Dairy industry leaders nurture new talent
Some of the best and brightest young scientists are being ushered into the dairy industry through an exciting new program pairing them with Australian dairy industry leaders.
The DairySage Mentoring Program in association with the dairy industry’s largest research program, Dairy Futures Cooperative Research Centre (Dairy Futures CRC), offers future leaders the opportunity to interact with inspirational and experienced industry professionals to develop new skills and share knowledge.
Following a recent two-day workshop, 19 post graduate students involved in Dairy Futures CRC research were partnered with mentors including individual farmers as well as leaders from organisations including Dairy Australia, Genetics Australia, Australian Dairy Herd Improvement Scheme and the Gardiner Foundation.
The training workshop featured a speed networking activity and dinner so students could select mentors best suited for their careers. The students and mentors then committed to an initial 12 month partnership and set a personal development plan for the student to be reviewed throughout the period.
A range of students from Australia and around the globe are expected to benefit through their participation in the program, some just months away from completing their PhD studies while others are yet to begin.
The research projects of the students at Dairy Futures CRC are in areas of plant and animal genomics and include projects such as the breeding of elite ryegrass to suit Australia’s changing environment and identifying traits in cattle genomes to improve breeding strategies.
Dairy Australia’s Program Manager for Product Innovation, Dr Mani Iyer, is one of 17 mentors and said the program was an excellent initiative from Dairy Futures CRC to bring new talent into the industry.
“The mentoring program helps the students to think not just about finishing their PhD but the bigger possibilities in terms of their careers in the industry as a whole, understanding their strengths and weaknesses, and using the networks that their mentors can provide them.
“I think the initiative will help the industry because it gives these young people a sense of belonging. We are showing them the industry is very supportive, and we are there to guide them. If we do this well, we have a good chance of keeping them in the industry.”
La Trobe University student, Lesley Gray, has been working on her PhD with the Department of Primary Industries Victoria (DPIV) for the last two years. She is researching the DNA profile of cows to identify production traits so farmers can achieve greater productivity and profitability from their herds in the future.
Lesley, who grew up in the Goulburn Valley, said the mentoring program was a great opportunity to network and gain a broader understanding of the dairy industry.
“It’s also good to have someone interested in the progress of your PhD. It can be a very personal thing so it’s great to have advice from someone who understands science and has been in our position,” she said.
“We as students are very grateful for the opportunity.”
Listen to Lesley Gray's interview on ‘Country Today’ aired in Swan Hill, Horsham, Hamilton and Colac!
Another La Trobe University and DPIV student involved in the mentoring program is Hamilton-based Pieter Badenhorst who said the mentoring experience was a career turning point.
The aim of Pieter’s project is to develop a perennial ryegrass with enhanced energy levels that has the potential to improve animal production in the future.
Pieter’s mentor is Genetics Australia CEO, Chris Jones.
“Chris has a wealth of knowledge in marketing, business management and leading research and development companies. What really gets me excited is the way that Chris is able to tap into that wealth of knowledge and share it in a practical, understandable manner,” Pieter said.
“The program will be a key building block in reaching my overall goals of being a leader in the industry.”
Pieter’s short-term goal is to become a program-leader or senior scientist within the Biosciences Research Division focusing on pasture improvement. As a longer-term goal Peter sees himself as a leader within molecular plant breeding.
Chris said today’s dairy industry leaders have a duty to develop the leaders of tomorrow.
“It’s great to learn from people who have been around the block and got some scars along the way. Not just the good stuff but the bad stuff too,” he said.
The DairySage Mentoring Program was developed by WestVic Dairy in partnership with The People in Dairy, with funding support from the Gardiner Foundation.
Image above PhD student Samira Rahimi-Ashtiani (centre) with her research supervisor Professor John Mason (DPI Victoria) and industry mentor Dr Barbara Meurer (Dairy Innovation Australia).