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Interview with Bethany Love: The Youth Ag Summit and making an impact through plant science research

As we celebrate international youth day this week focusing on the theme ‘transforming education’, I had the pleasure of talking with Bethany Love, one of our three UK Youth Ag Summit delegates.

Bethany is a PhD student in Plant and Crop Science at the University of Nottingham and in her final year of research. I sat down with her to learn more about why she decided to apply for the Youth Ag Summit, which is happening in Brazil later this year, and chat more about careers in plant science, the need to change public perception of agriculture and what good leadership in agriculture looks like.

So Bethany what’s your story in Ag? How did you get to this point in your final year of a PhD in plant science? 

I’ve always wanted to do something that I felt was giving back to society and ended up studying an undergraduate degree in Biology, which was purposefully broad. It was not until my second year of university where I gained more exposure into the world of plant science, doing a mini-dissertation on an Ebola treatment produced by the tobacco plant.

Following this, I did a year in industry at NIAB under the supervision of Alison Bentley and found it incredibly interesting. It ticked all the boxes in what I wanted to do in research; a great mix of working in the field, the glasshouse, the lab and the office. After completing my final year of my undergraduate degree I knew I wanted to do a PhD in plant science and I found a PhD opportunity that was quite similar to my work at NIAB.

So I went from finishing my degree in June, to starting my PhD in August! It has been a bit full on but I have been pretty lucky how things have fallen into place and it is definitely attributed to my experience at NIAB. If it wasn’t for all the projects I got to work on and the independent work I got to do I wouldn’t have been able to go straight into a PhD.

What first got you interested in the Youth Ag Summit?

What really interested me was the idea that you would have so many people all at a similar career stage from a very diverse background geographically yet all with one goal; achieving food security through the sustainable development goals. I was interested in it because it was an opportunity to hear about how other people are trying to do the same thing but in a completely different way to how I normally hear when I talk to other academics.

At the moment the majority of the views and perspectives I hear on food security is academic alongside occasional discussions with farmers. I would like to hear more from farmers about their views on zero hunger, especially when it comes to people from around the world. I’ve spent some time working in Mexico as part of my PhD research which is a place that will increasingly struggle under the pressures of climate change. Having a chance to talk about these issues with people passionate about zero hunger like me, who are living with these challenges every day is a unique and exciting opportunity.

How do you think meeting people from different places will enhance your own perspective and understanding of ongoing efforts to transform UK public perception of agriculture?

The best way to answer this question is what I experienced recently whilst visiting the International Wheat  Congress in Saskatoon, Canada. It was really obvious to me that the local culture embraced farming and the role that wheat in particular played in taking care of the local community. They even had a wheat graphic on their number plates! It was amazing being able to have a normal everyday conversation over the counter with a shop owner who was more than happy to chat about farming when I responded to her question about me visiting the local area.

This to me was such a different encounter to what I am used to when I talk to people back home in the UK about the research, even in Cambridge which is surrounded by farmland. Because my research involves a genetic element, the usual response is sceptical and sometimes negative because they quickly jump to the conclusion that I am researching GM, which does not form a component of my research.

To me, it seems that a lot of public perception and know-how on food and farming is the information that people have access to. From my experience, people prefer to know top-level information on food and farming, rather than spend the time analysing and questioning the source of information which comes as an essential part of being a researcher. These days, it feels like society as a whole has fallen out of the habit of questioning the information on food and farming, taking it in as it is, and forming a less-than-holistic viewpoint that barely scratches the surface of some of the complexities facing food security.

 As you look at your career in plant science, what do you think the big trends will be for the plant science research community moving forward?

There is a growing trend within the UK that needs to be continued of supporting younger people, of both genders, who are in research. Ultimately, these are the people of the future who will promote gender and racial equality. Within our generation there isn’t as much gender bias as there has been in the past, so I am hopeful that we will have a fairer system. It’s still important to highlight the bias however against women and BAME people.

For example, I know many female scientists doing great research, yet they aren’t always picked to talk about their field publicly. Or sometimes in a conference scenario they can be talked over with dominant voices. It’s tricky. It’s about encouraging woman to want to work in the industry but it’s very hard to promote if it seems closed off. Luckily, events, institutions and organisations are changing, and more conferences and meetings are being mindful to an equal representation.

What do you think a good leader looks like?

When I think of a good leader, I think of my NIAB supervisor Alison Bentley, and how she supervised my industrial placement year. It is important to empower people to grow and take ownership of their projects. Even if you’re busy, you’re there to take care of others, checking in often. A good leader listens and responds to people in a supportive manner, and has the ability to take on different styles of supervision, all whilst understanding what the person needs and the best way to make them flourish. I will always be grateful for the way Alison helped me and in the future I hope to lead in the same way she does.

What’s the thing you’re most looking forward to about visiting Brazil and Brasilia?

The Caipirinhas, Brazil’s national cocktail! On a more serious note, experiencing Brasilia’s culture as well as visiting Rio with fellow UK delegates Josh and Lauren and the Australian delegate, Grace. It’s somewhere I’ve never visited before so it’s going to be a really awesome adventure, and I can’t wait for November!

Thanks Bethany, and have a great time at the Youth Ag Summit!


Curious to find out more about the world’s fourth Youth Ag Summit? Check out the website and learn about the stories of the 100 leaders set to meet in November this year in Brasilia.

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