Could a career as an Agricultural Scientist be for you?

Catherine Douglas, Degree Programme Director for Agriculture, explains how agricultural scientists play a very important role in climate change research.

Climate change and the environment are big concerns for all of us and many are drawn to paths where they hope to make a difference, perhaps first considering Geography/Environmental Science/Engineering.  But Agricultural Science tends to be overlooked, and that’s despite agriculture being the predominant land use and therefore with the great capacity to positively impact the environment.  It is an exciting time to be an Agricultural Scientist, with the new emphasis on environmental land management and sustainable food production to promote biodiversity, reduce emissions and promote animal welfare. Scientists who care about these areas and have an interest in the countryside, or are intrigued by food and alternative energy production, could make such a difference.

We have animal scientists looking at additives to reduce methane emissions, plant geneticists researching crops that reduce pesticide use, enhance biodiversity and are sustainable and able to feed the population while regenerating the environment.  The technologies and computational/mathematical modelling are sophisticated and awe inspiriting.  My Plant Scientist colleague flies drones with thermal cameras to research drought resistance in crops. Accelerometers on the collars of our University’s dairy cows record their rumination to monitor their behaviour, fertility, health and nutrition. 

Agriculture is multidisciplinary, while it’s an applied biological science it encompasses business, economics, law and policy, environment, mechanisation, soil science, animal science, plant science, global challenges and so much more.  For students who prefer a more biological path, they can choose Applied Plant Science, or Animal Science which focuses on domestic, ie farm and companion, animals.

I am excited be the newly appointed – and first female! – Degree Programme Director for Agriculture at Newcastle University; I also cover Animal Science and Applied Plant Science.  I am from a non-farming family, grew up in London and just loved cows and have made a career of it.  After working as a technical adviser to dairy farmers as a cow nutritionist (yes that job does really exist), a short spell in various other industries (as you see from the list above it is a very diverse degree) and further research promoting animal welfare including an IgNobel Prize, I have returned to guiding and inspiring the next generation of Agriculture, Animal Science and Applied Plant Science students.

Catherine Douglas

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