Dave Priest

Dave completed his doctorate in plant science at the University of York. He is currently the chairman of a small banana business in Africa, having previously worked for the UN.

"I completed my doctorate in plant science at the University of York. My research focused on how plants survive environmental stress, such as drought. My motivation was to use plants to help feed the world, but I discovered that I would not do this from the laboratory.

"After my doctorate I gained an international Wain fellowship with funding through BBSRC, working with the Food and Agriculture Organisation of the UN, managing the Agricultural Biotechnology Network in Africa based in Nairobi. This gave me invaluable experience of working with development organisations and enabled me to build a network of personal contacts in the field. That network is proving useful now and will doubtless continue to do so.

"I was then unemployed for six months. This is a risk of working in the development sector, which is characterised by short-term contracts. I used the time to write a business plan for multiplication of disease-free bananas. The aim was to set up a sustainable, up-scalable project that covered its own costs by selling banana plants to farmers. I wrote the proposal with a colleague, and we have since launched our own small banana business, of which I am chairman!

"At present, I am in northern Mozambique, working for a fresh produce company that sells vegetables to UK supermarkets. My job is to work out whether and how it would be possible to buy produce from small farmers. This has involved collecting data about weather, soil quality, and from field trials. I have researched how other companies and NGOs work with farmers to adapt their models to the local situation.

"I’ve drawn on my doctorate in various ways. My subject expertise gave me authority and credibility when talking to scientists and plant breeders around the world. The transferable skills I developed have proven even more important. I have had to prepare project proposals and development plans. With my doctorate behind me, I was quite comfortable doing background research into what was needed and what else had been tried, and then explaining to managers in a reasoned way what would be achievable. In my planning I made sure that I had clear objectives with measurable outputs and that I highlighted potential risks. All of this is second nature to a scientist in search of data for their thesis or publications.

"I have been struck how, beyond academia, people make statements without providing evidence for them. Being able to understand the importance of this, and spot when somebody else does not have a good grounding for a statement or judgement, has proved very useful. Similarly, being acutely aware of the difference between facts (like the results bit of the thesis) and opinion (like its discussion), and the need to base opinions on facts, has proved very valuable.

"I only wish now that I had taken more advantage during my doctorate of the training courses that were offered. These were available free of charge. I soon discovered that, in the world of work, training opportunities are severely constrained by budgets!"