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Advice for breaking barriers and succeeding in science

  • Department of Global Development
  • Global Development
How a willingness to take chances changed a career path

For years as a molecular biologist I was looking for work that had more meaning and impact. My passions eventually led me to work on cassava and sweet potato, which was interesting but still too lab based. There came a moment where I realized that to do international research I had to get out of the lab.

This realization is when I shifted towards project management. I was fortunate enough to work in a position that allowed me to both manage the project but also lead research. It was at that point that I started exploring research around how challenges and barriers women face and how this could shape their choices around crops and varieties. What I started reading and finding through our work in Gender-Responsive Research completely subsumed me, now I cannot imagine working on anything other than Gender in Agricultural Research and Development! The rest, as they say, is history.

Working for NextGen Cassava was my big break. It allowed me to change my career path from being focused on lab based molecular work, to one focused on international agricultural research for development. NextGen also allowed me to explore how to integrate gender research into cassava breeding, which was really an intellectual pivot in terms of career path. Now I almost exclusively work on gender training or gender in ag research, which would not have been possible before the opportunity to work for NextGen. 

The Borlaug Field Award recognition was a significant achievement. Not for me personally, but for “the cause.” Having someone who works on gender be recognized at that level was so rewarding, and I hope was sending a message to agricultural researchers, donors and policymakers that gender matters and is absolutely central to any claim of impact and development. We simply cannot succeed in any of our development goals if we are exclusionary of any sex, age, ethnicity or any other social difference. The most rewarding part of the award was getting feedback from young researchers on how they had been inspired to pursue careers in gender in agricultural development! 

Advice for IARD students:

Follow your passion! It took me years to finally do work that I loved, but it took persistence, patience and passion. Another thing I learned is that don’t be disappointed with failure, as I often find when one thing doesn’t work out, inevitably something else does and it will be even better. Lastly, personal and family life is more important that work. We live in a culture that emphasizes work above all else, and travelling a lot is part and parcel of international ag work. But we need to come to a point where we can value work life balance and talk about challenges rather than burying them.

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