P.L.A.N.T. your career: Advice from a leader with her heart in research, finding a way to give back

Dr. Joyce Boye is the Director General of the Prairie Region, Science and Technology Branch at Agriculture and Agri-Food Canada (AAFC), and the Executive Champion of the Women in STEM network.

What’s one thing that would surprise people about your field of work?

I would say the versatility of knowledge in engineering and how that can be applied to agriculture, management, and leadership. I am passionate about engineering and science. It’s about the quest for knowledge, to know how things came to be and using this knowledge to create new things. It’s mind-blowing what’s possible with science, engineering and technology.

How did you get into your line of work?

In my teens I became aware of global hunger. I learnt there was a drought in Ethiopia and on television I would see pictures of children dying because there was no food. I thought it was totally unacceptable that globally we would look on while 40,000 children a day died of hunger and determined I would do anything I could to decrease the numbers; I decided then to focus on food and agriculture in my graduate studies.

What is your most memorable moment at work?

I have many, however, one stands out: I presented at a conference where I talked about food allergy research. Many months after, an audience member said to me in a conversation: “Dr. Boye, you saved the life of my friend!” I was taken aback as I had no idea how I could possibly have been responsible for anything remotely close. I came to learn that her friend had been struggling with symptoms and significant health issues that were not improving. After my presentation, her friend followed up with a doctor and found out she had celiac disease. That audience member was so inspired she decided to do graduate studies in food allergies.

Is there something we can do to support women in STEM?

I would say work-life balance. We’ve made a lot of progress but there still needs to be enough flexibility in the day-to-day delivery of work for women to enter the field and be successful. We can change this with policies that facilitate work-life balance. I’m happy we’re starting to see that change now. With varied work hours, people have shown they can still be productive while fitting in their lifestyle.

What advice would you give to young people interested in a career in science, technology, engineering and math?

I find acronyms useful in jogging the memory, so I often say PLANT your career.

P stands for passion and preparation. I encourage people to find the thing that drives them and, once they identify it, to prepare for it, identify positions of interest and get a sense of what experiences, knowledge and competencies are required for those positions.

L is for languages. A lot of positions often require you to be bilingual so don’t wait—find out what the language levels are and try to aim for them (e.g., BBB, CBC etc.).

A is for acting assignments; they are a great way to acquire new knowledge and skills.

N is networking. Volunteer to work on projects with others and explore how you can add your knowledge to different initiatives, especially by working with people outside of your comfort zone.

T is for training. I believe competence and character are important in career development and growth, and training helps to hone both.

What are your hobbies, and do they influence your work?

I love photographing clouds. The movement of clouds is a free form expression of nature; and in that formlessness there are moments where clouds form structured shapes that rival the work of any artist. When I look up and see the clouds suddenly come together in an intriguing composition, I am filled with awe as I realize that will only exist once in the entire lifetime of our universe. I like to capture those moments in the hope I can eternalize them.

What do you hope to see in your field in the next 10 years?

I hope to see virtual sciences embraced in ways we haven’t fully tapped into yet. It is critical that we continue to support the agricultural sector to be competitive, resilient and sustainable, and to do that we need to embrace new technologies and transformative approaches to work delivery. I also remain hopeful that one day no child will go to bed hungry or die simply because they don’t have food.

 

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