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Finding solutions in agricultural research

Camilla Corsi grew up in Italy and studied chemistry in Florence before completing a PhD in Organic Chemistry at University College London, UK. In 2004, she joined Syngenta, a partner of IChO 2023 and a global, science-based agtech company. Read more about Camilla’s work as Head of Crop Protection Research and her experiences as a chemist in agricultural research.

The most satisfying thing is to follow your passion. Don’t compromise. I’m lucky that I could choose my passion, which is chemistry – there is nothing I like better than doing experiments. But just because it’s your passion, it doesn’t mean everything will always go your way. With experiments, 95% of what we do doesn’t work out, so you have to be resilient. On the other hand, there’s a lot of satisfaction when you do solve a problem.

When I was a student, I thought that I could become proficient in many areas (science, languages, leadership skills) by studying hard and being open to new experiences. But once I started work, I soon found out that nobody can do it all. If you stretch yourself too far, you end up being good at none of them. So don’t try to be a superhero – do what you do best and find colleagues and partners who are experts at the other things.

I also learned the value of being independent. After my chemistry degree in Florence, I wanted to leave Italy because I was fascinated by other cultures, and I wanted to find more opportunities. So, I went to UCL in London to do a PhD in Organic Chemistry. As a student, I didn’t have much money – I had to be very careful with my daily expenses. I could have asked my parents for money, but I didn’t, and it taught me to value what I did have. Be independent, even if it means making a few sacrifices – this is very rewarding.

Be yourself – don’t pretend to be something you’re not. I did a PhD and post-doctoral research because I love science but it wasn’t my dream to be a professor at university, even though they are leaders in the academic field. After a few years of study, it became clear that applied science was more much aligned with my skills and values. A large portion of your life will be dedicated to your job, so make sure to choose what truly motivates you.

Agricultural science is on the front line of tackling two global issues: mitigating climate change and ensuring food security. I joined an industry sector whose purpose, at that time, was to find innovative solutions that helped farmers improve crop yields. We were about improving plant health to feed a growing population.

Today, crop protection research is still focused on developing medicines for plants so we can feed everyone with healthy, nutritious food. But the challenge has grown to encompass sustainability, biodiversity, soil health, and helping to fight climate change.

Every day, we aim to help farmers all over the world tackle a myriad of local and global challenges – from curing crop diseases to improving the ability of plants to cope with drought.

I’m passionate about encouraging people to pursue careers in science. In agriculture, there are many, many exciting opportunities. I would do it all over again!

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