Budding scientists explore careers in agriculture

Published 28 July 2009

picse-studentsNineteen young people exploring the many possibilities for a scientific career in agriculture visited the University of New England last Friday for further insights into career opportunities and tertiary pathways to those careers.

Coming from throughout the New England and North West regions, they were all either past or intending participants in a national program designed to provide such insights. “There’s so much to choose from,” said Sarah Drew, a Year 12 student from Calrossy Anglican School in Tamworth who is planning to study Rural Science or Agricultural Economics at UNE. “It’s really opened my eyes.”

The national Primary Industry Centre for Science Education (PICSE) program offers scholarships that, each January, allow successful applicants finishing Years 11 and 12 to visit and talk to agricultural scientists working in a variety of industry settings during a “Science to Industry Student Camp”. Each scholarship-holder then completes a five-day “Industry Placement” working with one of those scientists. Sarah’s placement in January 2009 was at the NSW Department of Primary Industries’ Tamworth Agricultural Institute.

Last Friday’s reunion event gave previous scholarship-holders a chance to renew friendships, and to pass on their experiences to applicants for the next round of PICSE Scholarships. “It’s good to see a lot of young people enthusiastic about the program and applying for scholarships,” Sarah said. “And it’s been good to come back and learn even more.”

Tom Wilson, a Year 12 student at O’Connor Catholic College in Armidale, is aiming at a career in geosciences and is applying for one of next January’s PICSE Scholarships. Tom’s interest in soils was stimulated last Friday by one of the main items on the day’s program – a session with UNE agronomist Dr Chris Guppy on the chemistry involved in soil testing. The students also visited UNE’s Kirby Research Station to learn about the latest developments in precision agriculture from Associate Professor David Lamb and members of his Precision Agriculture Research Group.

“Both these sessions were extensions of the PICSE program, providing more insights into agricultural science careers,” said Susanna Greig, who – together with UNE’s Associate Professor Robin Jessop and Professor Brian Sindel – manages the State’s PICSE program, which is based at UNE. “The students also spoke to key people about tertiary pathways to agricultural science careers through UNE, Ms Greig said”

She explained that UNE had become the Activity Centre for the NSW PICSE program in 2007, and that since then the program had expanded to include more schools and industries throughout the region. “This year we’re thrilled to have twice the number of student applicants that we had at the same time last year,” she said.

“All our industry mentors comment on how valuable the program is,” she added, “and the need for more young scientists to move into agricultural careers.”

THE PHOTOGRAPH displayed here, showing Sarah Drew (Calrossy Anglican School, Tamworth) and Tom Wilson (O’Connor Catholic College, Armidale) during a survey of research in a UNE glasshouse, expands to include Susanna Greig.