Don’t be scared to ask questions: Advice from a scientist who tried something new

Dr. Anne Smith is a research scientist at Agriculture and Agri-Food Canada (AAFC) at the Lethbridge Research and Development Centre, Alberta. She specializes in the use of remote sensing technology applications in agriculture.

What’s one thing that would surprise people about your field of research in agriculture?

The availability of remote sensing data acquired from ground-based, airborne, and satellite sensors and how we can develop and use these data to discover the interaction and influence between the environment and agriculture. For example, I have used remote sensing data to estimate ground cover in the mixed prairie grasslands of southern Alberta, to discriminate between weeds and crops, and to examine variations in crop responses to drought. Remote sensing tools allow me to examine large geographic areas and monitor changes over time and space. This adds to our understanding of changes in our environment and can help us plan management or conservation actions for sustainable ecosystems.

How did you get into your line of work?

My official training is in herbicide physiology, or how weed killers work. I fell into working in remote sensing when my husband moved to Lethbridge and I was seeking employment. I started working with Dr. David Major in remote sensing and, as they say, the rest is history. This was a wonderful opportunity, at a time when Canada was significantly investing in radar technology for land use and land cover.

What is your most memorable moment at work?

There are many memorable moments; it is difficult to pick one. In more general terms for me, the most memorable moments relate to the number of wonderful people I have met, the places I have visited, and the creativity of people.

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

I remember one of the first scientific meetings I attended how few delegates were female. Over my career the number of women in the research workplace has grown significantly. Being proactive in talking about your career and providing mentorship is very important.

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

Don’t be scared to try something and to ask questions. If some aspect of science tweaks your interest, search out who to talk to, ask to visit them, or better yet spend a day job-shadowing. Find some aspect of science that interests you and that you enjoy.

What are your hobbies, and do they influence your work as a scientist?

I curl in the winter and golf in the summer, and spend many hours watching my daughter play basketball. These activities provide relaxation and time for rejuvenation so I can work more effectively.

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

The use of remote sensing data to answer questions, not only in agriculture but in a number of other fields, is increasing as the importance of spatial information is recognized. To meet the needs, I hope to see more individuals trained in the processing and analysis of remote sensing data but who also have an understanding of biological systems so they can develop information products of use to end-users. I hope that we listen more closely to the needs and wants of end-users and work backwards to figure out how we as remote sensing scientists can meet their requests. There is a plethora of data available, but recently a producer asked why we hadn’t made more progress. We have a number of multispectral systems available which through an increase in temporal information are providing more answers.

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