Female #FoodHeroes

Xi Chen

Xi is a group leader at Syngenta’s Beijing Innovation Center, part of Syngenta’s global Seeds Research organization. Along with a group of scientists, she focuses on the development of a biotech seeds platform and using it to deliver critical trait and technologies that address global farmer’s needs on major crops.

Why do you love your job?

At Syngenta, we use modern technologies to develop solutions for globally important problems in agriculture. I like to work on projects where you can clearly see the value, and how farmers can benefit. We are a global team and have technical experts in every area, which allows us to deliver high quality science collectively. Besides exciting technologies, I enjoy working with different people, as I can learn from senior leaders and experts, and also give my own support in developing young scientists. I consider our biotech pipeline as not only for trait products, but also for talent.

How did you get here?

I grew up in the city, but I always liked nature and biology, so I went to Beijing Agricultural University without much thought about my career. Later, I went to the U.S. to pursue a PhD in plant pathology, but I mostly worked in the lab without much idea about modern agriculture. Luckily, I joined Syngenta right after I got my PhD. I was fascinated about the breadth and depth of science within the company, and how much we can do to revolutionize agriculture all over the world. Now 20 years have passed, and I have grown from a junior scientist to a function leader, but I still feel the same way: there is still so much to learn and so much to do. I think that is the main reason I am still here today.

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

One piece of advice I want to give to young women in agricultural science is to expand your interests. Take time to look around, read more and talk to more people. I interview a lot of PhD candidates for recruitment, and many times I see they are too restricted to their respective research projects and hardly pay attention to what is going on outside of their labs. By doing this, you limit yourself, and will lose a lot of good career opportunities. Even if you already have a specific area to focus on, having a broad knowledge-base and interests will allow you to innovate more through interaction.

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

The agriculture industry needs to become more attractive to young generations, all the way from scientists to farmers. I feel worried when I hear colleagues’ children do not want to follow their parent’s career path, or when young people in China all go to the cities to live; only old people stay home farming. This is a big issue and I do not know who can solve it. I believe modern technology can play an important role to change the situation, making agricultural science more fascinating and powerful, enabling farmers to be more productive and make more money.

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

As a scientist working on agricultural biotechnology, I think about a lot of challenges, but it is hard for me to think about one in particular just because I am a woman – I don’t think we should emphasize that or be too sensitive about it. We just need to have clear goals, focus on delivery, and have independent thinking. Being confident and optimistic is probably the most important thing when facing any challenge.


Xi 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.