, so in the end everybody found a place on their own or in a small group. It can be a bit stressful but everybody got a place within two weeks, be it homestay or a rented apartment.
In Lund, FIPDes students are again guaranteed a place in the dorm (don't say this in front of the students who have to camp outside for a month due to housing shortage), but you cannot be picky about what you get. The usual rent is 4000 SEK/month for a single room with own bathroom and shared kitchen, which most Swedes find overpriced, but hey, better than Paris. If you're lucky and get a double room, the rent divides in half, too. The rooms in Lund are beautiful, large, clean and modern and everything works perfectly, including the kitchens.
How are the people?
Well, they are different every year. You don't have to worry, you will definitely make great friends - you will be forced to, because you will move to a country where the only people who can talk with you fluently are your classmates. =D Our class bonded together extremely well, we hanged out together all the time as you saw on my blog. Of course, in Dublin at the latest, you wil split in smaller groups to find accomodation, but that doesn't mean you cannot hang out all together again in between classes and in your free time. Naturally, there might be one or two people who just don't fit that well or prefer to be alone, but if you make genuine effort to make friends, you definitely will. You can also expect smaller conflicts between roommates and team members, but hey - that's normal even if you stay in your country. Look at it this way - FIPDes is the pick of some of the most open minded, innovative and out going people from their region.