Wearing Multiple Hats and Staying on Mission with Dr. Darin Detwiler

Darin Detwiler, LP.D., is the Assistant Dean at Northeastern University’s College of Professional Studies and the Lead Faculty of the Master of Science in Regulatory Affairs of Food and Food Industries. As an Associate Teaching Professor of food regulatory policy, he has specialized in food safety, global economics of food and agriculture, Blockchain, and food authenticity.

Dr. Detwiler is also the founder and CEO of Detwiler Consulting Group, LLC. He is an internationally recognized and respected food policy expert with over 25 years’ experience in shaping federal food policy, consulting with corporations, and contributing thought leadership to industry events and publications, advising industry, NGOs, and government agencies, and addressing food safety and authenticity issues in the U.S. and abroad. In addition to serving in various educational, editorial, and advisory capacities, his committee work includes appointments to two terms as a member of the USDA’s National Advisory Committee on Meat and Poultry Inspection, where his work improved standards and policies related to risk-based sampling. As the senior policy coordinator for a national food safety organization, he evaluated pertinent regulatory issues for the USDA and the FDA as a consumer advocate in their stakeholder advisory group. His work supported the FDA’s efforts for implementation of the Food Safety Modernization Act. He later served as a council member for the Conference for Food Protection, identifying and addressing emerging problems of food safety to influence model laws and regulations among all government agencies. Dr. Detwiler is the author of FOOD SAFETY: Past, Present, and Predictions (Elsevier, 2020); and Building the Future of Food Safety Technology (Elsevier, 2020).


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Here’s a glimpse of what you’ll learn:

  • Wearing many hats
  • The instructor and the student
  • The victim and the expert
  • The panelist and the advocate
  • Blockchain and paper trails
  • The why and the how
  • The graduate and the dean
  • The journey and the destination

In this episode…

When his middle school student asked him why he was here, Dr. Detwiler thought, “You’re right,” and walked out of the room George-Costanza-style, figuratively, at least.

In this episode of An Unconventional Life, Dr. Darin Detwiler shares with Dr. Russell Strickland the heart-breaking story about the loss of his son at 16 months and how it fueled his mission in life to make our food safer for everyone. His doctoral journey began with a moment of epiphany when one of his middle school students asked why are you here. His immediate (subvocalized) response was, “I quit.” But quitting was just the beginning, as is so often the case. Dr. Detwiler went on to become an assistant dean at his doctoral university so quickly that he actually hooded himself at commencement!

Dr. Detwiler acknowledges that lifelong learning, ingrained in him throughout his doctoral journey, “has served me well in terms of trying to achieve what I can for my mission.” How will your doctoral degree serve your mission?

Resources Mentioned in this episode

Sponsor for this episode…

This episode is brought to you by Dissertation Done, America’s #1 authority in dissertation completion for working professionals.

Founded by Dr. Russell Strickland, Dissertation Done serves people in two ways:

  1. If you’re struggling with your dissertation, getting ready to start your dissertation, or just plain wanting to get your dissertation done as soon as possible, go to www.dissertationdone.com/done and Let’s Get Your Dissertation Done
  2. If you’re busy living your Unconventional Life and have a message that you want to share, maybe you should join our Expand Your Authority Program to become a published author. Go to www.dissertationdone.com/book and let me know that you’d like to talk about Expanding Your Authority.

Visit www.dissertationdone.com to learn more about our other services and leave a message or call them at 888-80-DR-NOW (888-803-7669) to schedule your free 30 to 45-minute phone consultation.

Episode Transcript

Disclaimer: This transcript is here for your reading convenience. It was created by machines and may (a-hem) contain some errors. If you email us about these errors, the machines will undoubtedly find out. I hope they won’t get angry.


Intro [00:00:03] Welcome to An Unconventional Life, a podcast where we share stories about the crazy one percent out there who earned their doctoral degrees and then went on to use them in crazy, cool, unique, and unconventional ways. Here’s your host, astrophysicist turned teacher, author, dissertation coach, and more, Dr. Russell Strickland.


Dr. Russell Strickland [00:00:28] Hi and welcome to an Unconventional Life podcast. I’m your host, Dr. Russell Strickland, the founder and CEO of Dissertation Done. I have with me today Dr. Darin Detwiler. Dr. Detwiler is an assistant Dean, a consultant, an author, a speaker. We’re going to get into what all that means as we as we speak today. Welcome, Dr. Detwiler. How are you today? Great yourself. I am doing fine. Doing well. I’d like to let everyone know that today’s episode is brought to you by Dissertation Done. And so if you are an adult doctoral student and you are beginning the dissertation process about to start or maybe feels kind of stuck somewhere in the middle, reach out to us at DissertationDone.com/done. We’ll see if you might be a good fit for our Fast-Track Your Dissertation coaching program. We tend to get our students through the dissertation process in about 12 months, which is amazing for most students. And we would love to see if you might be a good fit and if by any chance you have already graduated or you are otherwise either working in the expert space as a coach or consultant as speaker and or you might like to be working in that space, reach out to us at DissertationDone.com/book, because the best way to get your word out and to to really solidify your expertise is by being a published author who literally wrote the book on what you like to help people with. So reach out to us at DissertationDone.com/book and we’ll talk about that. So again, Dr. Detwiler, we mentioned author is one of your many titles, along with consultant and speaker and Assistant Dean. How did you come by this menagerie of titles and how do you strike a balance with them?


Dr. Darin Detwiler [00:02:13] Well, that’s two questions, one is it’s rare that I would wear all those hats at the same time. Sure, there’s a good part of my day or my calendar dictates to me that I am an assistant. Dean, there’s other times when my calendar dictates to me that that I’m a professor. There’s other times where I schedule in those events, whether it’s sitting on an advisory board or writing for a book or researching and collaborating. There’s also times where I get calls out of the blue and the past year has shown that even without going and traveling anywhere, that that there’s still a need for the networking and the connecting and the educating and the work that goes into leading and inspiring and advocating for this mission that really drives my work. You know, perhaps the cement that holds everything together is that mission that I work with that’s been found throughout my various careers and even through my doctoral program.


Dr. Russell Strickland [00:03:20] And that’s so important. We talk I talk with our students all the time and our authors that we work with as well about knowing your reasons why and having a very firm understanding of that reason why and then being strategic about following through. And I know that you mentioned these many hats that you wear are strategically aligned with that reason. Why don’t you share that reason with with with folks and I know you had a story about something that happened in a classroom while you were a school teacher that precipitated some of these many hats that you’re wearing now.


Dr. Darin Detwiler [00:03:55] Sure. You know, we. At the time, as we’re going on our journey, you don’t necessarily know what an event. That comes out of the blue or a question or comment, you know, you don’t know what that impact is going to be. And before I go back too far, I was in a classroom teacher in a high school middle school teacher for about 16 years near Seattle, Washington. And I had been teaching a rather large unit on reform in America, looking at food and other areas of consumer protection. And this at the specific time was, you know, I had done this several times, several years in a row. But this specific event, it was the 20th anniversary of the Jack in the Box E. coli outbreak, which happened in nineteen ninety three. And I literally had guest speakers in my classroom talking to my eighth grade students in a history class. I had doctors, lawyers, journalists and other experts, not only in this field, but who were involved in this event 20 years prior. And a journalist, I don’t I don’t blame this guy. He made a comment that revealed my background in what had happened 20 years earlier. And my students still had laptops in this classroom. And they quickly I could see them going like this and I could see the looks on their faces. And with cameras rolling by the local network news because of this 20th anniversary event in my classroom, a student raised her hand and she asked me, Mr. D., if you were this involved back then, 20 years ago. And since then, and this is still a big problem today, why are you here in this classroom? And they saw me as that one identity. They saw me as their teacher. Right. They didn’t see me as someone who had been involved in a situation, both as someone who was impacted by it and as someone who had been working to bring about change in policy and culture around this. And, you know, this this was a moment that really forced me to rethink why what was I holding on to this role? And this is the only role that I could be doing that would have me associated with my mission. And obviously. To to to get back to what had happened 20 years earlier, I was twenty four years old in nineteen ninety three, I had just gotten out of the Navy. I was a nuclear engineer and a submarine. I thought I was a pretty smart guy and a twenty four years of age. Most of your audience will probably think, you know, you start thinking of yourself as a mortal and you can do anything and you know everything.


Dr. Russell Strickland [00:07:07] And everybody at twenty four knows everything, that’s for sure.


Dr. Darin Detwiler [00:07:10] Exactly. Exactly. And there was this outbreak of E. coli and I had never really heard of it before. I never thought about foodborne illness before. And I had a wife and a young son who was about nine years old. And I had my son Reiling. You see a photo of him. He was six months old. And I never thought that he would be the one to get sick from eating a hamburger at a fast food restaurant cause he’d never eat one. But I also learned about a person-to-person contact and how E. coli, a foodborne pathogen, can spread from person to person. And in this case, it passed from another kid and his daycare to my son. And this was a shock, you have denial this is going to happen to you of this, everything will blow over kind of a thing, but within the course of a month, my son goes from literally taking his first steps and speaking of very limited vocabulary at 16 months of age to know. Being in a situation where, you know, I’m holding him on my lap on a hospital bed and he’s saying Baba, which was his word for bottle, because he didn’t understand what an IV was and watch my son being put into a helicopter be airlifted to St. Michaels Juvenile Hospital. I get down there and I see him. I’m having a hard time seeing him in a hospital bed. This little boy body is dwarfed by wires and tubes and monitors and and and then I did eventually see him again. Outside of that hospital, but as he was being carried in the world’s smallest white coffin. This. This puts you in terms of not only questioning the world and. Your religion and your purpose and your definition of your title and the meaning of life. But you know, you you. You start to rethink things, and initially I wanted to. Be a voice and be involved in this idea of never having anyone go through what I went through, went up.


Dr. Russell Strickland [00:09:38] So too many people that come about because I got to imagine the first thing you’re going to do is just be angry. You’re going to blame the you know, the kid’s parents who brought them to the daycare. You’re going to blame the kid who came to the daycare, the food place. I mean, there’s got to be this whole rush of emotions that happens. How how did you get through that to this notion of, OK, now I want to make sure I’m the one that prevents this from happening again?


Dr. Darin Detwiler [00:10:09] You know, there’s. An endless collection of emotions here, you’re dealing with shock, you’re dealing with loss and grieving, you’re dealing with anger, you’re dealing with confusion, you’re dealing with with, you know, this idea of of how do I put on one face in front of the cameras that were rolling at the time, you know, talking to reporters, whether it be for the local papers or for The New York Times or being on Good Morning America or, you know, being live on on town hall with President Bill Clinton. There is an element of of you want to get this information out, you want to be seen as a credible voice in this, you want to come with some resolve. You don’t even know what their resolve is. And even if there is results, we don’t have a time machine to go back and undo what was already done. But two things. You know, going back to that classroom experience two decades later. Time is interesting in that. Two things that really stuck with me. One is that I lost my son. But my son did not have to lose his father. And what do I do as someone who can help prevent another family from living with the chair forever empty at the family table? The second thing is that I had you know, this this notion that, oh, well, this will be fixed science, industry, the government, somehow this will go away. And clearly, we have lived through now twenty eight years this this endless cycle of repetitive failures and loss in this specific case due to food borne illness, food borne pathogens, outbreaks and recalls and illnesses and deaths. And I can’t necessarily right now at least have this expectation that someone out there is going to fix everything. Right. Someone out there needs to be responsible for this. If anything, this is such a big issue. One of the things I learn along the way was, you know, we all know about Upton Sinclair’s Look The Jungle from 1986. That year after it was published, there was a literary review in the London Daily Times. And this reviewer of the book as a novel said that the things described by Mr. Sinclair happened yesterday are happening today and will happen tomorrow and the next day until some Hercules comes to cleanse the filthy stable. We know there’s not really anyone, Hercules, but if we were to interpret that into a more modern language, this idea of this Herculean effort that is needed to prevent this to to to prevent these failures, to prevent harm, an enormous amount of work is this body of work and strength and courage at all points throughout the journey of food from from the sea or from the from from the land to all the way to the. And so, you know, whereas I had thought that I was working with with the USDA as an adviser, providing that kind of perspective as a consumer that was important where in the classroom I saw the need to bring this story even without my personal side of it, to bring this story when talking about reform in America and how reform in America was not something that just took place a century ago, that there perhaps are still a place for it today. And we need to understand the why behind political and legal and policy change and culture change. But that’s only part of the story. And when that student asked me that question, I literally my response was I quit. I’m going to redo things. And it was at that point that I finished off my contract for that year and people I work with thought I was crazy. You know, you hear things like in this economy, why would you leave a job? You’ve been here so long, you’re throwing everything away to move across the country. And I thought, look, if I didn’t do that, then, you know, that was my window. That was my I’m in that spot. If I didn’t do that, then when would I ever do that or would I do that? Relocating to the East Coast was this idea to be more involved in policy and advocacy. And I started teaching at a university as an adjunct instructor and immediately learned of this doctoral program where I’d be able to finish off my doctoral studies. And so within, I believe, six months of relocating to the East Coast, I found myself as a part time instructor teaching three courses per quarter and as a doctoral student, taking three courses or so per quarter and literally reinventing my life here for when you walk into the classroom that you’re sitting on the right side of the desk. Yeah, yeah, yeah. But even with those two titles, as literally an instructor and a student at the same universities, both of those titles were still driven by this mission, which was to to bring about some type of a better change when it comes to food safety. And so that’s that’s not only what brought me to my doctoral program, but also what what I still do in terms of things like teaching and all those other titles I do today.


Dr. Russell Strickland [00:16:42] So and that’s first of all, it’s amazing the resiliency of the human spirit that I cannot imagine going through that type of loss. I mean, I literally I lost folks when I was young that were close to me, but not that close. And having children myself, I just cannot imagine what that would be like. So to take that event and turn it into something positive for you, for your life’s focus and your mission and also for the rest of the world is very commendable and amazing. So that’s just number one. When you have this obviously this mission that’s that’s driving you forward, how did that impact your doctoral degree program? The work, the the the the project, all of it. How did that impact?


Dr. Darin Detwiler [00:17:42] Well, first. I didn’t think that I was. Ever going to be considered as someone who could be in a doctoral program? Being the first one family to go to university, I’m definitely the first person to to apply for a doctoral program. And my wife, who had even I was by the time I relocated to the East Coast, I was a single man. My my kids are adults and and I have a new woman in my life, a new person who really helped me through these changes and adjustments and not only encouraged me, but kept. Reminding me about how I am so passionate about my mission and I am so you know, if I don’t do this, then how can I expect others to do this? If if this isn’t enough of a mission for me to do this research that I want it to do, then what is. And when I doubted myself, she encouraged me and when I when I fell behind, when I was sluggish, she literally picked me up and pushed me and said, you need to do this. And. You know, you go into this thinking, I want to do this. It’s like a funnel. You go in thinking, I’m going to do this, and as you kind of go through the process, you see keep narrowing and narrowing in terms of what exactly is going to be the focus doesn’t mean that you lose track of your mission, but it just means in terms of what can my research, what can my work in this area really do? And it had to go beyond telling a story, you had to go beyond recounting the history of it, it had to look at the idea of some practical work. And at the time, the FDA was working on finalizing and working to implement their rules for the two thousand while Obama signed it in 2011, January of 2011, the FDA’s Food Safety Modernization Act. And there were so many things to be determined and decided, defined I said, look, this is what I teach and this is what I’m studying and I need to be closer, and I was very fortunate in being able to get a part time position as a policy coordinator for this nonprofit organization that literally was paying me and my expenses to travel around the country with the FDA to go to all these hearings, to get all these public meetings, to go all these listening sessions and not only to represent them, but but to be part of this process. And this became literally like an artist in the studio, like like a cook in the kitchen, whatever. You want to use this analogy, I could not be any closer to the source of the work that was going on for this. And there were other events I was involved in. There were other agencies I was working with, meeting with the CDC or the USDA. There was a landmark trial for the CEO and some executives from a food company that that had a major outbreak. And and I was in the courtroom for that. So finding myself at this this level of proximity to what was going on was was about as as real world experience, real access to those people with the information as I could be. And many of these people knew who I was at the same time I was representing them. I was speaking whether it is at different places around the country or even beyond. And, you know, we had these trials that was a cohort from my doctor program and our cohort had I believe it was like a three day weekend every month where everyone would come to Boston and we’d have these sessions in addition to all the other work going on. And there were times I literally had to fly back home because I was living in the Boston area at this time. And so here is like, oh, how convenient. I live in Boston, my class. We meet in Boston. I literally had to fly home and schedule my calendar. I got to fly back from Spain to go to class or I going to fly back from London to go to class or fly back from Savannah, Georgia, or San Francisco to go to class. There were times I literally went from the airport with my luggage to the university to go into the classroom. And like you said, it’s like, OK, I’m here to be a student right now. There’s other times I am there to be an instructor, you know, the other side of the table, if you will, or of the the podium. And so it became this opportunity to to to grow as a student and how it impacted me, not only as a student, but as an instructor in food policy in those areas, as someone who was writing articles and advising and sitting on advisory boards. But as you can imagine, it impacted me as a as a father because here I was able to not only justify walking away from my career and education on the West Coast and relocating to the East Coast, but justifying this major change in my definition and in my work to to deviate from what I was doing. But can I do this under the guise of still making an impact in an area that I was at the time and still is my mission. And, you know, a lot of people were looking at you look at your when you’re doing that week, that month, you look at that quarter, you look at the idea of completing in class or grades for class. You look at getting your degree. And here I am looking not only at getting my degree, but but what am I going to do with this and as a major transformative period of my life.

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Dr. Russell W. Strickland

RUSSELL STRICKLAND, Ph.D., has been referred to as a “rocket scientist turned management consultant.” In truth, he applies an eclectic body of work from astronomy and nuclear physics to dynamic inventory management to market research to each of his student engagements.