Science students learn about careers in rural industries

Published 06 January 2010

PICSIE PROGRAMTwenty students preparing for tertiary science studies are gaining an insight, this week, into the variety of careers in agricultural industries that are open to science graduates.

The students are participating in a Science to Industry Camp organised through the University of New England. The five-day event is taking them not only into UNE research facilities but also to research and industry organisations in Tamworth, Walcha and Guyra.

Each of the students is a recipient of an Industry Placement Scholarship awarded by the Primary Industries Centre for Science Education (PICSE) – a national organisation that works to inform school leavers about employment opportunities for young scientists in agricultural industries. UNE houses the NSW activity centre for the national PICSE program.

This week’s activities are a precursor to the industry placements themselves: during the two weeks beginning next Monday, each of the students will spend five days working with professional scientists. For example, Ellie Noon, who is completing her HSC studies at Armidale’s Duval High School this year, will be working in a parasitology laboratory at UNE with Associate Professor Lewis Kahn. “It’s exciting to have the opportunity to do this before finishing school,” said Ellie, who hopes to study rural science at UNE.

During the Science to Industry Camp, scientists at UNE are explaining – and practically demonstrating – the contribution that agricultural scientists are making to the solution of some of the world’s most pressing problems. Elsewhere, the students are being introduced to the development of animal pharmaceuticals at Veterinary Health Research in Armidale, to the biology of pesticide resistance in insects and the latest technology for testing water quality at East West EnviroAg in Tamworth, and to research for the sheep industry conducted by the UNE-based Cooperative Research Centre for Sheep Industry Innovation.

They are also visiting agricultural businesses – including a poultry farm, a dairy farm, and a vineyard, as well as Top of the Range Tomatoes at Guyra and Joe White Malting in Tamworth. Other activities during the week include raft-building, and night-time viewing of wildlife with spotlights.

The Australia-wide structure of the PICSE program has allowed students from Western Australia and Queensland to travel to NSW to participate in this event alongside students from centres in the New England North West region – including Armidale, Gunnedah, Guyra, Moree and Walcha. “It’s been a lot of fun,” said Melissa Jones, who comes from Nambour in Queensland and is in her final year at Burnside State High School. The group had just returned to UNE after investigating the production of compost on a New England property, and Melissa was impressed with the potential of compost as an alternative to chemical fertilisers.

Susanna Greig, who manages the PICSE activity centre  at UNE along with Professor Brian Sindel and Associate Professor Robin Jessop, said that the program had been established by Dr David Russell from the University of Tasmania in 1999 in response to a national decline in the number of young people entering agricultural science careers.

“We are all well aware of global concerns to be addressed, including global warming and the need to produce fuel and food more efficiently,” Ms Greig said. “These issues translate into a huge demand – and exciting possibilities – for skilled agricultural scientists, and these possibilities are exposed through the PICSE program.”

THE PHOTOGRAPH displayed here shows the two inter-State participants in this week’s Science to Industry Camp: Eliza Walton-Hassell (left) from Pingelly in Western Australia and Melissa Jones from Nambour in Queensland. It expands to include Dr Susanne Hermesch (far left) and Wayne Upton  from UNE’s Animal Genetics and Breeding Unit, and Susanna Greig, co-manager of the PICSE activity centre at UNE.