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Meet the Research Grads: Rebecca Stearns

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Dunlow native Rebecca Stearns will graduate this month with her doctorate in animal and food science. 

The research she worked on focused on food safety, a topic she didn't think she'd be interested in pursuing. Once she started the work, however, she chose to continue it through both her masters and doctorate degrees. 

"Knowing I was going to school every day to work in the lab, rather than just go to class, made each day a little more interesting and exciting," Stearns said.

Although her plans were to become a clinical dietitian, because of the research she worked on during her time at Davis College, other doors have opened for her. 

“I can be a clinical dietitian, or I can work in research and industry now,” Stearns said. “I can be a food researcher in a lab somewhere if I choose!” 

What research did you work on? 

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We do food and microbiology for food safety. Primarily, I’ve been testing different organic antimicrobials on produce. We inoculated tomatoes and apples with different pathogens like salmonella and listeria and then tested sanitizers to see which one worked best to reduce microbial contamination. We’re focused on helping local produce growers.

What did you learn? 

I learned that bacteria are a lot heartier and harder to get rid of than I would have expected in terms of treatment with antimicrobials. I didn’t realize how easily and how often fresh produce can become contaminated. I didn’t research that when I was focusing on human nutrition because I was focused on how people eat and how to prevent disease.

Why is the research important to you? 

It comes down to helping prevent foodborne illness in the community. Helping people was the reason I wanted to become a dietitian. I never thought of this outlet before, but it still gives me a way to help people by preventing foodborne illness. 

How do you think it helped you?

It helps me career-wise because it opens opportunities that otherwise I wouldn’t have had. I wouldn’t have even had the chance to go for my doctorate if it weren’t for Dr. Shen. It was never on my radar. By him giving me this opportunity, it has opened so many doors. 

What are your future hopes or plans?

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Shen wants me to do post doc programs within the U.S. Department of Agriculture. I would love to do that. I’ve also been looking into and considering food research and quality assurance jobs in the area. However, I have not ruled out being a clinical dietitian because I did finish the internship and became a registered and licensed dietitian.

Do you have any advice for current students?

If given a good opportunity, though it may be intimidating and challenging, do not let fear stop you from trying. You never know how those opportunities will shape you or what other doors will open for you because you took a chance and gave it your all.