Graduate profiles - Bachelor of Science in Agriculture

Ashley Zamek

Ashley Zamek

Current student
Bachelor of Science in Agriculture, 4th year

A passion for feeding the world lead city-girl Ashley to agricultural science. “I think that I have always taken for granted the life I have had in a developed country like Australia. Improving Australia’s ability to increase yield, minimise chemical pollution and create sustainable farming can also be used to help countries still below the poverty line.”

Ashley heard about the course in a phone call from a current student. “I was always science based so I knew that was a direction that I wanted to take but it wasn’t until I read the course outline on the website that I decided I wanted to pursue Agriculture. I’m currently enrolled in Bachelor of Science in Agriculture which involves a focus on farming and the science behind it especially concerning resistance, new techniques and future concerns.”

Many courses offer basic grounding in scientific principles, such as chemical analysis or biological systems. However Ashley was attracted to her particular course by the small class sizes, interesting subjects on offer and friendly, personal faculty. She enjoys being part of the student-run Landcare Society and the Ag event and parties society ‘AgSoc’, and spends lots of her spare time reading and working with animals. “I have strong passion for animals and animal welfare issues and I am actively involved with the local pound.” Ashley adds, “I am a really big movie and book buff. Its can sometimes be a struggle to do an assignment when I have a really good book waiting for me!”

Ashley is currently doing her honours research project on biological control of fruit fly. “Basically I am rearing a culture of parasitoids (wasps that lay their eggs in fly larvae, mature inside and then emerge killing the fruit fly),” Ashley explained. “I am also doing a field experiment to see how long they would survive in the field. These wasps if successful would be released in the risk reduction zone (RRZ) which surrounds the fruit fly exclusions zone as a way to prevent the spread of fruit flies in NSW and hopefully allow more overseas trade of the fruit produced here by not using chemicals on the fruit.”

Ashley is a passionate advocate for the role of Agricultural Scientists in food production, both on and off-farm. “In January 2010 I was able to take part in a unit of study that took me to Laos. It was an amazing experience that dealt with the future of Agriculture in developing countries and it really opened my eyes to the issues facing the world. I met some incredible people who were so welcoming to the strangers in their country; it was especially remarkable to meet people from the University of Laos who were studying Agriculture.

“When I realised that even in the modern world there are still countries in poverty, it just made me realise that I could help through science.”

Advice from Ashley...
“Graduates in this degree are in high demand due to the low number of students doing Agricultural degrees; there are options of employment in a wide range of areas that will suit anyone’s preferred career.”

Dr. Simon Speirs

Simon Speirs

Recent graduate
BScAgr (2001), PhD (2006)

Simon grew up in the country but moved to the city when he began boarding at Trinity Grammar School. “I chose to study the BScAgr at the University of Sydney for 3 reasons: my interest in science, my interest and background in agriculture, and I was already in Sydney (at Boarding School).”

Simon was eager to get a qualification that would set him up for a career in agriculture. He loves the bush and wanted to work away from the city in a well-paid, secure and challenging job. “The BScAgr was a great opportunity to learn about many different aspects of agriculture away from the family back yard. The quality of academic staff and the commitment they make to their undergraduate students is a strength of the degree. The Professional Experience Program was very valuable as it provided an opportunity to network and to gain learning experiences outside the University.”

Simon did both his major and honours project in soil science, under the guidance of the world-leading soil research team at the University. “Soil Science is a challenging discipline of study well worth undertaking in final year, and many of us considered further study as a result.”

After working as an agronomist for a year with Landmark he returned to university to complete a PhD titled ‘Characterising soil structural stability and form of sodic soil used for cotton production.’ “The decision to undertake postgraduate study gave me a chance to work in the cotton industry, allowed me to further my study in an area in which I was interested, soil structural condition, and will assist my understanding of some problems at home relating to soil chemistry and soil structure. The effort put in during undergraduate study, which provided the opportunity of further study, is definitely worthwhile.”

Simon is now the project leader for the ‘Making Better Fertiliser Decisions for Cropping Systems in Australia’ project, managed by Industry and Investment NSW and involving a national and international collaboration between the grains industry (GRDC), the fertiliser industry, state and federal agencies, universities and agribusinesses Landmark and Elders.

Advice from Simon…
“Work hard at University, but to note that study is only part of the degree. Don’t miss the opportunity to get involved in extra-curricular activities, and to extend yourself when you undertake the Professional Experience Program, as it may lead to employment opportunities down the track.”

Dr. Barry McCleary

Dr. Barry McCleary

Award-winning graduate
BScAgr (Hons) (1972), PhD (1976), DScAgr (1989)

Dr. Barry McCleary grew up in the small town of Harden in NSW. "I was fairly sure, from my interests in biology and chemistry at High School, that I wanted to study in the area of plant biochemistry, but I wasn’t sure how best to do this at University. Straight from school, it is hard to make a decision that is going to shape the rest of your life. I found myself torn between Agriculture and Science/Chemistry (with a view to move into biochemistry). Perhaps the reason why I chose Agriculture over straight biochemistry is that the Ag degree left me with a few years to make the final decision about specialising. Choosing to study Agricultural Science was one of the best decisions I have made in my life.”

Dr. McCleary’s interests led him to major in agricultural chemistry. “As I progressed through the degree, Agricultural Chemistry became the obvious choice for me. The lecturers were very motivational, and further stimulated my interest in plant biochemistry, and I enjoyed my fourth year project which stimulated me towards research. The Ag Chem staff have shown me wonderful support and friendship throughout my career.”

Since completing his bachelor degree, Dr. McCleary has been a fellow at the University of Miami School of Medicine, worked as principal Research scientist in NSW Agriculture (now Industry and Investment NSW), was awarded a Doctor of Agriculture, founded an extremely successful multinational business, won the AOAC’s top scientific honour and became one of the world’s most highly cited scientists. “I saw a real need for improved test methods and reagents for cereals research and food analytical laboratories. Megazyme was started in two garages off the side of our home, and my wife joined the company in 1990 as Marketing Manager (and is now Business Director). The need that I had perceived was real. In 1993, while still working from our garages, Megazyme won Australian Small Business of the Year (Manufacturing).

“We continued to develop test kits and reagents for the cereals, foods, feeds and fermentation industries. Seven of the methods are US standard methods (following extensive interlaboratory evaluation). We were still a small company, but very successful. In terms of sales we had a compounded growth figure in recent years of 20% per annum. In 2002, I was awarded the Harvey W. Wiley Award; AOAC’s top scientific honour, for career achievements in analytical methodology. I still enjoyed applied research and spent 1-2 days per week in the laboratory or in the pilot production area. At the age of 52, I had no immediate plans of retirement as I was having too much fun.”

Dr. McCleary receiving an award for alumni achievement from the Vice-Chancellor Dr. Michael Spence

Dr. McCleary receiving an award for alumni achievement from the Vice-Chancellor Dr. Michael Spence

Prof. McCleary is now President of AACC International, one of the leading organisations of the cereal grains industry. Looking back on his incredible career, he reflects on the importance of his time at university; “I would strongly recommend completing the BScAgr degree and specialising in Agricultural Chemistry, as it has opened many career opportunities for me. However, a degree is not a meal ticket, it is a key that opens the door.

“There is a world-wide demand for good biochemists with basic biochemical skills. The biotechnology revolution is set to supersede the IT era. Biotechnology certainly holds the hope for feeding future generations, so the mix of agriculture and chemistry (biochemistry) would seem the logical choice for anyone wanting an exciting, challenging and rewarding career."

Advice from Barry...
“Long-term success in research or any career is very much dependent on the amount of work the individual is willing to put in.”