UQ ignites passion for food safety in Vietnamese academic

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Ms Le Thi Kieu Thu is a resident of Ho Chi Minh City who values the freedom and standard of education at The University of Queensland. 

There is something ironic about meeting a university lecturer in food safety and human nutrition at the fast food giant McDonald’s. Li Thi Kieu Thu is enjoying her first cheeseburger from the one and only McDonald’s open in her hometown of Ho Chi Minh City, Vietnam. This is a far cry from Brisbane, Australia, which was Thu’s home for 18 months in 2010.

When speaking with Thu, it quickly becomes apparent that she has a passion for not only food safety, but also knowledge. In 2004 she graduated from The University of Fisheries in Nha Trang, Vietnam with a Bachelor of Engineering of Aquatic Products Processing Technologies.

“After three-and-a-half years of working as a food inspector, and from the knowledge I got from my Bachelors degree, I really wanted to have the opportunity to learn more about food microbiology. “

Le Thi Kieu Thu discusses food microbiology with a student | Ruth McCosker

Le Thi Kieu Thu discusses food microbiology with a student | Ruth McCosker

It was Thu’s drive to acquire knowledge that took her over 6500 kilometers away to study at The University of Queensland, Australia.

“I chose Queensland to study because of the weather. It is nearly the same as Vietnam, but not too cold compared to many other universities,” Thu reveals in a somewhat guilty manner.

Whilst living in the ‘sunshine state,’ Thu’s home was the sought-after student suburb of St Lucia. A Masters of Food Studies with a major in Food Microbiology was her ultimate goal.

Dr. Mark Turner, a University of Queensland lecturer in food microbiology, supervised Thu throughout the process of obtaining her Masters degree. “Mark gave me the freedom to do my research topics.  I had to work very hard to be honest to find the methods I was going to use to do my research.

“My topic for research was isolation and identification of lactic acid material from the vegetables and fruit around Queensland, especially in Brisbane. So, we tried to isolate it first and then identify what kind of lactic acid material was in the fruit. After that, we apply it to controlling the safety of food.”

Born, raised and educated in Vietnam, Thu found Australian university life an entirely new concept.
“I had more freedom to be honest. I had a 24-hour access card so that I could access the microbiology labs at any times. It was very easy to do the experiment, but in Vietnam it is very hard for you.”

Thu’s eagerness to share her thoughts and opinions about Australian education is clear by the way she pauses and reflects before revealing a rush of stories rich with information.

In 2010 Thu’s education at the University of Queensland came to an end. Not only did she graduate with a Masters of Food Studies majoring in microbiology, but she also achieved a Dean’s Commendation for High Achievement.

Thu returned home to Vietnam in 2011. Her newfound microbiology knowledge helped her to secure a lecturing position in the Faculty of Food Science and Technology at Nong Lam University of Ho Chi Minh City. 

Le Thi Kieu Thu hopes to return to Australia to study | Ruth McCosker

Le Thi Kieu Thu hopes to return to Australia to study | Ruth McCosker

 The opportunity to study at The University of Queensland allowed Thu not only to continue her education, but to apply and share her knowledge upon return to her home country, Vietnam.

“In the food industry, lactic acid materials are one of the most important materials. In Vietnam, we have many traditional foods with lactic acid materials and I want to categorise them in the food technology and also the preservation of the food.

“I have compared with Vietnam’s standards and regulations. I know the difference about how Australia controls food safety and what kind of problem you might encounter, and what kind of problem we have in Vietnam.  So it was very good for me to compare, get many experiences and knowledge about that.”

Only three years have passed since Thu returned to Ho Chi Minh City with her newly acquired Masters degree. Education is once again on her mind and she is beginning to explore avenues to combine returning to Australia with furthering her studies.

“Now that I am working as a lecturer I haven’t finished my PhD yet so it a must to finish my PhD and continue with my job here. At the moment I am applying for a PhD scholarship. I am hoping that I will have a chance to return to UQ for my higher education.”

Thu portrays Australia as “beautiful and very memorable.” She is hoping that she can soon return and, once again, call Australia home.

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About Author

Ruth McCosker

Ruth McCosker is in her final year at the University of Queensland completing a dual Bachelor of Journalism and Bachelor of Communications degree, majoring in Public Relations. In 2012 Ruth participated in the UQ Abroad program, completing a semester studying print, radio and television journalism at City University, London. Upon graduation she intends to pursue opportunities to allow her to combine joint objectives of travel and the further development of key journalism skills. Ruth is currently freelancing for print publications with a local emphasis, while at the same time assisting a Brisbane based public relations firm. Ruth will graduate in November 2014 and wishes to pursue a career in television or print journalism.

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