Celebrating International Day of Women and Girls in Science

11th February 2021

Celebrating International Day of Women and Girls in Science

An interview with Megan Nelson, Poultry PhD Researcher

Today is the International Day of Women and Girls in Science - a day to celebrate the crucial role that women and girls play in science and technology.

The United Nations has highlighted that there is still a significant gender gap in STEM disciplines at all levels, with women and girls still being underrepresented in these fields all over the world. It is estimated that currently less than 30 per cent of scientific researchers worldwide are women.

At Devenish, we recognise the importance of diversity and we work hard to support and develop our teams, ensuring everyone has the opportunity to grow within their field.

To mark International Day of Women and Girls in Science, we spoke with Megan Nelson, a Poultry PhD Researcher, to find out more about her career journey.

Megan joined Devenish in 2017 as a Poultry R&D Graduate, and after successfully completing the Devenish graduate programme, she applied to the Devenish Doctoral Training Programme in partnership with Queen's University Belfast. Megan is currently completing her PhD on a part-time basis, alongside her role within the poultry R&D team.

Megan highlighted that being accepted onto the Doctoral Training Programme was a huge achievement for her. She said: "I had some doubts and questioned whether it was the right move for me and if I was the right person for the programme, but I am so glad that I pushed myself out of my comfort zone. I think with the support from my colleagues at Devenish, there is real potential to make a significant contribution to research in the industry."

We asked Megan a few questions about her journey through science.

Did you always know that science related career was for you?

From a young age, I always had a real interest in science - I was always curious about how things worked and was particularly interested in biology. I had great intentions of becoming an architect so decided to study art and technology for GCSE. By A Levels, I had become increasingly interested in a career in science. I researched different career options and quickly decided that studying A Level biology, chemistry, and business studies would provide me with many different opportunities where I could continue to grow and develop.

I attended Queen's University Belfast and studied BSc (Hons) Food Quality, Safety and Nutrition. I've always had an interest in food and nutrition, and this degree gave me a great insight into the food industry.

I completed a placement year in Australia working in quality assurance in one of Australia's largest abattoirs and meat exporters. This was fantastic experience for me, I worked alongside some great colleagues who inspired me to develop into a career in agriculture.

In my final year of university, I became much more focused on the world of animal nutrition and chose a subject in this area for my dissertation. This piece of work was my first real introduction into animal nutrition and helped me to get to where I am today.

What does a typical day look like for a Poultry PhD Researcher in Devenish?

My role involves conducting research into current trends within the industry and looking for new ideas to investigate. I'm responsible for overseeing some of my own projects, one of these being to create an interactive manual to showcase our knowledge and expertise in Antibiotic Free Poultry Production/Reduced Antibiotic Use.

I work closely with our local and international commercial teams by providing and developing research which is used to offer support and guidance to their customers. I'm also involved in our Poultry Performance House network and offer support to the R&D team by helping with weekly data collection, trial set up and results generation.

What do you enjoy most about your job?

I really enjoy the variety of projects. Since starting my PhD, I've worked closely with colleagues in different sectors of the business which has been a great learning experience. I have had the opportunity to work on a wide range of subject areas which has helped develop my knowledge of the industry. I also really enjoy the hands-on aspect of getting involved with our Poultry Performance House network.

Can you tell us a brief overview of your PhD?

My key area of focus is investigating methods and nutritional solutions to ensure the most effective utilisation of nutrients in poultry and studying the effects of these methods on poultry performance, health and sustainability. The project aims to investigate methods and nutritional solutions to improve the utilisation of the most important nutrients in poultry nutrition such as energy and protein/amino acids.

A particular area of interest for me is gut health and immunity, and I would like to explore some existing and potential products that can offer benefits to these areas and demonstrate the links between these and poultry performance. I'm also keen to build sustainability measures into my project. Some areas of focus will be on mitigating ammonia emissions from poultry houses and looking into solutions to help our customers reduce their carbon footprint as examples.

You mentioned that you left your comfort zone when applying for the Devenish Doctoral Training Programme, what advice would give to others who are unsure of what career path or academic route they want to take?

For me personally, not being fully aware of all the opportunities out there made it slightly more difficult to decide on a career path. I would recommend researching several different career options that interest you to gain some insight into the job roles and what the academic route and career path is. Don't be afraid to reach out to people who already work in a similar field or industry for advice.

When you're not working or studying, what do you do in your spare time?

Sport is really important to me, I play camogie and gaelic football which I find is a great way to relieve the stress of work and studying - if you're familiar with these particular sports, I'm sure you understand how it can help! Due to the current coronavirus restrictions team sports aren't going ahead so I've had to find something else to keep me busy. I'm quite creative and during the first lockdown, I channelled my entrepreneurial skills to turn a hobby into a small part-time business. I'm currently making soy wax candles and wax melts which I promote on social media and sell through Etsy. I've really enjoyed my small business venture and plan to continue it in the future.

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