Mack Hansen Studying In Ireland to Get Doctorate


Abby Wittler, Staff Writer, Advanced Journalism

Mackenzie (Mack) Hansen, an NDA alumni and UW Madison graduate, has continued her studies at University College Cork in Cork, Ireland.

She is studying Food Technology in the School of Food and Nutritional Sciences after graduating with an undergraduate degree in Food Science in May of 2017.

Her decision to study food science was made her senior year of high school when she decided to attend UW Madison. At first, she had the intention of continuing her education by going to medical school, but when she experienced working on research in a lab she realized that was what she wanted to do.

During her years at Madison, she worked closely with an advisor in her department and was able to experience multiple research and internship opportunities.

Hansen participated in two summers of the Wrigley internship program where she worked on formulas of candies, a summer of working with gummy vitamins at Nature’s Way and a summer of consulting with Seroogy’s Candy Company.

When it came closer to her graduation, she knew that a decision had to be made about what graduate school she was to attend, but she never expected to go so far away from home.

“I never imagined that I would live somewhere so far away from everything that is familiar to me. I wanted to continue my education at UW and stay in Madison forever,” commented Hansen.

Her advisor at Madison encouraged her to leave so she could grow professionally and personally and after finding this opportunity she decided to pursue it. Through some investigating, she found that the adviser to this program was second to none in this area of research.

“I applied for a new scholarship that began that year, interviewed as a finalist via Skype (from my bedroom in Madison at 6 a.m. wearing pajama pants and desperately trying to not wake up my roommates), and was selected as their first scholar, receiving full funding for a four-year Ph.D.,” she said.

To obtain her Ph.D. she has been researching in the lab, attending training sessions/courses, and conferences to broaden her horizons.

When she graduates she would like to be a professor where she can “lecture, advise students, consult with industry, contribute to the body of research in my area and perhaps run my own lab as well.”

What is your favorite part about living in Ireland?

My favorite part of living in Ireland has been the people I’ve met and friends I’ve made. I’ve learned that it can be really difficult to move to an unfamiliar place all by yourself, and building an entirely new network and support system requires tons of effort. When you’re so far from home and everyone you love, the friends you make in your new home become like family very quickly. I’ve been incredibly fortunate to make some really amazing friends from all over the world during my time here, and that has made the biggest difference in making this place home. (The chocolate and hard ciders here are absolutely incredible as well– total game changers.)

What is your biggest challenge?

My greatest challenge has been learning to be patient with my work and not to take failures too personally. My work here is incredibly important to me; I worked so hard for years to have the opportunity to be to where I am today. Twenty-four-year-old me is literally living 18-year-old me’s dream, which is pretty cool when you think about it. My research is something I’m extremely passionate about. It is what I pour a lot of my time, energy, and effort into, and so I think of it as an extension of myself. When things aren’t going well or I can’t get the results I want, I take it personally because it is what I spend a large portion of my time working on and it can affect my mood even once I’ve left work that day. Learning to separate failures at work from personal failures has been a challenge, but I’m learning that in research, nothing goes according to plan. This is why research is planned in weeks and months, not days.

What are some other things you have done while being over there?

I’ve had the opportunity to do a bit of traveling around Europe to places like Norway, Denmark and Spain. I’ve also been able to do some traveling for conferences, where I’ve been able to present my work to people in my field and network with other academics. Maybe the biggest thing that has happened since I moved here has been my improved self-confidence. This experience and going through it alone has proven to me that now I can do anything because I did this. I’ve learned that I can count on and trust myself and that I am stronger than I realized. I’ve learned a lot about myself during my time here, and I’ve also learned to be comfortable with being by myself and enjoy my own company.

Who has been your most important person through all of this?

My mom has been the greatest influence throughout this phase. She is one of the wisest and most intelligent people I know, and I value her advice more than almost anyone else. She has served as my support system and soundboard for everything that I’ve been challenged with since I arrived here.

How has having Mir there affected your life?

It’s been six years since Miranda and I have lived in the same place and attended the same school. In that time, a lot of growth and change has occurred for both of us. Being together again for this time has given us the opportunity to get to know each other again as who we are now since we last lived together. It’s also showed us what different people we have grown up to be, but how much we enjoy each other’s company has not changed.