A Conversation with...
Dr Jemma Taylor is a Research Associate for New Innovations, based at our office at Rothamsted Research in Harpenden. Here she chats about her career to date and offers advice for students thinking about their own future specialisations.
I am a passionate plant scientist who wants to feed the world. My role as Research Associate in New Innovations at CHAP allows me to interact with stakeholders, encourage ideation in response to sector challenges and write business cases for the best of the created solutions so that they might become a reality. CHAP is a great organisation to work for and I really like that I share their drive for innovation to make a difference in the world that we live in and for future generations.
I was already considering studying plants at university and was aware that I needed two science subjects for entry (I did Biology and Chemistry). I chose Environmental Science as my third subject as I have always been environmentally conscious and wanted to learn a new subject! I also undertook some work experience at Kew Gardens to see what a job working with plants might look like, which helped steer my decision. I completed my BSc in Plant Science at the University of Nottingham which allowed me to specialise in plants as that’s what interested me most.
From there I went on to work as a technician at Warwick HRI on a research project looking at understanding flowering time in lettuce. That led me to complete a PhD at the University of Warwick looking at breeding late bolting varieties of rocket. Part of the draw was that it was industry supported, and it happened to lead onto a job in the sponsoring company, Elsoms Seeds Ltd.
I subsequently continued working in both industry and academia, and with a range of crops, including lupins for Ethiopia, while at the Royal Botanic Gardens Kew, which was a delight given my previous work experience there.
Although Agri-tech is a new area for me, in a lot of ways, it is an extension of what I have worked with before, just applied on a larger scale in many cases. I was looking for a different avenue to explore in my career, to expand my skills and interest and the role here at CHAP does just that.
I’m not sure I quite chose to pursue a career in agri-tech, it more chose me. I initially chose a career in plant science, but as I progressed, the work I was doing just led naturally to agri-tech.
My main driver for working in plant science is that I want to do something that makes a difference in the world, particularly feeding the world. There are so many global challenges at the moment, working in plant science within agri-tech gives me the opportunity to be involved in building solutions so that use of plants can make an impact on the challenges.
Agri-tech is a rewarding and fulfilling career as it is helping to feed the world and combat global environmental challenges.
In 2005, I was a student at Nottingham University’s Sutton Bonington campus studying Plant Science. One of my lecturers invited me to attend the first Gatsby Plant Science Summer School event that summer. I almost didn’t go as the purpose of the teaching week was to excite regular biology students about plant science, so that they might choose options or decide to specialise in it later on, whereas I was already taking a plant science degree, so already convinced!
However, it was well worth it as I learnt a lot, given the breadth of subject matter, speakers, and practical work that we did during the week. This year I was invited back to be a guest speaker at the event, due to my experience and my current role in agri-tech. I had 5 minutes to share a couple of slides on my career path to date, explaining how I got here, what inspired me and the opportunities I had along the way.
Every career is different, and there are many paths to the same place, so it was great to share with the students my experience and to encourage them that university isn’t the end of the road, that it is ok to follow your passions, and that plant science is an exciting subject to take with many career options at the end.
Working in agri-tech is not one of the most common choices for Plant Science students, but for those who do work in the sector it is incredibly rewarding with a wide variety of opportunities. For many people it will be a sector that they stumble upon, while a few will be determined to be involved. My advice for anyone thinking about a future career is don’t always take the first answer you are given when exploring career options: I’d be in investment banking if I did! Follow your passions, keep asking questions, take opportunities to try something new or go on an adventure, and work hard.
It is vital, now more than ever, that we are driving agri-tech forward. With great scientists, we are able to create ground-breaking facilities and innovations that will help feed future generations. In conjunction with a nationwide network of partners, CHAP continues to provide open access, state-of-the-art facilities, run by world-class experts, that can also provide contract research capabilities dedicated to transforming crop health and protection. CHAP brings together scientists, farmers, advisors and pioneers to advance crop productivity and yield around the world, while striving to actively address global issues such as climate change. Therefore, careers in the agri-tech sector are extremely rewarding and fulfilling.