The Science of Baking a Success for Zara

Turing your hobby into a career has proved the right move for Zara Shiels who is now baking to WorldSkills standard.

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24 August 2022

Zara Shiels changed career direction

A career in science wasn’t the be all and end all for Zara Shiels and going back to do further research in the form of a PhD confirmed a change of direction had to be on the menu.  

Zara, originally from Limavady but now settled in Lisburn, says, “Following A-Levels at my local grammar school, I went to Queen’s University Belfast and graduated with a 2:1 BSc with Honours in Chemistry with Forensic Analysis.   I worked for several years in labs at Dale Farm and as a research chemist with MOF Technologies until I decided I wanted to go back and do more research and embarked on a PhD.   I worked on it for two years before realising I wasn’t enjoying it, in fact, I was very unhappy."

“I started working in Guilt Trip Bakery, making donuts, and suddenly found that baking might be something I could pursue.   I was always what you might call a hobby baker. I grew up baking alongside my mum and my (late) granny.   We would have a whole Saturday set aside for baking biscuits and buns and all kinds of celebration cakes. That’s where I learnt to bake and where my passion for baking started and it was something I always did alongside my studies and work. I’m sure I must have baked a birthday cake for everyone I worked with in MOF Technologies!”

Zara continued, “A work colleague in Guilt Trip had completed a course at college and recommended it, so I started doing some research and found the Level 2 Professional Bakery at SERC’s Lisburn Campus.   Before enrolling, I called the College and got speaking to Lecturer Ruth Doherty and was bowled over by her enthusiasm and passion for baking, confectionery, and patisserie - I just knew it was the course for me.”

Zara added, “The practical aspect of the course is brilliant, it’s great getting hands on experience and having a chance to really improve your skills   I am ten times the baker I was before I came to SERC.   This past year has been amazing.  There are all these extra opportunities that are open to students such as taking part in competitions.     I competed at IFEX (International Food Exhibition) - the first time I had ever taken part in any competition. The standard was really high, and I was delighted to get a merit for my efforts in the novelty cake category.   I was also a finalist in the Regional WorldSkillsUK competition and will be representing the College in the National Finals in November, pitting my skills against peers from across the UK."

“I had the opportunity to travel to Valencia in Spain with fellow students from across SERC for a two-week work placement, fully funded through Erasmus+. I worked in a traditional Spanish bakery, Monday to Friday, it was fantastic just absorbing the culture, the language and everything I could to hone my baking skills.   It was truly amazing.”

When asked if she would recommend someone coming to SERC for further or higher education, Zara said, “Having studied at both university and college, I would say college is much more supportive.   I have had so much fun and learnt so much. My tutors have been fantastic, both Ruth Doherty and Ian Thompson, and all the technical staff and restaurant teams. Everyone is so friendly and helpful."

And on future ambitions, Zara concluded, “Right now, I am focussing on building my skills and experience and cannot wait to come back to the College to start my Level 3 in Confectionery and Patisserie this September.   I am busy with my own micro bakery business, Blixt Bakery (on Facebook and Instagram), and enjoying the success, including supplying a local coffee shop, Audicity Coffee, in East Belfast.   I am so, so busy, but I am busy being happy too.   I really am having my cake and eating it!”

Apply now for programmes commencing September to unlock your future #BetterOffAtSERC.  

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