Dr Steph says the path of research is not an easy one to walk but it is paved with passion.

Art4Agriculture has partnered with the dynamic Steph Coombes to contribute content to her phenomenal resource Ausagventures for all things YouthInAg and those thinking about venturing into the exciting world of a career in Agriculture.

Each month along with 10 agricultural youth groups and organisations we will be writing a blog exclusively for Ausagventures. You can find their profiles below and scroll down to read their blogs and to see what #ausagventures they have been getting up to around the country and how you can join in here.

In our first three blog we are going to feature our three Young Farming Champions who are currently daring to conduct very different and innovative research as part of their PhD thesis.

‘Whoever said a career in agriculture was all mud and flies obviously had no idea what they were talking about’ 

Steph Fowler and fellow Young Farming Champions

Our guest blogger today is Steph Fowler in the middle with fellow young farming champions

First up we have Dr Steph ( in waiting) Fowler who is currently sitting in one the troughs in the roller coaster ride that is the journey to a PhD and a scientific legacy in the world of agriculture R&D 

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Dr Steph with her beloved carcasses

The path of research is not an easy one to walk but it is paved with passion.

My current research project is looking at objectively measuring meat quality. I am working towards being able to identify which lamb carcases will eat well and those that won’t. I am using a laser technology called the Raman spectroscopic hand held probe because it’s rapid, quantitative and non-destructive. Developing this technology for use commercially is a huge benefit to industry because you can measure the actual piece of meat that people are going to eat without destroying it and lamb producers can be paid for the quality of meat they are producing not just the weight.

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The fantastic team at DPI at Cowra (Matt Kerr, Tracy Lamb, David (my supervisor) and Heinar (the probe’s inventor).

Over the last month I have been working on trials that take the prototype probe into lamb processing plants to figure out whether we can use it to determine how tender the meat will be early on in processing. While the work is exciting and new because there’s only two of these probes in the world (one here with me for a few months and another in Germany at the institute in Bayreuth where they are made), the work can be frustrating and deflating because every so often we come across a challenge we can’t see how to solve when we need to so we can continue working. Sometimes it’s something small like an electricity supply adapter that shorts out and then causes a bigger issue or an electric plug that’s lost a wire and sometimes it’s something a bit bigger like the equipment we need not liking the cold chillers. Because I work in smaller rural towns often these problems end in me driving somewhere to get a part or find someone who can help me. Makes for some long days when you start at 5am to be ready for the first carcases to come down to pack up, drive 2 hours, find the people or the part, and get in the car and drive back to be ready to start at 5am the next day. Add onto that some tough working conditions and you have yourself a somewhat difficult working week.

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Me in the lab

It’s not all doom and gloom though, as Ken Jr. Keyes said “to be upset over what you don’t have is to waste what do you do have”. With a little love, help, and support from those I work with at the plant, at DPI, at uni and in my own team, the industry as a whole, and the towns and communities I work in as well as my friends and fellow PhD-ers near and far I have been able to salvage my trial and continue. Sometimes it’s been the technical help, sometimes it’s having the part in stock or knowing who does, sometimes it’s helping me make a decision or cooking a home cooked meal or offering me a bed but mostly it’s just being there, and listening and trying to understand.

Research is a rollercoaster ride the ups and downs can come minutes apart and sometimes 20 seconds can change everything. Because each project is unique it can be isolating. We each face issues and challenges that are also unique and that can feel isolating. Relationships with friends, family and significant others don’t always get off the PhD rollercoaster in the same condition that they got on either and that can feel isolating too. Combine that with the stresses of just getting ourselves through the ups and downs and that’s why I value and truly appreciate the phenomenal backing I have received over the last 2 years. I wouldn’t be still standing without it and without being reminded that it is always there.

The backing of the industry and the communities I work in, the people I work with and those who believe in me and my work inspire my passion. They keep me striving at what I do to help move the industry forward. For that I am truly grateful.

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Me and my Italian friends Gianluca and Marco. Gianluca has become one of my biggest cheerleaders ever both professionally and personally.

But no mistaking there have been plenty of highlights in my journey including last year being  awarded a travel grant to attend the graduate program at the 59th International Conference of Meat Science and Technology in Turkey, where I presented two papers; I  was selected as a Crawford Scholar, and elected to the Royal Agricultural Society of NSW Youth Group. I also have lifelong memories from my opportunity as a Young Farming Champion  to share my journey in agriculture with four NSW schools as part of their journey to win the 2013 Archibull Prize.  Recently I my manuscript was selected for the Journal of Meat Science

For those who love the science here are all the details you need to read my paper

Predicting tenderness of fresh ovine semimembranosus using Raman spectroscopy
Stephanie M. Fowler, Heinar Schmidt, Remy van de Ven, Peter Wynn,
David L. Hopkins
PII: S0309-1740(14)00064-3
DOI: doi: 10.1016/j.meatsci.2014.02.018
Reference: MESC 6378
To appear in: Meat Science
URL Link http://www.sciencedirect.com/science/article/pii/S0309174014000643

You can read Steph’s blog she wrote for her YFC application process here

Follow Steph on twitter @steph_bourke

How does one become a butterfly

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