A Conversation with...
Dr Laura Cumplido-Marin is a Technical Liaison Officer, based at Cranfield University, in the Plant Phenotyping and Soil Health Facility. Here she chats about her career to date, the accomplishment of gaining her doctorate and the effect of climate change on agriculture.
I am the Technical Liaison Officer of CHAP based at Cranfield University. My job revolves around the Phenotyping and Soil Health Facility, promoting and facilitating the use of our glasshouse and custom-made soil modules, growth rooms and erosion laboratory.
As part of my work, I write technical content for our website and social media pages on research projects, conferences and campaign topics. I also identify and develop new research ideas, support researchers during the design phase of prospective projects and with technical issues of ongoing projects.
Another of my responsibilities is to produce commercial and grant quotations for the use of our equipment as well as monitoring and reporting on utilisation, ensuring operating protocols and H&S guidelines are in place, and acting as the main contact point for CHAP in Cranfield. I can be part of research projects too if they fall within my area of interest and expertise.
My day job is very varied, every week is different because I have so many different things to get done! My tasks involve assisting the marketing and commercial team, the innovation team, and the financial team, plus ensuring a smooth operation of our facilities at Cranfield.
I help deal with and sort out repairs and maintenance of the equipment, and with procuring any replacement or additional equipment. One of my most important jobs is to identify ways of maximising and facilitating the use of the Phenotyping and Soil Health Facility.
As the main contact of CHAP at Cranfield, my door is open to any queries, and I try to help everyone that contacts me or direct them to the most appropriate member of our team.
I like the fact that my job is so dynamic because I enjoy being busy and participating in the consultation, concept development, design, and execution of a variety of projects makes it both challenging and really interesting for me.
Being able to participate in research projects gives me the opportunity to continue developing my research career, and provides extra motivation towards developing future projects.
Everyone at CHAP cares about what we do and is enthusiastic and helpful, which makes it is a great environment to work in.
I would say that what I find most challenging is when something important and urgent comes in – which happens often – as that means I need to prioritise and replan my work for the day (and the rest of the week). I also then have to work more intensely after that urgent task is dealt with, in order to catch up on everything that I had to push-back. On the plus side, this means I have learnt to keep a very flexible approach to my agenda!
Because of the unique nature of our capabilities, sometimes we have unique problems, issues with no precedent that need fixing as soon as possible. This can be very challenging depending, on the problem, but on the other hand, having those challenges are part of the reason why I find my job so interesting.
My biggest achievement to date fits both the personal and professional criteria, as it is the completion of my PhD in the agronomy and economics of Sida hermaphrodita and Silphium perfoliatum at Cranfield University.
You really do not know how hard it is to do a PhD until you do it for yourself. The project is your sole responsibility from start to end, which does not normally happen in standard jobs, and it requires incredible amounts of drive and enduring effort to see it through. Doing a PhD has been the most challenging job I have ever had it has also been the most rewarding for me.
Over the years my friends have been the ones who have professionally inspired me the most, particularly the friends I made while studying my master and PhD at Cranfield University, such as Nelia Jurado, Angel Aguilera and my fellow PhD colleagues from the Science Cave group.
Being a postgraduate at an international university, I got to meet very talented people from all over the world, people with very different backgrounds and career levels. Some of them became – and are still – good friends who have motivated, inspired and guided me in me in my professional career with their advice and example.
I think the biggest change in agriculture over the next five years is going to be directly related to the climate crisis, with the necessity of the whole industry to adjust practices and business to make them more sustainable and reducing greenhouse gas emissions.
Industrial agriculture as we traditionally know it is not viable any longer both from an environmental and health-related perspective. We need to re-think agriculture to maximise the benefits and ecosystem services provided. We cannot continue poisoning our land, the crops we eat (and ourselves) with chemical products, all of which requires a full analysis of current status and incorporating changes at all levels.
This is going to require an educational and awareness effort to implement all those changes, as well as minimising and stopping – if possible – all kinds of waste: from precious raw materials, through energy, to food, along the whole chain of production and in our homes.
We are already seeing a big increase in interest on some topics such as biocontrol products, bioenergy, regenerative agriculture and alternative cropping systems, bioeconomy and circular economy, which is very encouraging
The advice I always give is to first consider very carefully what do you want to do and once you have that goal in mind then you can look at the different career paths you can take to get achieve it. If you are considering a career in agricultural research I would recommend starting with a bachelor in agriculture, because it will give you the basic knowledge required in any role and a flavour for the industry, plus the opportunity to participate in exchange programmes with other countries which is an unvaluable life experience.
I would recommend paying special attention to the established agreements with the industry for internship opportunities included in the programme of your degree because that will give you very valuable working experience and a competitive advantage when you finish. From there I would take my time to decide a particular area of interest whilst gaining work experience within an established organisation. Once you have a preferred area of interest you can look at enrolling for a Masters on a part time basis, while working or on a full time basis if you prefer to get it done and out of the way quicker. A Masters should also introduce you to research and the academic world, and help you decide whether it is something for you to pursue further.
If you ever decide to do a PhD, only do it if you really like the topic: if you keep that in mind you can save yourself (and others) many headaches. But obviously everything will depend on your personal circumstances, this is only my advice.
To find out more about Laura’s work, have a look at our Soil Health Solution and the Phenotyping and Soil Health Facility. CHAP also has phenotyping capabilities available at its Digital Phenotyping Lab.