The door won’t open until you knock.
An Interview with Grace Scott, Horticulture (Agriculture) BBM Alumni, 2015
BBM Volunteer Jessica Morwitch
From completing her Masters Degree in nitrogen-fixing bacteria, to attending the Bayer Youth Ag Summit in Brazil and working the not for profit startup, SoilCQuest, Grace Scott has had a fantastic career in the short time since her return from her 2015 BBM Scholarship trip in England. We touched base to catch up on the wonderful projects she is working on now.
JM: Hi Grace, first of all, where you are now and what have been some key highlights of your career?
GS: At the moment working for a startup called SoilCQuest, an Australian not-for-profit working on beneficial plant microbes which can sequest atmospheric carbon to combat climate change.
I was so lucky to go on the BBM trip. It was a turning point in my career and it made me realize that I wanted to work in microbiology. On my BBM Scholarship trip, I went over to England and visited labs which were working on technology that can help plants grow using microbes.
When I was there I connected with a company that was working on one particular nitrogen fixing bacteria that you can apply to plants which will make them fix their own nitrogen. This means that you don’t have to worry about fertilizing them anymore, which is great because nitrogen fertilizer can be harmful for the environment and is expensive. If we can decrease our use it makes a crop more sustainable and cost less, which is an additional benefit for farmers.
About 2 years after the BBM trip, I went back to that same company with sponsorship from the Cotton Research and Development Corporation. CRDC funded my Masters degree so that I could research the benefits of the same bacteria in cotton to see if we could decrease the fertilizer needs of the cotton industry.
Last October I got to go to the Bayer Youth Ag Summit in Brazil. I won a €5000 public speaking prize to start a project working with beneficial microbes. Now I’m trying to find microbes which reduce fertiliser demands and costs for small-holder rice farms in South-East Asia. Starting now with some preliminary work in Australia and looking forward to cracking on with the project once travel restrictions open up! I wouldn’t have been on this path without the support from BBM.
JM: What was the single most important thing your learned on your scholarship?
GS: For me, it was confidence. Growing up as a science kid, I’ve always been kind of shy, so going over to England in an environment where I was on my own, I had to talk to everyone and make friends. That was huge for my confidence. Also, feeling that BBM had invested in my work, and thought my work was worth continuing was incredible for someone at that age.
JM: How did your prior training and education pay off for you during your scholarship?
GS: I was studying natural sciences at the time, and was interested in answering the question of ‘how can make we plants need less fertilizer’. I had been interested in doing this through genetics, and looking at whether the answer was to genetically modify a plant to make its own nitrogen. That was my learning at the time. But when I went to England found a company that were doing this with a bacteria, it put me on a different path towards my answer.
JM: Did you have a mentor or employer who set you on your path?
GS: My whole family is really interested in plants and the environment, so it seemed right for me to combine both of these loves in my career path.
JM: What is one of the most the most important trends or developments in your industry and do you see a role for the BBM scholarships in advancing your industry?
GS: I think in science in general, women would really benefit from support. It’s not always easy being a young woman in agriculture or science and there are definitely always hurdles. There are many incredible female scientists who would benefit from a boost by programs like BBM to gain opportunities and confidence to go further in their career. These kind of boosts can help women tackle the hurdles, and our industry would flourish with more diverse skillsets and problem solving. It’s excellent to have that backing and support from someone who believes in you and what you do, in the way that BBM did for me.
JM: What is your message to young people starting out in your industry?
GS: Be proactive. Look for every opportunity and apply for everything that you can. It doesn’t matter if you think that you’re not exactly someone who fits the criteria, just put yourself out there. There are lots of opportunities available.
Don’t be afraid to ask for help. From what I found, the more I asked people ‘what would you do in this situation’ – or for people’s advice and help – people have been glad to help and I’ve gotten further than I thought. As the saying goes, the door won’t open until you knock.
JM: Would you encourage other young people, employers and industry leaders to get involved with the BBM Global Industry Scholarship program?
GS: Yes 100%. I’m really thankful to BBM and also to the Cotton Research and Development Corporation for both funding my first trip to England, and for supporting my second trip to England and my Master’s degree. These all put my career on a different course and it’s been excellent. I really appreciate it and I could never have done that without that support.