Science students explore options for careers in agriculture

Published 18 January 2011

kirstyTwenty-two senior high-school students from northern NSW and inter-State are pursuing their interest in agricultural science this summer holidays with scholarships awarded by the national Primary Industry Centre for Science Education (PICSE).

They spent all of last week at a Science to Industry Student Camp, engaged in a program of hands-on investigations in laboratories at the University of New England and elsewhere, and visits to state-of-the-art agricultural industries around the New England North West region.

Twenty of the students are in their final years at schools in Armidale, Bundarra, Glen Innes, Gunnedah, Guyra, Inverell, Tamworth and Walcha, and are heading towards university. They were joined by two students – one from Toowoomba in Queensland and the other from Willunga in South Australia – who hold PICSE travelling scholarships.

From their residential base at Echidna Gully, the students travelled to UNE to meet and talk to research scientists and conduct investigations in the biological control of insect pests, animal genetics, microbiology, and wool fibre measurement, to Tamworth Agricultural Institute to investigate the identification of insect pests, how insects develop resistance to pesticides, and research for the mitigation of greenhouse gas emissions in agriculture, and to Glen Innes Agricultural Research Station to investigate a long-term crop rotation experiment.

They also visited the laboratories of Veterinary Health Research in Armidale and East West EnviroAg in Tamworth, travelled to “Glendon” poultry farm near Tamworth, Walcha Dairy, the Banalasta & Bickling Estate Winery near Bendemeer, the Viterra Malt factory in Tamworth and Guyra’s Tomato Exchange, and learnt about the research activities of the CRC for Sheep Industry Innovation, and career opportunities with the international company Dow AgroSciences.

PICSE is a national program dedicated to informing talented science students about the variety of opportunities for careers in agricultural industries. The annual summer PICSE Industry Placement Scholarships not only provide scholarship holders with the week-long Science to Industry Student Camp experience, but also enable each student to spend five days working with scientists in an agricultural industry or research organisation of their choice.

This is the third summer that a component of the scholarship program has been conducted through UNE, which houses a PICSE activity centre, and Susanna Greig, the PICSE Science Education Officer based at UNE, said that the local program was going from strength to strength. “The students always make the most of this great opportunity,” she said, “and it’s exciting to see them interacting and working with scientists to explore possible career options.”

“We discovered the high demand for science-based careers in agriculture as well as the huge range of opportunities,” explained Toby Crothers, who is about to enter Year 12 at The Armidale School. Toby, whose ambition is to work as an agronomist in the cotton industry, said the Science to Industry Camp had confirmed his interest in aiming at a career in agricultural science.

Kirsty McCormack, from Calrossy Anglican School in Tamworth, said the experience had enabled her to broaden her interest in agricultural science – including some areas that were quite new to her. Kirsty – as well as Toby – has a keen interest in agronomy, and they will both complete the industry-placement component of the scholarship program working with Clare Edwards, an Armidale-based research agronomist with Industry & Investment NSW.

THE PHOTOGRAPH displayed here shows Kirsty McCormack, at UNE last week, engaged in an investigation of the microbiology of ruminant digestion.