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Eye opener for UniTas student

Thanks so much to one of our partners, Dow AgroSciences for this story about UniTas grad Maddie and her work placement in NZ!

University of Tasmania graduating student Maddie Francis is a perfect illustration of the valuable role played by the Primary Industry Centre for Science Education (PICSE) and industry sponsorship in attracting a future generation of young people to careers in agriculture.

As the winner of the 2014 PICSE/Dow AgroSciences Travelling Scholarship Award for Excellence in Science, Maddie spent a week at Dow AgroSciences’ Waireka Global Discovery Research Station in New Zealand, working alongside top international scientists, testing novel lead compounds and experiencing the product discovery phase for potential new fungicides.

On her return, she scored a graduate regional cropping position at the Victorian Department of Environment and Primary Industries. Maddie completed her agricultural science degree at the University of Tasmania last year, doing an honours project with Dr Keith Pembleton, project supervisor from the Tasmanian Institute of Agriculture, that investigated the role of endophytes in perennial ryegrass.

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“Maddie has been an extremely bright and dedicated student,” Dr Pembleton said. “She completed a very challenging honours project that has some good implications for industry.”

He said the week at Waireka gave Maddie valuable work experience in a commercial research setting with direct industry application, which could be very different from university research.

“As a new graduate you come into an industry with very little professional network,” he said. “Being able to come into and establish that within such an international agrochemical company like Dow AgroSciences, as a new student, is an amazing opportunity.”

Maddie sees working in agriculture as a way to do something practical and hands-on, and apply her science knowledge and passion. She said the work placement at Waireka, where she saw just how rigorous the research and testing process was, had given her a new appreciation of the safety of agricultural chemicals.

“I never realised just how intensive the process is to make sure the new molecule is safe and user friendly,” she said. “It’s a huge and lengthy process to register a new product. The research at Waireka is used to determine whether a potential active ingredient has efficacy on a particular target disease, its mode of action and the dosage effect. After the initial testing phase at Waireka, a molecule goes through many other phases until it reaches market. It can take up to 12 years before they have a commercial product.” She said the placement highlighted the differences between university life and the practical world of agricultural R&D.


“The first day really took me by surprise,” she said. “When studying agriculture, we typically learn about disease prevention in crops but on the first day at Waireka the researchers taught me their different methods for inoculating wheat and barley with fungal diseases. It was great to see it in practice.

“I also assisted with visual assessments of fungicide trials in wheat and barley crops. This involved an intensive visual assessment of hundreds of individual plots to determine the level of crop damage caused by the pathogen. I also spent time with many different scientists learning about research in fungicides, herbicides and insecticides.

“After seeing how a real company operates, I would definitely consider a career in a private research company in the future.” Maddie is the fourth student to receive the travelling scholarship.

Dow AgroSciences R&D leader Dr Matt Cahill said the experience was invaluable not only to Maddie’s career but also to the industry’s future.

“Students are able to build their professional profile through this placement and can go on to develop

great careers in agriculture,” he said. “But what really is exciting, is the passion, enthusiasm and curiosity they bring with them to the industry.”