Hear from PepsiCo’s Global R&D Director, Dr. Deepali Palta about her STEM journey and that of a potato chip
PepsiCo and STEM may not be synonymous, but they definitely merit cross-referencing. Trust me on this one, as I believe my experience offers a compelling case study in how PepsiCo and STEM go hand in hand.
I earned my Ph.D. from the Georgia Institute of Technology a little over a decade ago. As I mulled my career options, I freely admit things like potato chips were not on my mind. I was an engineer; other than at lunch, what would I be doing with a potato chip?
Then PepsiCo came to our career fair and opened my eyes to how much mathematics, engineering and science goes into making a potato chip that always meets consumers’ taste expectations, especially since potatoes are not the same everywhere. Now, I’m part of a global team that consistently produces snacks and drinks that consumers can rely on no matter where they are.
The humble potato chip is just one example of our STEM competencies in action, but it tells quite the crisp story of how we are solving world-class science and engineering challenges all the time. And my career to date serves a similar purpose, as long as we’re discussing how science, technology, engineering and mathematics come to life at PepsiCo.
I knew as soon as I saw the job description that taking my career to PepsiCo was a “no-brainer.” And yet, for at least a moment in time, I hesitated to apply for a reason many women will relate to: I wasn’t sure whether I was qualified.
When I interviewed at PepsiCo, I had worked with similar processing technology, but for textile and materials, not food. It took me some time to get out of my own way and say, okay, I should at least apply, even though I don’t have the ‘right’ degree. I kept looking at the job description and thinking, “I can do that.”
I knew that my experience was applicable to the food industry, just not in the ways others expected. So, I developed my story, approached PepsiCo’s recruiters, and ultimately landed the job. I’ve been part of the PepsiCo family ever since.
Given all of the career evolutions I’ve experienced in the past decade at PepsiCo, I’ve gotten more and more comfortable in my own skin, in no small part because I haven’t taken a straight road. Challenging the traditional pathway of success may not have been easy, but it’s resulted in a unique perspective that I leverage in my current leadership role. And as PepsiCo’s Corporate Partnership Chair for the Society of Women Engineers (SWE), it’s a perspective I use to help up-and-coming women in STEM shed self-doubt and take risks, too.
As women, we can shortchange our own abilities and stop ourselves two or three steps ahead of when we should. I’ve seen junior women I mentor struggle with this, and lately I’ve been challenging them to not be shy about having their points of view heard or being proud of their accomplishments. PepsiCo encourages employees to voice their opinions fearlessly – and I counsel them to do just that.
I’ve gotten so much out of bringing my STEM abilities to PepsiCo that I can’t help but want to attract others to what I’ve been lucky enough to live and love. We offer a broad array of experience, we have an amazing amount of fun and, oh yes, the chips are great.
About Dr. Deepali Palta
Deepali was born to a pediatrician and a teacher in a house that highly valued education. She went on to pursue an education in engineering – earning a BS and MS in Engineering in India and a Ph.D. in Material Science & Engineering from Georgia Tech.
After completing her Ph.D., she joined PepsiCo as Process Engineer. In her 12 years in PepsiCo, she has earned 6 patents & has worked on a portfolio of global business facing roles in areas of Product and Process development, Packaging Sustainability, Business Management, Strategy and Portfolio, Applied Artificial Intelligence. A highlight of her career was when she represented PepsiCo in Ghana as part of the inaugural PepsiCorps team to teach young kids and the community about clean water solutions. She currently serves as PepsiCo’s R&D Head for West Europe Snacks.
In addition to leading R&D teams, Deepali is a lifelong STEMinist. She is actively involved in various workstreams inside and outside her company to advocate for attracting, engaging and retaining students esp. women in STEM disciplines. She is the founding team member for PepsiCo’s STEM Career day and Million Women mentoring program. She also co-founded and now chairs PepsiCo’s corporate relationship with Society of Women Engineers (SWE), an organization that hosts the world’s largest annual conference for women engineers.