Intern's insights turning food waste into fly larvae into feed

When you're working and need a change of scene, sometimes it's best to just pick up your laptop and head out to a paddock to work among the cows. It makes particular sense when you're working for a company turning fly larvae into livestock feed. That was the experience of Massey University graduate Holly Williamson, who undertook an Asia New Zealand Foundation summer internship with Southeast Asian biotechnology company Nutrition Technologies. In this article Holly describes the internship and what she got out of it.
Holly sitting at a desk with a laptop on it

Holly: "I now feel like I have the confidence to work there [Asia] and am excited for the future"

While searching for job opportunities after graduating from Massey University in 2021, I happened across an internship that seemed right up my alley; one that combined my recent degree in animal science with the chance to contribute to a novel industry pioneering the way for sustainable food production, all while expanding my knowledge of Asia and Asian businesses.  
Nutrition Technologies is a Southeast Asian-based biotechnology company that manufactures livestock feed and plant fertilizer from black soldier fly larvae. They upcycle industrial food waste into high grade proteins and oils for the animal feed industry, creating a circular value chain, which reduces the burden of feed production on our planet’s resources.  
My role at Nutrition Technologies was as a product application intern in the animal nutrition team, which is based in Malaysia. I worked on product application trials, along with helping to keep their research databases up to date and finding potential grants and funding for research projects. My main project was to develop a feed trial for a New Zealand aquaculture company.  
At first it seemed daunting doing work in the ‘real world’ for the first time since completing university, especially in an industry I had limited experience in. However, my first week at Nutrition Technologies was quite relaxed as I learnt more about the company and the insects as feed industry, and got to know other people in the research teams.  

Holly sitting in a field with a dog

Holly: "I have learnt so much that will help me in my future career in scientific research"

I was provided with an abundance of learning material by my mentor at Nutrition Technologies which helped me to familiarise myself with the insect protein industry, and its huge potential to increase the sustainability of aquaculture. Knowing the potential value that my project could have to New Zealand aquaculture gave me so much motivation, and by my second week as an intern my work quickly became very rewarding. 
One aspect of my internship that I particularly enjoyed was the innovative culture at Nutrition Technologies. The company is relatively new, having only been founded in 2015, meaning the majority of research projects have no set rule book to compare to and require ‘blue-sky’ thinking. I found this particularly exciting and felt appreciated by everyone I worked with as they were always inviting me to give feedback and welcomed any ideas I could give. 
Like many people nowadays, working from home was something I was already familiar with, having gone into New Zealand’s first lockdown only a month into beginning my masters degree. The welcoming culture created by everyone I had the pleasure to work with made it easy to build a rapport online. This meant that even communication from 9,000km away, and with a 5-hour time difference, was easier than I had initially anticipated. 

Holly Williamson sitting on a chair in a paddock working at her laptop, watched on by a herd of curious cows

Holly found mixing up where she worked helped her to stay focused

My work at Nutrition Technologies involved a lot of hours reading scientific articles, and I found their tips such as setting a daily timetable and keeping work hours similar from day to day helped me keep my focus.

Less conventionally, I also found that changing up my work environment when I found myself losing focus was particularly helpful, and quickly learnt that some of my best work was done outside in the sunshine. The girls in the milking herd on the farm where I did part of my internship over summer found this particularly amusing! 

The girls in the milking herd on the farm where I did part of my internship over summer found this particularly amusing! 

I will forever be grateful to the Asia New Zealand Foundation for selecting me to do this internship. It was such an incredible opportunity being able to take my knowledge from university and apply it to a project that could one day help Nutrition Technologies revolutionise the aquaculture industry.

I have learnt so much that will help me in my future career in scientific research, including about funding and grant applications, which is key to any project’s success. 
I have also gained valuable insight into Asian culture and Asian businesses, although I’m sure I have so much more to learn and hope one day I can travel to Malaysia and meet the research team at Nutrition Technologies in person.

Prior to this internship, Asia was only on my bucket list as a holiday destination. I now feel like I have the confidence to work there and am excited for the future, especially to taste beef rendang in Malaysia, as I’m sure my home-made version has nothing on the real thing!