Kelly Jowett never dreamed of being a scientist but now cannot imagine her life without it. Here she talks about how she is trying to make a difference in the world through the power of research and fieldwork at the globally acclaimed Rothamsted Research.
Science is the best method we have to find effective solutions to the world’s problems.
But more than that, I have an insatiable curiosity about the world.
Science puts you at the cutting edge of that knowledge, finding out things that no one knew before! I find it really exciting when a project comes together, and you start to get down to the truths of what is really going on.
It also gives me this sense of a higher purpose, contributing to something that’s bigger than myself, and helping to make the world a better place - bit by tiny bit.
After dropping out of college, I went into a career of gardening, because I love being outdoors.
After a few years however, an injury caused me to reassess.
I decided what I really wanted to spend my life doing was helping to protect nature.
I went back to college (more successfully this time) then onto university for a foundation degree (FdSc) in Environmental Conservation, fast tracked onto a bachelor’s degree (BSc), and carried on my work with farmer engagement with a masters in research (MRes)in Global Food Security and Development.
The PhD project I applied for at Rothamsted seemed the best way to combine my practical fieldwork and statistical skills with my experience in social science, towards providing evidence to support sustainable agriculture.
My supervisors later told me that it was my passion for the work that set me apart as a successful candidate.
I’ve loved nature since childhood, but when I began to study it formally, it soon became apparent that humans are responsible for the biggest impact on it.
I remember when I chose my undergraduate dissertation it was because of one fact - 70% of the UK’s land is agricultural.
I wanted my work to make the biggest difference that I could, so that became my focus.
In that dissertation project I worked with farmers and discovered the biggest influence on the beneficial beetles I studied was their management choices.
I also learned the tremendous amount of constraints on farmers, and how that influences their choices.
From then on, I resolved to tread the line between human needs and the continuity of the natural systems that provide for those needs.
I want to provide applicable solutions that are mutually beneficial.
I’m one of those very irritating morning people, so after checking my correspondence I either do some reading of scientific literature or statistical analysis and writing up of my findings.
In the afternoon I tend to do less cerebral tasks, such as processing samples (basically counting different species of beetles), data entry, or general admin and correspondence.
In the fieldwork season most of my working time is outdoors, setting and collecting traps to measure beetle abundance in cropped and adjacent areas.
It’s exhausting, but really fun.
How easy and exciting statistics can be! I’ve always been quite bad at maths, but statistics really isn’t that maths heavy as you would think.
It’s also such a fantastic feeling when you have spent so much time gathering data, working with it, and it shows something interesting.
I’m actually not a natural communicator.
I always hated public speaking, and I really am no good at networking and small talk! But I love to present, I’m always volunteering for engagement, especially when it comes to insects: talking to farmers, the public, and other scientists about why and how to help them.
My secret is to think of myself as a conduit of the message, that people aren’t listening to me- but to the science.
Anyone who cares about the world! There are so many roles within agriculture to suit any type of person: practical, academic, theoretical, political, administrative, technological.
That’s the great thing about agriculture, it touches on the environment, human wellbeing, culture, and economics.
The food we eat is so vital to everyone, and everyone can play a part in how our food systems work.
For every problem I try to think of a different approach.
Sometimes I fail, but instead of being disheartened, I use the experience to think of yet another way to find a solution.
I’m an artist in my spare time- I do commissions of wildlife and pet portraits.
I find creating art takes me away from the world like nothing else, whilst connecting with it at the same time.
My artwork often makes an appearance in my scientific work, from diagrams, to posters, leaflets, animations, and once, a 6ft tree for an exhibit.
The typical image of a farmer.
I’ve met and worked with many farmers, and the only thing they have in common is their tenacity and resourcefulness.
Also, I’ve never yet met a farmer who didn’t appreciate nature.
Many of them have not been sure quite how to incorporate it into their farming practices practically or economically, which is where I try to help.
About 70% of the UK’s land is agricultural.
That means it impacts on all of our ecosystems, both directly and indirectly.
It not only provides the food we eat, but also the air we breathe, the water we drink, and affects the landscapes we love and all our treasured wildlife.
But it also means that making changes to the way we farm has the potential to make a huge difference to everyone’s wellbeing.
As part of National Careers Week #ThisIsAgriculture showcases agriculture at the cutting edge of modern technology and at the forefront of innovations in key areas, such as IT, forensics, engineering, automation and design.
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