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I recently caught up with Joshua Joyce, one of the three UK delegates set to attend the 4th Youth Ag Summit later this year in Brasilia. We had a great time discussing everything from the importance of science communication, educating the public on how interconnected the global food system is and why Joshua chose a career in plant science research.

So tell me about your story in Ag – when did it all begin?

I’ve always been passionate about the sustainability and wellbeing of the planet and people; it has definitely been a strong theme in my life. Whilst at university, I was fortunate enough to be awarded a place at the Gatsby Charitable Foundation’s plant science summer school. It was that summer school that really showed me the importance of plant science especially in the framework of food security. I realised that through plant science you have the potential to influence so many different things in a positive way from climate change and food security to the production of natural products. From there, I undertook an undergraduate research internship in molecular plant pathology with Professor Ari Sadanandom at Durham University. This opportunity, awarded to me by Collingwood college at Durham, allowed me to continue growing my passion for plant science which I now investigate in my PhD research at the John Innes Centre in Norwich.

Before you went to the plant science summer school, what did you know about plant science?

I only found out about plant science in my late teens at university and I thought to myself this is something I should have known about before. That’s why education has become so important to me. Plants do a lot of really fascinating and important things that are not immediately obvious to us It is exciting to learn about this stuff and I think a lot of people would be inspired to utilise plants to promote global sustainability if they knew. I am really hoping to get involved in more plant science education and communication over the coming years through the Gatsby Charitable Foundation and science outreach events.

What does science communication look like for you as you pursue a career in research?

 I have been really fortunate during my time at Durham University and now at the John Innes Centre to have been surrounded by a lot of great people who are excellent at communicating their science. It is been clear throughout this that our work has the biggest impact when communicated both academically and to the public. It’s our job therefore to make our science accessible to the general public and there’s no reason why we shouldn’t be doing this. If you don’t communicate the science, what’s the point in doing it?

No doubt you will meet plenty of people at the Summit with a similar passion for raising awareness about the role science plays in achieving zero hunger. What are you looking forward to most about attending the Youth Ag Summit?

Experiencing the diversity of opinions, cultures and people’s experiences is going to be one of the most influential and rewarding things. However much you read, you still can’t really appreciate the challenges people face until you hear their stories. I was listening to the Agvocate podcast the other day. It was awesome hearing Risper be so empowered to make change and hear her perspective on agriculture in Kenya. The Summit opens up a lot of opportunities to find out challenges people face from different countries, learning different perspectives on a similar issue.

What could the UK Agri-food sector support more of to promote food security and sustainability?

Emerging biotechnologies and the opportunities that advances in plant science offer could be really exciting for agriculture and should be supported. As well as this, the Agri-food sector would benefit from further appreciating the policy-public-education nexus and improving transparency. You cannot work on these without considering the others. Similarly to what I said earlier about science communication, people will never trust you if you don’t tell them what’s going on, right?

Who are you most inspired by in agriculture? Can be the UK or worldwide!

I probably wouldn’t be doing what I’m doing now if it wasn’t for Dr Heather Knight and Professors Marc Knight and Professor Ari Sadanandom. Dr Knight and Professor Knight were the first people who truly inspired me about plant science. Apart from being very good scientists working hard to try and translate their science into the field, they’d always make time for students and their passion and willingness to help has been so encouraging. Working with Professor Sadanandom at Durham University was an inspiring and motivating experience. His leadership and ability to communicate how interconnected everything is alongside the support funding I received at Collingwood college through the Alumnus Award I received really set me up for my career in plant science research. Everyone since then, at Cambridge University and now the John Innes Centre during my Sainsbury Studentships, has been equally amazing and taught me a lot. These people continue to inspire me every day!

Thank you very much for your time Joshua, it has been great hearing your story and I hope you enjoy your time at the Summit.

Curious to learn more about the fourth global Youth Ag Summit? Check out the website at https://www.youthagsummit.com/home/