PhD student, Sophia Bellamy, shares her experience with the AgriFood team, during a three-month placement.

My name is Sophia, and I am a third-year PhD student at NIAB EMR, and I have just finished a wonderful placement at KTN. In my PhD I am researching two novel biological control agents as an alternative to chemical pesticides to tackle brown rot disease on cherries. Brown rot is one of the most important diseases in stone fruits worldwide causing up to 50% fruit loss in the orchard and a further 25% post-harvest. Chemical pesticides are currently the only control method so this research will assist in the development of better management strategies for brown rot on stone fruit. As well as gaining technical laboratory skills, I have enjoyed learning about the horticultural and agricultural industry within the UK. My PhD is part of the BBSRCs Collaborative Training Partnership, which means it is industry-led research and supported by a consortium of partners working across the supply chain. It is due to this support that I can turn research into practical solutions. I applied to work at KTN as part of my three-month industry placement. After a competitive interview process, I was offered a place with the AgriFood team, working on the GCRF AgriFood Africa Programme.

The Placement

Before my PhD, I spent some time in the charitable sector working in international development, so the idea of working on the GCRF AgriFood Africa Programme was very exciting to me because I was aware of the tremendous potential in this area. I took over from Carlota who worked on the delivery of the virtual missions. I have created summaries for these missions, and picked out the key findings, which became a template for the newsletter disseminated to 869 members. I also kickstarted a new Landscape Map for the AgriFood industry in Africa focusing on existing networks throughout the continent. This Landscape Map will be a great tool for people looking to work or invest in agriculture within Africa, and help to facilitate the coordination of research while creating further engagement opportunities between the UK and Africa. I am looking forward to seeing the finished product and watching it evolve. The agriculture sector in Africa employs an estimated 60% of its population, so this is a key industry to understand and gathering this information will facilitate this. It is important to collate information to better understand this growing landscape. 

New skills and experiences

My time at KTN has been insightful as I have been able to see the other side of the curtain when it comes to funding. It has been really interesting to get a view of how funding, research and industry all fit together, especially as collaboration is critical when it comes to creating innovative solutions to address the challenges of the AgriFood industry in Africa. In the three months that I have been here, I have managed to gain some valuable skills that I will take with me into my future career. Working remotely during lockdown has been an interesting experience. But the whole team has been so warm and welcoming, I now barely notice that I have not met them face to face. Working from home has also had its rewards with a much reduced commute. Remote working has taught me to be self-sufficient and organised in my work and highlighted the importance of communication within a team. 

It has been really fulfilling to help the team achieve their goals, even in the short time that I have been here. I am grateful for my time at KTN. Being engaged in cross-sector work has been rewarding and I am sure this will shape me as an early career researcher. 

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