Female #FoodHeroes

Laura Potter

Laura is Head of Analytics & Data Sciences at Syngenta in the United States.

What do you do?

My team helps our research and development organization develop winning seed products for farmers by translating data into knowledge for our product pipeline. Using mathematics, statistics, genetics and data science expertise, we decode the complex interactions of genetics with the environment to drive the selection and placement of seed products that will out-perform in our customers’ fields.

Why do you love your job?

As an applied mathematician, I am passionate about using innovative science to help make a difference for society by solving real-world problems. What better place to do this than agriculture, where there are so many great needs across the globe for better food security, nutrition and sustainability, and so many exciting scientific challenges? I love bringing together our scientists to solve complex problems that in turn will help farmers feed our growing population.

How did you get here?

After completing my PhD, I worked for several years as a scientist in the pharmaceutical industry before moving into agriculture. I joined Syngenta 12 years ago, where I first applied my mathematics skills to help identify promising new trait targets to improve crop yield and other important traits. A few years later I had the opportunity to take a leadership position, and soon I saw the power of bringing together experts from multiple different scientific backgrounds to solve complex research problems. It’s an exciting journey!

What is your advice for young women wanting to contribute to sustainable food and farming?

This may sound simple, but one thing that took me many years to learn is that my voice and my ideas are important. Everyone has a unique perspective that is shaped by their own experiences and expertise – and by combining each other’s ideas we can create something even greater. To all women and men out there who are still finding their own voice – don’t be afraid to speak up and share your ideas. Chances are, you may also be speaking on behalf of someone else who hasn’t spoken up, and you may inspire them to raise their own voice the next time.

Also be curious – ask lots of questions! In addition to building knowledge and skills, asking questions will help you better discover your own interests and strengths, and it will promote continuous learning and growth. Use this knowledge to help you seek out new opportunities and build longer term career goals to guide your path.

How does agriculture need to change to be fit for the future?

Change is all around us. In agriculture we must embrace continual change and seize new technology and advancements to help us adapt and improve. There are amazing opportunities to leverage data, analytics and breeding technologies to design and grow crops that will enhance global nutrition and sustainability.

What’s one challenge you face as a woman in agriculture and what do you think needs to be done to overcome this?

I think that the pivotal role that women play in agriculture is still an under-told and under-appreciated story. In order to attract more women and diverse talent, we need to do a better job telling this story. This includes raising the visibility and voice of women leaders in agriculture, so that young aspiring talent will see a place and a career for themselves. Equally important is to foster inclusive work environments where everyone can share their voice and feel that they belong. Telling our stories will bring more talent in, and inclusive environments will convince them to stay.

 

Laura is just one of many inspirational women working in agriculture. Visit our Female #FoodHeroes page to hear from other women working to improve plant science and nutrition.