Christina Fullerton loved science at school, particularly biology and learning about plants. With the encouragement of some enthusiastic teachers at her school, Baradene College in Auckland, she decided fairly early on to make a career out of it.
Upon completing her undergraduate degree in food science, Christina completed several summer studentships at Plant & Food Research, including one in Central Otago where she spent the summer living in a caravan and doing postharvest research on apricots.
“I loved being out on the orchard as well as in the lab. This opportunity provided first-hand experience in whole fruit physiology and enabled me to gain experience in the physical aspects of fruit science.
“I found that summer studentships were a great way to gain real-life experience in the area you are interested in. I found that these were extremely valuable because I met people who I still consider great mentors in the work I am doing now,” says Christina.
She then went on to pursue further postgrad study and completed her PhD. The 27-year-old now works as a postdoctoral scientist in the Postharvest Fresh Foods Group at Plant & Food Research in Auckland.
“I mainly work on kiwifruit, looking at solving postharvest issues of new kiwifruit cultivars so that New Zealand can produce the best fruit to sell in the supermarkets. This includes looking at the best temperature to store fruit at, monitoring fruit quality during storage and sensory evaluations – yum!”
There is such a thing as ‘too much kiwifruit’, however, as Christina has discovered.
“The worst part about the job is trying to decide what to do with all the leftover fruit! There is only so much you can eat and so many jams you can make out of it!”
As for the best parts, Christina loves being able to work as part of a team.
“Everyone pitches in to do their bit when things get very busy, as they do around fruit season! While it is sometimes hard work, we do have lots of fun.”
Her position has also allowed her to travel overseas to countries where New Zealand exports its kiwifruit, such as China and Japan. After all the experimental work is done the next big part of her job is to write up all the results in the form of reports or scientific publications.
“I love being able to do not only fundamental science, but to work closely with industry to help deliver postharvest systems to improve storage performance while maintaining eating quality of fruit,” she says.
Christina likes the fact that she is contributing to an industry that is important for New Zealand’s economy.
“Some of the work we do also directly benefits the fruit growers and it is exciting to know we are making a difference to the way crops are being grown and managed.”
Christina is ambitious when it comes to her career.
“As a young scientist just starting out, one of my goals is to be able to successfully set up and lead larger projects and report on their results.”