Choosing life before career no barrier to success

28 May 2018

UQ's Dr Barbara George-Jaeggli writes about the importance of a good support network, and the changes needed so parents don't have to choose between career and caring.

QAAFI's Centre for Crop Science researcher Dr Barbara George-Jaeggli

I’ve never had a career plan, but I’ve always known what I like doing. This meant my career had to fit around my life and not the other way around.

I grew up in Switzerland and was always interested in farming, nature and animals, even though I don’t have a rural background. I contemplated studying veterinary science or agronomy, but chose a master’s degree in biology at the Swiss Federal Institute of Technology in Zürich. Not because Einstein studied there, but because I didn’t have to choose between zoology or botany, but could tailor the program to suit my interests across many life science subjects.

During my master’s year I worked on a project looking at the conservation of agricultural weeds that have cultural, historical and ecological importance in Switzerland. On a recent trip I could see the fruits of this labour in the form of wheat and barley fields dotted with red poppies and blue cornflowers - a sight that had just about disappeared from the European landscape when I grew up.

I was just about to embark on a PhD when I met my now husband, who was in Switzerland on a farm exchange from Australia. We decided to put off my study and work towards buying a farm in Australia.

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Dr George-Jaeggli has a Master of Science degree in Biology from ETH Zuerich in Switzerland, and has been working for the Department of Agriculture and Fisheries (DAF) in Queensland since 1996. She has worked on various projects from yield benefits of windbreaks in wheat cropping systems to applying tissue culture to speed up barley breeding, but since completing a PhD in Crop Physiology has mainly worked on studying complex traits such as plant height, stay-green and photosynthetic capacity in sorghum for their utilisation in yield improvements. Currently, she is working for the University of Queensland as part of the ARC-funded Centre of Excellence in Translational Photosynthesis, and working for DAF on GRDC-funded agronomy projects. The main objective of her previous and current work is to increase crop yields in variable environments, be it through pushing the yield ceiling up genetically or identifying optimal agronomic practices to ensure yield potentials are achieved in growers' paddocks. She uses molecular techniques, plant and crop physiological experimentation, proximal and remote sensing and crop modelling to study individual traits at the leaf, plant and crop level.