Discover Your STEM Destiny
Picture a STEM professional in your mind—someone who works in science, technology, engineering or mathematics. What do you imagine? A strict-looking individual in a white lab coat? A coding whiz, lit by blue screen light late into the night? Whatever you think a “typical” STEM professional is, you might be surprised.
STEM fields are vast and varied, with countless different positions, areas of focus and possibilities to suit almost any interest. And some jobs that fall under STEM categories might be ones you’ve never even considered—or known to exist. But don’t take our word for it. Below, we’ve identified five young STEM professionals, each with their own diverse passions, hobbies, and job responsibilities. From an ex-marine biologist now helping to protect chickpeas from an uncertain future, to a KitKat enthusiast creating better high-tech tools for farmers around the world, there’s no such thing as a “typical” STEM story. But one of the stories below might spark your curiosity—and even ignite a lifelong love of science, tech, engineering, and maths. So go ahead: discover your STEM destiny!
Meg Kennett: The Sustainable Sheep Stocky
Interests: Livestock, sustainability, design
Much in the same way that there’s no “typical” STEM field candidate, there is no such thing as a “typical” farmer, according to Meg Kennett. “Growing up on a farm, I knew that the agricultural community was made up of the most genuine, hard-working people you can find,” she says. “However, before beginning to work in the industry full-time, my view of agriculture was simply your typical clichéd farmer doing typical clichéd farmer things: mustering cattle on bikes, sowing crops in tractors and fixing old, broken-down machines.” But that impression changed dramatically over the four years that she’s worked in agriculture, both in Australia and in the United States. “I now know that there is no typical farmer,” she says. “The agriculture community is made up of men and women of every race, age and nationality, who all have different ideas and value to add to the industry.” Now, working as a station hand on a 1200-acre, mixed livestock property in New South Wales, Meg has a front-row (motorbike) seat to the antics of hundreds of cows and sheep.
Meg’s background in biology helps inform the way she approaches her daily tasks, which include moving livestock to fresh pasture, mustering mobs to yards for various health treatments, and more. But another of her long-time interests is relevant too, though it’s a bit more unexpected. For months, Meg worked closely with Merino sheep, a breed raised especially for their fine wool—so her childhood interest in textiles comes in handy, too. “I was always a very curious kid, constantly picking my parents’ brains for answers to my questions about the things I saw in the world around me,” she explains.
In high school, she gravitated toward any subject that she could apply to “things going on in my life outside of school,” though these days, her mind often turns more toward the future than the present. In fact, the question of ag’s future is part of what inspired her to join Bayer’s Youth Ag Summit with other young delegates. “My motivation was to be a part of this mission...to be able to collaborate and put into action ideas that are focused on building resilient food systems and a sustainable world,” she said earlier this year. Now more than ever, sustainability is top-of-mind for Meg. “The STEM community is so critical to the prosperity of the agriculture industry, so for any young people looking to join STEM within agriculture, know that the work you will do is so important and makes real change for real people,” Meg advises. Her words to future science-makers? ”Keep your mind open, breach your comfort zone and put yourself out there for every opportunity available—because you never know what will come up!”
Cara Jeffrey: The Better-Future Breeder
Interests: Gene editing, marine biology, climate change
For most of her career, Cara Jeffrey was more interested in what was going on below sea-level than what was growing above it. “My background is in marine biology, and as a kid I was obsessed with reptiles and sharks,” she explains. “I attended a kids’ club at the local aquarium every second Sunday for about four years, and have been SCUBA diving since I was 10.” So it made sense for Cara to pursue Marine Biology when she went to university—but after working in the field for a few years, something else caught her attention: chickpeas. “Eventually, I decided that I was more interested in using genetic tools to work towards food sustainability and crop stability, rather than focusing purely on the marine vs. terrestrial question,” she says. “I moved back to Sydney in April 2019, and I’ve been knee-deep in chickpea plants ever since!”
While unassuming in appearance, the humble chickpea is actually a staple food for many people worldwide—and one that is at particular risk of disease, especially due to the threats of a changing climate. Cara is tasked with identifying the parts of a chickpea plant’s genome responsible for heat tolerance. This information could be valuable in the race to create threat-tolerant chickpeas, helping safeguard this important food source from the effects of climate change. It’s a tricky task, but one that could have far-reaching benefits to farmers and food systems alike. “I have always been someone who enjoys having structured problems to solve, and science always provides new challenges and discoveries,” Cara explains.
It’s this impressive work that landed her a spot at the 2021 Bayer Youth Ag Summit. As she continues to create a roadmap for future-proof chickpeas, Cara takes inspiration from the past as well. Her career pivot is now a source of confidence. “Never underestimate an opportunity, or your ability to adapt to change,” Cara advises. “Don’t pigeonhole yourself into one area or specialty. The other piece of advice I give younger students is to get used to saying ‘No, I don’t know how to do that, but I’ll learn!’ in interviews. Being able to accept a challenge and give things a go will typically result in realising you’re more capable than you know.”
Nina Guo: The High-Tech Tester
Interests: Digital technologies, gardening, product testing
Before working at Bayer, Nina Guo hadn’t spent much time around agriculture—in fact, she had been helping KitKat create the perfect confectionary “snap.” “I worked in the KitKat Chocolatory as a Break Expert before coming to Bayer,” she says. “While there, I tried over 50 flavours.”
Today, she’s traded chocolate bar breaks for breaking new ground in high-tech agricultural innovations. Coming to Bayer straight out of uni through our graduate program, she now works as a product manager in the Digital Farming team, helping beta-test the digital tools that farmers in Australia will soon have access to—and the ones that their counterparts in the U.S. and Europe are already benefiting from.
“I’ve always had a curiosity for how things work and where things come from,” Nina explains. “As a child, I was pretty inquisitive about most things, and especially loved being outside in the garden. In school, biology and chemistry were my favorite subjects so this naturally led me to pursue studying science.” At Bayer, she uses her inquisitive nature visiting the farms of beta-testers of different agricultural technologies, to better understand how they use these digital tools and what could be improved about their experiences. Every day is different, and Nina admits she “wears many hats” on her team, often working with agricultural startups and other partners to improve the lives (and farms) of growers around the country.
Seeing as her interests have taken her from the KitKat lab to farms throughout Australia, it’s no surprise that Nina loves the STEM fields’ ability to translate into many different pursuits. “STEM is a great place to be—there are so many different career options possible, depending on what you’re interested in,” she says. When it comes to advice for students curious about STEM, Nina doesn’t mince words: “I would highly recommend that they pursue their interests!” she tells us.
Yekyung Cho: The Wellbeing-Breakthrough Builder
Interests: Medicine, public health
When Yekyung Cho first started at Bayer in 2008, she had no background in science. She wasn’t sure what to expect from her first job as a clinical trial assistant. “Roughly speaking, I knew that pharmaceutical companies have research teams that develop drugs and conduct clinical trials in hospitals,” she says. “But I didn’t know exactly what a clinical trial assistant would be doing, to be honest. It was a totally new world for me.” Yekyung quickly fell in love with the work and decided to go back to school to get more involved.
“I realized that clinical trials were very valuable and important in public health, which made me want to study this field in depth,” she says. “I entered graduate school and got my Master’s degree in epidemiology and public health at Korea University.” From there, she moved up through the ranks to become a clinical research associate and eventually a country lead monitor (project manager), taking a more active role in the clinical trials that are essential to take a new breakthrough product from testing to market.
Working across time zones with those conducting trials in Europe, Yekyung is always seeing fresh data and new study results come into her inbox. And of course, each new geography comes with a host of local rules and regulations. “It was surprising [to me] that there were so many guidelines and policies we had to follow and consider—remaining current with local laws, regulations and guidelines, some of which are continuously changing in line with rapid changes in science and medical technology.” But Yekyung takes the fast-paced environment in stride. “We embrace and adapt to change—[because we] work professionally for a better life,” she says. While the process of bringing a drug to market can be complicated, it’s all made worthwhile by the knowledge that each advancement and innovation has a profound effect on real people worldwide.
“Clinical trials are essential in contemporary evidence-based medicine,” Yekyung explains. “My country head often says, ‘Today’s research is tomorrow’s treatment.’ And it’s true!”
Dylan Male: The Food System Builder
Interests: Plant life, biodiversity, Indigenous food systems
Kangaroo grass, or Themeda triandra, is a common sight in many parts of Australia—but did you know that it has also been a likely source of food for some Indigenous groups dating back thousands of years? With threats to biodiversity looming, researchers like Dylan Male are taking a closer look at native grasses like this, searching for ways to both protect their important cultural significance for First Nations people and contribute to a more stable food system for all of us.
“Growing up on a farm in regional New South Wales, one thing that I increasingly wanted to understand was how our food systems functioned,” Dylan says. “I witnessed firsthand some of the many challenges facing farming, such as drought. This led to me wanting to pursue a career where I could contribute towards overcoming these challenges.” After studying agricultural science at university, Dylan began traveling to other countries to understand a wider range of food systems. “These experiences strengthened my love for agricultural research, food security and Indigenous food systems,” he says.
Dylan’s interest in plants began at an early age. “As a child, I was fascinated by the natural world around me—the stars in the night sky, the changing of the weather, the growth of plants and the formation of landscapes.” His work now keeps this curiosity alive with fresh challenges every day. “No two days are the same,” he says. “On a Monday, I could be spending time in my office writing and designing experiments. Tuesday, I could be in a laboratory watching seeds germinate. And by Wednesday, I could be out in the countryside collecting field-experiment data.”
Dylan was identified as a future leader in agriculture at the 2021 Youth Ag Summit, but he’s the first to admit that he still has a lot to learn. In his field, he continues to be surprised by new discoveries—and by the breadth of concentrations available. But it’s becoming clear that STEM fields are as multifaceted as those who work in them. “What I didn’t know [before] is just how many opportunities and roles there are for young people entering the agricultural sector, and just how diverse these opportunities and roles are,” he explains. “There is a job for everyone!"