Student Spotlight: Jonathan Sogin

Jonathan Sogin

March 22, 2021

Jonathan Sogin is a doctoral candidate in food science and technology with a concentration in food microbiology from St. Paul, Minnesota. After earning a B.S.c. in food science and technology from the University of Wisconsin – Madison, he chose to pursue further study at Cornell due to its welcoming and collaborative nature and the opportunities for outdoor activity in Ithaca and the Adirondacks.

What is your area of research and why is it important?

Foodborne illnesses and microbially caused food spoilage cost the global economy hundreds of billions of dollars annually. My thesis research attempts to discover and characterize novel natural antimicrobials to prevent the infiltration and growth of foodborne pathogens and food spoilage microorganisms in the global food supply chain. I search for these compounds in fermented foods because such foods have been produced for millennia specifically for their anti-pathogenic and anti-spoilage properties. In addition to my thesis research, I participate in applied extension research and materials development to support food producers in addressing these problems from a systems approach standpoint.

What are the larger implications of this research?

The global population is estimated to reach 9.8 billion people by 2050 – 25% greater than today. We are unprepared to feed this population. Approximately 35% of the global food supply is wasted before consumption and an estimated 600 million people acquire a foodborne illness annually. To feed this population safe, nutritionally adequate, and desirable food, interventions to increase the efficiency of food production need to be implemented at all levels of the supply chain. Natural antimicrobials and data driven support/training of food producers are two of thousands of interventions that can help achieve this feat.

Which conference did you attend with your Graduate School Conference Grant?

The Graduate School Conference Grant funded me to attend the (virtual) 2020 International Association for Food Protection Annual Meeting. I presented a virtual poster detailing research that describes a framework to improve the hygienic status of food contact surfaces and the microbiological quality of finished products using two complimentary commercial tools. Applying for the grant was extremely straightforward and I received the funds to pay for the conference within a month – everyone should take advantage of this opportunity!

What did you take away from the experience of presenting at an online conference? If you have previously presented at an in-person conference, how did this experience differ?

This was the first conference I presented research at in my academic career. Despite being unable to meet people face-to-face and practice presenting research in person, I gained skills required to create effective and engaging online research presentations, which I suspect will remain increasingly important even after the pandemic precautions and restrictions are lifted. Although the circumstances were unusual, there were some unforeseen benefits to attending a virtual conference. These benefits included unrestricted access to all presentations, an integrated networking system built into the online platform, and access to conference materials for months after it had finished.

Have the semesters of remote or hybrid learning helped prepare you for online conferences?

The benefit was bidirectional. I was TAing a class in Spring 2020 when everything moved online. I worked with the instructor I was assisting to compile external resources that students could engage with outside of lecture and mediated online discussions. Doing this prepared me to engage with conference participants virtually, one who I have since connected with for help in developing an extension course. On the other hand, presenting at the conference and watching several online presentations has better prepared me to be a TA this upcoming semester, as I now know additional strategies to effectively engage students online.

What are your hobbies or interests outside of your research or scholarship?

I have several hobbies outside of my research related to food (unsurprisingly) and the outdoors. I really enjoy experimenting with food fermentations from a culinary perspective; although I do so for pleasure, my academic knowledge informs my culinary endeavors, and my culinary endeavors inspire my academics. During the pandemic, I perfected a sourdough pizza dough recipe and attempted (though failed) to make kombucha-like beer/wine. I also take advantage of the several outdoor activities Ithaca and the Adirondacks have to offer including skiing, snowshoeing, hiking, biking, canoeing, fishing, hammocking, and gardening. Oh – and I have two VERY cute cats.

Why did you choose Cornell to pursue your degree?

Of all the schools I looked at, Cornell was the most welcoming and collaborative. A special highlight of this was, and still is, that the microbiology labs within my department share a massive space to support the research efforts of four PIs; in this lab, I work in an environment that physically supports collaboration and community. Furthermore, the food science program at Cornell is internationally recognized and has ties to other esteemed research institutions, corporations, and regulatory bodies. Finally, I was drawn to Ithaca for its beauty, accessibility to outdoor recreation, and proximity to the Adirondacks.