Stellenbosch University
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Applying your microbiology lab-skills in the wine industry
Author: Laura van Laeren (Faculty of Science: Media and Communication)
Published: 22/04/2022

“My advice would be to keep an open mind. You never really know where you might end up." – Christina Relihan, BSc-graduate in molecular biology and biotechnology (2017)

Christina Relihan is a Research and Development Specialist for KWV. She graduated with a BSc Molecular Biology and Biotechnology in 2017. Christina also did an NRF internship, which she believes helped a lot in her landing the position she currently holds. In addition to her BSc degree, she also has taken relevant courses at Wine Academy and Distillique in wine, brandy and gin distilling.

“The main component of the job is intrinsic product development for the liquor industry. So any innovations or consolidations falls to me," says Christina. “I also assist with any legislative queries, seeing as we export to multiple countries. Assistance to the wine and spirits department for additional research, as well as shelf life and stability testing is also in my scope. General administrative duties such as intrinsic costs, specifications, tasting notes and shelf-life setups are also part of the job. The direct work is mostly individual, but a larger team is at play when finalising decisions and changes."

Christina's favourite part of her job is that it entails a large amount of innovation and problem solving: “You will never be bored! Each product is a learning curve that allows you to better yourself," she explains.

Christina has found that the general laboratory techniques taught during her BSc studies are incredibly useful in her line of work, as she spends the majority of her time working in a laboratory environment: “I think Stellenbosch University taught me how to think for myself and that helps a lot with the type of work I do now, especially thinking along the line of food safety and how microbiology can affect that aspect. Knowing what I know now, I might have benefitted from a food science module or two."

She also stresses that it's important to know that you can succeed with a BSc degree and that further postgraduate studies are not always necessary if you want to work in an industrial laboratory. 

For prospective students considering a BSc degree, Christina said, “My advice would be to keep an open mind. You never really know where you might end up. Don't be too hard on yourself - you are capable of more than you think!"

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