AAAS Symposium: Growing human capital for tropical animal industries

AAAS Queensland hosted a symposium at the recent TropAg 2019 conference in Brisbane – drawing together emerging industry leaders and established professionals to discuss the challenges of developing and maintaining a fulfilling career in animal science and production.

Rebecca Clapperton (Salisbury Plains Grazing) and Shannon Landmark (University of Queensland, and joint winner of 2019 Zanda McDonald Award) set the scene by discussing some of the challenges they face as young women in animal science. They spoke with passion and enthusiasm for the northern beef industry, and their stories resonated with many in the audience. Peter Johnston (Queensland Department of Agriculture and Fisheries) talked about the importance of career mobility – a nice complement to Anna Okello’s (Australian Centre for International Agricultural Research) reflections on opportunities for young Australians to work in developing countries. Finally, Alan Bell (Cornell University) and Andrew Gatenby (Indigo Agriculture) reiterated the importance of good mentors and industry engagement for a successful career pathway.

A few key themes emerged throughout the session, with some of our favourite take-home-messages below:

  • Own your own development. Speakers highlighted several opportunities for young people working in primary industries to support their development, and highly recommended the MLA Livestock Consulting Internship Program, Zanda McDonald Award and Nuffield Australia Farming Scholarships. If you see someone who is doing a great job, encourage them to apply – sometimes it takes a little nudge (or two).
  • Stand up for what, and who, you believe in – including yourself. Don’t be afraid to try new things, test new ideas, or advocate for yourself and others.

Rebecca Clapperton talked about finding the confidence to try something new

  • Be alert to opportunities. Sometimes that means studying or working in a different industry, state or country – you’ll learn something from each experience.
  • Cultivate good networks. The rise of technology and the popularity of social media make it easier for us to connect with others, but there’s nothing quite as good as a face-to-face meeting. The Young Agribusiness Rural Network (YARN) organises regular networking events across Australia, and the Young Beef Producers Forum lives up to it’s reputation as the ultimate educational, capacity building and networking event for the youth of the beef industry.
  • Don’t burn bridges. You never know who you will work with again or the extent of other people’s networks – careers are not a straight pathway, and the world is a pretty small place.
  • Don’t get too comfortable. Challenge yourself to experience and learn new things.
  • Engage with industry. Even if you’re a lab or desk-based scientist, the final impact of your work is probably in the paddock. Make the most of opportunities to visit farms, talk to producers, and understand the challenges and opportunities for agriculture. A good relationship with a primary producer is just as important as relationships with other scientists.
  • Find a mentor who is authoritative, approachable and available. Mentors are important at all stages of your career, and the relationship is often two-way. Mentoring can be informal or formal, for a short period of time or for many years.

The AAAS Queensland Branch thank all our presenters who generously volunteered their time to contribute to this symposium and share their experiences.

The symposium drew a strong crowd, despite being the last session of the day

L-R. AAAS Symposium speakers Peter Johnston, Anna Okello, Alan Bell, Bec Clapperton, Andrew Gatenby and Shannon Landmark with AAAS Qld President Di Mayberry