I’m Carlota, a third year PhD student at the University of Reading and NIAB EMR. As part of my PhD training, I’ve carried out a 3-month placement with the AgriFood team at KTN, working on the GCRF AgriFood Africa Programme. My PhD is BBSRC funded via the Collaborative Training Partnership (CTP) for Fruit Research, an industry consortium including partners working across the supply chain.

Diving straight in despite unusual circumstances

My research focuses on investigating the impacts of climate change on dormancy of apple trees, and it includes significant industry involvement. In carrying out a placement with KTN, I hoped to get an insight  into the AgriFood sector from a different perspective. I started my placement with the AgriFood team in May. Joining a new organisation can be a stressful experience under normal circumstances and starting in the middle of a global pandemic with strict lockdown measures could have been challenging, however everything went remarkably smoothly, an indicator of how well the organisation had adapted  to working from home . As I started, I was soon receiving Zoom meeting requests, phone calls and emails from the AgriFood team, who ensured I felt welcomed and well-integrated under these challenging circumstances.

Getting involved with the GCRF AfriFood Africa Programme

During the last 3 months, my main role has been supporting the delivery of the virtual missions, as part of the dissemination of the GCRF AgriFood Africa Programme. Starting the placement in May gave me the opportunity to get involved in planning the webinars from the beginning, from contributing to the agenda, to inviting speakers or writing dissemination material. I was able to work with other KTN departments, including marketing and events management. During the delivery of the virtual missions, which were live streamed on Youtube and Facebook, I had the opportunity to engage with both attendees and invited speakers, as well as to host a couple of sessions. After the virtual missions, I helped analyse the data and feedback received and created some articles for the KTN Newsletter. Along with all the work related to the GCRF AgriFood Africa Programme, the AgriFood team gave me the opportunity to get involved with other activities I wanted to explore during the placement. This included reviewing grant applications, attending Board meetings and relevant webinars, writing articles and being involved in meetings with innovative businesses working in the sector.

Working in the GCRF AgriFood Africa Programme has given me an understanding of some key challenges for the sector in Africa. I have learnt about interesting innovations working to address these challenges as well as funding opportunities for collaboration between the UK and Africa. Reviewing grant applications and engaging with funder providers are highly relevant experiences for a researcher. My short (but intense!) time at the KTN has also given me a great overview of the organisation’s work, fantastic networking opportunities and a valuable insight on a diversity of career paths to consider after the PhD. 

Experiencing the launch of the new strategy for KTN

Due to Covid-19, plans for dissemination of the GCRF AgriFood Africa Programme had to change. The team was planning to take UK AgriFood businesses on missions to Africa but they had to turn these trips into virtual missions. Because of these last minute changes, I was unsure of what my placement was going to exactly involve. But it became clear as soon as I started and engaged with different KTN members. Even under the current circumstances, there is fantastic communication within the organisation and all staff members are passionate about their job. The diversity of projects and activities KTN is involved with can make it challenging to clearly communicate what they do, but this has been effectively addressed in their new 5-year strategy. I was fortunate enough to see the internal launch during the Team Day event, it felt like a very empowering moment and the new face of the organisation clearly communicates KTN’s work.

During the 3-months placement, the AgriFood team made me feel my work was valued like any other member of the team. They gave me a really warm virtual welcome and made it possible for me to get involved in everything I was interested in, ensuring I had a valuable and full experience. Working in the virtual missions with Tim Messeder and Jayne Brookman was a joy, they were motivating and showed great confidence in my work, allowing me to take the lead in some areas of the missions.

Overall, it has been a great experience, and it has given me a highly needed motivation boost for the last leg of my PhD. A big thank you to everyone in the AgriFood team for having me around and making it a valuable and rewarding experience. 

My apple trees are waiting for me so it’s a goodbye for now!

Carlota Gonzalez Noguer

PhD student in Crops Science at the University of Reading and NIAB EMR

27th July 2020

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