Follow your aspirations and passions: Advice from a strategy coordinator working in integrated pest management

Dr. Cezarina Kora is a Senior Strategy Coordinator with the Pesticide Risk Reduction team of Agriculture and Agri-Food Canada’s (AAFC) Pest Management Centre in Ottawa. She specializes in integrated pest management and strategic stakeholder engagement to enable sustainable agriculture.

What’s one thing that would surprise people about your field of agricultural science?

Canada is a leader in developing and using sustainable pest management technologies as alternatives to chemical pesticides. The Pesticide Risk Reduction team not only directs federal funds to address specific pest management issues for growers, we also engage in technology and knowledge transfer to bridge scientific solutions with on-farm needs.

Most people probably don’t know that since 2002, the Pest Management Centre has enabled Canadian growers to access hundreds of new chemical and non-chemical pest management solutions. The Centre’s success has gained international recognition and it now offers guidance to other countries (e.g., Brazil, Australia, China) interested in establishing similar programs for growers and in fostering international collaborations.

As a strategy coordinator, I facilitate consultations among stakeholders, including scientists, provincial specialists, and industry representatives to identify pest management issues of high concern for growers and potential non-chemical solutions to these pest issues. I then work with stakeholders to develop and implement pesticide risk reduction strategies. This involves supporting project work required to develop the recommended solutions and then report on progress and outcomes of these strategies. Over the last 15 years, I have coordinated nine strategies and over 50 science and knowledge transfer projects amounting to more than $4 million in allocated funds.

How did you get into your line of work?

I am passionate about agriculture and I feel privileged that my work contributes to the safe production of food in Canada. When I immigrated in Canada, I had a bachelor degree in agriculture engineering and wanted to advance my agriculture career and to be able to work in my field of expertise. I decided to complete a Doctorate Degree in Environmental Sciences with a focus in Plant Pathology at the University of Guelph. Moving to Guelph from Montreal to continue my studies was the best decision of my life! For me the University of Guelph opened new opportunities, cutting-edge science advancements, knowledge, skills, and a strong environmental awareness. My doctorate research developed the epidemiological basis for disease forecasting and cultural control of Sclerotinia rot of carrots. When I first heard about the scope and mandate of the Pesticide Risk Reduction program back in 2004, I realized it aligned well with my academic background and my professional aspirations, and I am pleased to be still contributing to the success of this team. I have grown so much in this position and am grateful for the opportunity to further expand my career.

What is your most memorable moment at work?

In 2011 I was honored to be part of a team of 12 scientists and grower collaborators to receive the Research Branch Science Achievement Award for our leadership role in developing, demonstrating, and promoting commercial scale adoption of the carrot foliar trimming technology to control Sclerotinia rot of carrots. It was really rewarding to see my graduate research results developed into practical management approaches for growers and witness the interest of industry in using this option instead of pesticides.

Is there something we can do to support women in science?

It inspires me to see that more and more women are involved in science in the past decade and so many of them have joined the public service workforce. I feel fortunate to have studied and worked in environments that support women and I know firsthand the value of being understood and supported; currently I work in a group where 70 percent is made up by women. I have had a few women role models who have been crucial to my professional and social growth—in them I saw that with perseverance succeeding is possible. I believe that the greatest support we can provide is to be a great role model ourselves. At work, I have mentored young female scientists and students and it is rewarding to see how they developed into experienced, independent professionals.

We also need more women who are consistently active in voicing and advocating for women, for instance to ensure that flexible work arrangements are available to women who need to also fulfil their other roles in life, besides their professional ones. An understanding and supportive partner is also important in achieving career goals; I owe a lot to my husband for getting where I am today.

What advice would you give to young people interested in a career in science?

Follow your aspirations and passions, explore your desire to study natural phenomena, and protect life on earth – this science field is full of interesting surprises and great challenges, and can also lead to rewarding discoveries and exciting innovations! If you feel that tapping into your creative and investigative nature excites you, all you need is to find which area of science and exploration is right for you. Pursue your life goals—all is possible if you put your heart and hard work into it. And remember, your career will become a large part of your life and your daily pursuits so choose what makes you happy and fulfilled.

What are your hobbies, and do they influence your work?

I love green spaces and natural habitats, and regular hikes in parks and forests are my main hobby. I feel that being in direct contact with nature recharges me with positive energy and optimizes my health and performance at work. Therefore, I have made it my personal mission to do what I can to protect natural spaces and resources. This passion has also influenced my choice of professional pursuits.

What do you hope to see in your field in the next 10 years?

I hope to see enhanced research and support toward sustainable production to further minimize the impact of agriculture on the environment and human health. I also hope to witness a larger scale of grower access and adoption of such approaches. I would like to see more collaboration across departments, sectors, disciplines, and across borders to gain efficiencies and optimize the use of resources for maximized benefits.

Finally, I hope to see more women actively involved in science and in decision making about the future directions of science and all the areas of political, economic, and social development.

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