A Millennial Scientist: Doing Good by Pushing Boundaries

Posted by on October 19th, 2015 | 0 Comments »

Mary Lewis HeadshotGuest blog by Mary Lewis, Research Associate, Novozymes

I didn’t always know that I wanted to work in agriculture.

In my first year at N.C. State I was an education major, inspired by family members who were teachers. I took an introductory-level biology class, however, with a creative professor and a curriculum that explored a subject entirely new to me: botany. I was immediately hooked and when the class ended I changed my major to plant biology.

Later in college, I took a fungal biology course and discovered that I really enjoyed the microbiology side of plant health. That set me in a direction to work with plant-associated microbes (tiny organisms that interact with plants and soil). After a summer at the University of Costa Rica, where I examined the diversity of pathogenic fungi on banana and plantain, I returned to N.C. State to get my Masters in plant pathology.

Bo Cerup-Simonsen by Lars Just

For recent college graduates in microbiology or plant sciences, careers in industry are becoming increasingly popular. The work is fast-paced and focused, but the millennial generation also places priority on working in a creative and innovative environment – all of which can describe the field of biologicals. Work has become more about having a career that aligns with your values instead of having a job that just provides a paycheck.

It is no secret that the rapidly growing world population requires that we significantly increase outputs from the land. The United Nations predicts that by 2050, the demand for agricultural output will grow by at least 70 percent. GHI’s 2015 Global Agricultural Productivity Report® (GAP Report®) revealed that we are not increasing agricultural productivity quickly enough to meet this coming demand. The newest generation to enter the workforce has grown up knowing that they are the ones who will be taking on this task. Millennials are committed to working towards a greater purpose and find it essential to their happiness that they see these values reflected in the workplace. In agricultural biotechnology, those entering the workforce find it increasingly important to work for a company that is firm in its values of environmental sustainability and responsibility.

The BioAg Alliance was announced just as I was beginning my job search. The Alliance involves two companies – Novozymes and Monsanto – which maintain independent research programs to discover microbes that can increase yields of many crops while requiring less inputs, like fertilizer or crop protection products. The Alliance is a unique partnership to meet the increasing global demand for naturally-occurring, microbe-based solutions. Novozymes, with its established strengths in microbial fermentation and applications development, and Monsanto, with its powerful field-testing and commercial network, each bring their strengths to the partnership. It was a perfect fit because I wanted to use my plant pathology background to work in the emerging field of biologicals. There is so much about microbes that we don’t know and there is plenty of room for discovery and innovation.

Commercial collaboration at this scale goes beyond simply creating a successful product. The Alliance partners work together to create healthier crops with higher yields using environmentally sustainable solutions. My decision to work for Novozymes was motivated by the opportunity to make a positive impact by taking part in this collaboration. In my career, I want to help create a more sustainable world. I work here because I want to help feed a growing world population with limited resources.

Scientists entering the field of microbial research have the opportunity to push boundaries, be creative and live up to their values by doing good. It’s an exciting time to be joining an exciting industry.

« Articles of Interest: GAP Report - More sustainable ag productivity needed
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