An undergraduate degree can inspire multitudes of questions that can only be answered by continuing your studies. This is true for Shona Russell, who studied BSc (Hons) Agri-Business and, upon graduating this summer, has returned to Harper Adams and started her MSc Agroecology course.
What drew Shona to Harper initially? She explained: “I was looking at Agri-business courses at a number of universities but when it came to attending open days, Harper really stood out. I went to small rural schools and the campus had a really homely feel.
“The placement year as part of the Harper course really appealed to me, as someone who enjoys learning ‘on the job’.”
Talking about her undergraduate course, Shona described Agri-business as: “Topical and multifaceted from growing, supply chain, logistics, to marketing; there are so many directions your career could go with this course.”
Shona took this to heart over her course, trying out the many different facets that her pathway opened up to her. She said: “One of the most exciting academic events was our final year field trip to Holland. There we visited lots of different companies and farms with amazingly advanced systems and technology which was a real eye-opener and showed the role agribusiness has in a more sustainable and regenerative future. It really confirmed that this is the right career for me, and that this had been the right course to take at Harper.
“Along with this, for my placement year I worked as a packhouse supervisor for a fresh produce marketing firm, Jupiter Group. I learnt a lot about resilience, people management and fresh produce supply chains.
“I then worked as a Marketing Assistant for the same company where I learnt to write blog posts, managed the back end of a staff app and analysed data for SEO purposes.
“Overall it gave me some very useful real-world insights and helped me decide which aspects I liked more and less in the industry which have shaped the career path I have now chosen.”
Taking forward this knowledge into her final year and writing her dissertation, Shona found her passion and found a way to extend her studies. She said: “I have always been passionate about protecting the environment and sustainable farming, but I came across a new term since starting my graduate role which is “Regenerative Agriculture”. The ethos is not about sustaining what we already have but returning our degraded resources to what they were pre 1970’s.
“My undergraduate dissertation was about a species of fruit fly which is invasive from Japan called Spotted Wing Drosophila. I looked at the level of perceived threat among UK soft fruit farmers, population trends and climate change and information sharing between farmers and governmental authorities on how to mitigate and prepare for infestations. I was already interested in this area, hence choosing it for my dissertation subject, but through the research I learnt more and more about the relationships between pest, environment, wildlife, crop and farmer.
“This gave me a thirst for more knowledge but I had no more time left at university! I was offered a graduate job with G’s, a global fresh produce company, and started in August. My role is as a Future Farming Trials Coordinator and I work setting up trials, collecting and analysing data with a goal to aid G’s regenerative agriculture goals. This is by reducing the amount of artificial fertiliser, pesticides, water consumption and increasing soil health for years to come. I have already learnt so much about regenerative agriculture and ecosystem services whilst being here.
“When I was made aware of the Agroecology Masters course it seemed the perfect fit. I really felt that gaining deeper knowledge of agroecosystems would help me one day to have some expertise in this area, make me even more employable, and allow me to contribute to this crucial facet of our agricultural future.”
While working and studying, Shona still has great ambitions. She commented: “I want to continue working in the same industry as a researcher and hopefully be able to be part of projects that will influence the way that UK agriculturalists treat their soil and environment.
“I’d love to do a PhD at some point in this area but that will be a while off yet! So far I have only been back for my first module as I am doing the Master’s part-time. It was good to be back though and see some familiar faces - even under masks! - and to continue my educational journey.”