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#IamAg : Meet Jana, a student, a scientist, an educator, a consumer...

My father’s love of gardening intrigued me. He would often graft roses and create bushes with multi-colour blooms. The plants were beautiful and the budding scientist in me kept wondering, how are plants able to do this?The first plant I ever grew is the commonly known ‘Red Apples’ (Aptenia cordifolia). My primary school teacher asked everyone to bring in a rinsed 1L soft drink bottle unknowingly to all of us that we were making mini-greenhouses. The teacher chose a variety of plants but A. cordifolia, stood out to me as I thought it was a “broken plant” for i couldn't see the roots. I was assured that it would grow, and it certainly did. “How is this possible?!” I keep wondering and this sparked my quest to discover more about the incredible world of plants.

I am a PhD student working on plant genetics (at The University of Adelaide, The Australian Research Council Centre of Excellence in Plant Cell Walls) and am also currently doing an internship with The United Nations Food and Agriculture Organisation

But, my journey into agriculture could have taken a very different course…

I did a general science degree and developed a strong interest in molecular biology, my intention at the time was to pursue a biomedical orientated pathway. I was on track. I had confirmed an honours placement in my biomedical lab of interest and had not even considered looking into agriculture. 

On a whim, right before starting my honours degree I decided to use my 2011/12 summer break to learn about another department in The University of Adelaide, learn about agriculture. I accepted a lab placement at in The School of Agriculture, Food and Wine (AFW) and discovered how my interests in molecular biology could be applied to agriculture, how molecular biology is fundamental to agriculture and how I can be involved. I have never looked back. 

The School of AFW developed The Waite Research Institute (WRI) initiative, which aims to establish world-class research capacity at the university’s Waite Campus. I have now been at the WRI for five years and my role in agriculture is one that I am so proud of:

I am a student

I used to think that “agriculture” meant farming practices but I was quick to learn that the field of agriculture is much more diverse than this. Agriculture calls upon skills from diverse disciplines and I have consequently had the opportunities to learn more about the world from being involved in it. I have gained skills from microscopy to horticulture, and now I am learning about policies regarding international development. This is agriculture.

I am a scientist

“How can we feed the World sustainably?” (10 big questions, The University of Adelaide) Food and agriculture are integral to answering this question. Through my honours and PhD research I am able to work with other great scientists to tackle many points of the food production value-chain. We investigate “how plants work”, how to make food more nutritious and what some innovative applications of plant derived products.

I am an educator

“Where does your food come from?”

“The supermarket.”

A prominent issue in many developed and urbanised locations is the lack of awareness regarding food production. If people are not aware of this, they can not care and consequently are not able to take action in our movement towards a more sustainable and nutritious food system.

In addition to working with other students, I also enjoy participating in agriculture outreach events and programs (such as ‘Why Waite?’) and use these opportunities to communicate with the public and school students about the importance of agriculture. It is particularly satisfying when you teach someone about something they did not know of before and you see their face light up. Furthermore, at these events I am able to reach out to future agriculture students, let them realise the true global breadth that agriculture is, its significance and entice them to explore it further.

I am a consumer

The end of the agriculture production line comes in the form of the food that we consume. I love eating. The consumer, including you, is what drives agriculture and the reason for its importance in every person’s life.

Because of the universal reach of agriculture, I believe my career in it has, and will continue to have, a truly positive impact on the global community. #IamAg, I am involved in agriculture and surrounded by it. #AreYouAg too?

This post from Jana Phan a doctorate student at the University of Adelaide is part of the Farming First  series “I am Agriculture”, that showcases the many careers available to young people in agriculture.Are you a young professional in agriculture with a story to share? Tweet using #IamAg to join the campaign and inspire more young people to get involved in agricultural careers.