29 May 2023
Interview with Dr. Leontina Lipan—Winner of the Agronomy 2022 Young Investigator Award
We are pleased to announce the winner of the Agronomy 2022 Young Investigator Award—Dr. Leontina Lipan.
Name: Dr. Leontina Lipan
Affiliation: Miguel Hernández University, Spain
Interests: food quality; food safety; bioactive compounds; sensory analysis; consumer acceptance of food products; almonds; nuts; tropical fruits; water stress; stress markers; water scarcity; deficit irrigation strategies; spray drying; microencapsulation; probiotic bacteria
We would like to thank the award committee for selecting one winner from a large number of exceptional candidates, Dr. Leontina Lipan. We will continue to reward scholars with the Young Investigator Award to express our acknowledgment of their support for our journal Agronomy (ISSN: 2073-4395). We wish them every success in their careers.
The following is a short interview with Dr. Leontina Lipan:
1. How did you become interested in your current area of research?
My interest in research in the agro-food area increased gradually, beginning when I enrolled in the proteomics research group led by Prof. Dr. Ramona Suharoschi during the second year of my bachelor’s degree in food engineering at the University of Agricultural Sciences and Veterinary Medicine Cluj-Napoca, Romania. I was fascinated by the idea of exploring new ways to enhance food safety and quality through scientific research.
Then, in the third year of my bachelor's degree, I obtained an Erasmus scholarship at the Universitat Politècnica de València, Spain, where I gained valuable international experience and exposure to different research methods. This experience motivated me to apply for an internship in the US, where I worked as a scientific assistant at the Washington Tree Fruit Research Commission. During my internship, I contributed to several projects that combined different fields, including agronomy, horticulture, and food science applied to apples, cherries, pears, and peaches.
After this enriching experience, I chose to enroll in a Ph.D. program at Miguel Hernández University, Spain, with the research group led by renowned professor and scientific researcher Prof. Dr. Ángel Carbonell, where I focused on studying the effects of water deficit irrigation strategies on almond quality and the opinion of European consumers' regarding hydro-sustainable almonds.
Finally, my interest in science drove me as a young researcher, and currently I am pursuing a postdoctoral fellowship (founded by the Ministerio de Universidades and European Union—Next Generation EU) in Fruit Production Program (IRTA—Institute of Agrifood Research and Technology), with a focus on advanced techniques to predict the behavior of nuts (almonds, hazelnuts) in industrialization processes among others.
2. What are the struggles that come with being an early career researcher?
When it comes to struggles there are plenty of them, but I will list 3 of the most important in my opinion: (i) limited funding, which can make it challenging to conduct research and compete with more established researchers; (ii) stability; and (iii) publication record. Managing all these struggles can be time-consuming, and can lead to burnout and a loss of motivation, which can cause early career researchers to abandon their research careers altogether.
3. Could you describe any particularly interesting or unexpected results that you have discovered in your research so far?
One of the most interesting and unexpected results I have discovered in my research so far was during my doctoral thesis, where we found that certain water deficit irrigation strategies led to an improvement in almond quality and also in processed almonds, despite the decreased water availability. This was unexpected because it is commonly believed that water stress negatively affects crop yield and quality; however, the level of stress makes the difference in this case. Additionally, we found that consumers were willing to pay more for hydro-sustainable almonds, indicating a growing interest in environmentally friendly and sustainable agricultural practices. These results were not only surprising, but also have significant implications for the agricultural industry and highlight the importance of sustainable water management practices in agriculture.
4. What is the most valuable lesson you have learned so far?
The most valuable lesson I've learned so far is the importance of collaboration and networking in scientific research. All my publications are co-signed by many authors (and this is another struggle, because sometimes you can be penalized/receive a lower score in a competition if you have more than x authors) because my research involved many collaborators from different areas. I have learned that by working with others, we can develop more robust research projects and gain insights that we may have overlooked on our own. Networking has also allowed me to connect with other researchers and industry professionals, providing an opportunity to know some wonderful people.
5. What is your motivation for research?
My motivation for research is driven by my passion for finding solutions that can help industries and sectors to produce food in a sustainable manner, ensuring that everyone has access to safe and healthy food. I know they are big words, and kind of difficult to fulfill, but I believe that research is to create a better world, and every researcher contributes to this goal.
6. We hope that the Young Investigator Award will open new opportunities for you. How does an Award like this one help to support the career of a young/early career researcher like you?
Winning the Young Investigator Award has been a great surprise, honor, and significant achievement for me. We all seek validation and approval for our actions, whether it is from our parents, relatives, friends, or supervisors (in this case). In my case, winning this award was a validation that I was on the right track with my research, and that my work has been recognized by the scientific community. You were asking me before about what my motivation for research is, so this recognition has been incredibly motivating and encouraging for me. Additionally, this will support my career, because this award has provided me with greater visibility and exposure within the scientific community, which can lead to new collaborations and opportunities for funding and research partnerships.
7. What qualities do you think young scientists need?
There are plenty of qualities required, but I believe the most important is to have a passion for their field of research and a dedication to make meaningful contributions to science and society; in this way, they can handle the struggles I have commented on before. Besides, they must have a strong work ethic, they need to be open-minded and receptive to feedback, and finally, possess the ability to manage their time effectively.
8. What are your plans for the future, and how do you hope to build upon your current work?
As a young researcher, I am always looking for new challenges and opportunities to expand my knowledge and skills. In the future, I plan to continue my research in these fields, particularly in the area of sustainable food production, nuts quality and industry, as well as consumer science. I hope to have the chance to build upon my current work by exploring new research questions and methods, collaborating with other scientists, and applying my findings to real-world problems.
9. As the winner of this award, would you like to take a moment to share your thoughts with the readers, or express gratitude towards those who have played a significant role in your research accomplishments?
Yes, I would like to take this opportunity to express my heartfelt gratitude to Agronomy for awarding me the young investigator award, and of course to the scientific committee for their evaluation.
I would also like to thank:
- Dr. Ramona Suharoschi, who was the one initiating me in the research field;
- Dr. Ángel Carbonell, who gave me the chance to learn from the best and the responsibility to carry out my own research;
- Dr. Esther Sendra and Dr. Agustí Romero, who are my mentors in this new chapter of my research career;
- Dr. Francisca Hernández, Prof. Dr. David López Lluch, Dr. Arturo Torrecillas, Dr. Laura Vázquez, Dr. Iván García Tejero, Dr. Mireia Corell, Dr. Xavier Miarnau, Dr. Mercè Rovira, Dr. Ignasi Batlle, and Dr. Luis Asin, among others, who were/are always open to answer my numerous questions.
I would also like to thank Dr. Marina Cano, Hanán Issa and all my colleagues for their support and guidance throughout my career. Their encouragement and feedback have been and continue to be instrumental in shaping my research, helping me to achieve this award.
Lastly, I would like to thank José A. Granero and my family and friends for their unwavering support and encouragement, which have been critical in keeping me motivated and focused on my research goals.