Pamela Livingston - Field Biologist

Pam Livingston

Field Biologist at DuPont Canada

I was born/grew up in: St. Thomas, ON

I now live in: Guelph, ON

I completed my training/education at: University of Guelph (B.Sc., M.Sc.)

Describe what you do at work.

From April to November I work at the research farm. Here I am involved in planting, growing and harvesting various crops. We grow many crops including corn, soybeans, wheat/cereals, canola, ornamentals/turf, vegetables and fruit crops. I also plan various experiments. My students and I spray different pest control products on these crops. We are checking to see if we can help the crop prevent disease, insects or weeds from destroying the plants’ ability to produce food.

My day usually starts at 5am when wind speeds are low.This is when we spray the crops. In the afternoons we evaluate the effects of the sprays on the plants. We count the insects, the amount of weeds, and estimate the potential crop damage. We plant by tractor in the spring and harvest in the fall. We spray the crops by hand and by tractor.

For safety we are dressed in spray suits, boots, gloves and a respirator. We have 5 research farms across Canada and contract trials to universities in areas where we don’t have a farm. From December to March I work from a home office in the winter. I usually sleep in until 8am and then work on data analysis. I complete reports on how effective the different sprays were.

I also write product submission data packages for the government. And because we are always testing every year, I create new experimental protocols and planning for the next season. I also attend conferences, agricultural industry meetings and meet with government and university researchers about their work. It involves travel across Ontario, with trips out west and east as well as to the USA. I work with other researchers in countries all over the world and discuss via phone and Skype/video conferences.

When I was a student I enjoyed:

How does your job affect people’s lives?

Farmers feed the world. We improve a crops’ ability to survive pests. Minor pest problems can result in 5-40% less crop to sell and to eat. Severe pest problems can kill the crop entirely. The work I do saves food from being lost and makes the farmland more productive. New pest control products are designed to be safe. We use directed technology so we can eliminate a pest without causing any issues with the crop, beneficial insects, applicators and consumers.

What motivates you in your career?

My career makes a difference to farms and farmers across Canada. These farms produce food for hundreds of thousands of people in Canada and around the world. In 1960, one farmer fed about 26 people. Today, one farmer feeds about 155 people worldwide. If they didn’t have newer, safer pest control products, they wouldn’t be able to do this and more people would starve. I know my work makes a difference to the world. I like that my workday is always challenging. Crops, pests and the weather never do what is expected and experiments always need adjusting.

I’m always using my problem solving skills to evaluate and understand trials. It is never boring. I enjoy planning out experiments and then seeing the results, which can be positive or negative. I get to do other things as well like spraying trials, driving a combine, speaking at conferences and writing reports. I get to work on my own and with a team. In this career there is lots of room to advance. Plus I love working with insects of all types. Agriculture is a friendly industry where most people are all interested in improvement, technology, helping maintain farming as growing industry. I find working in agriculture very rewarding.

When I was a student, I would have described myself as someone who:

Describe your career path to this career.

I took a 4 year Honours B.Sc. degree at the University of Guelph. It actually took 5 years to complete the degree as I changed my major from wildlife biology to take more agriculture and entomology courses. After working for 2 years to pay off loans, travel and gain some experience, I did a Master’s degree at University of Guelph for 2 years in Horticulture/Agriculture. After graduation, I worked for the government doing greenhouse research. Then I worked as a sales/tech specialist for an agricultural company.

After this I had difficulty finding fulltime work for about 6 months. I looked into doing more schooling and maybe moving to a different industry. However, I found a lower level job working in pest control product registration for another company. This company specialized in home pest products. This experience allowed me to get a product registration position in an agricultural company. But I missed doing hands-on research. So I interviewed for and was successful in getting a research biologist position.

What activities do you like to do outside of work?

I love to cycle, garden, walk the dog & camp with my husband. I also actively spend time with family and friends on weekends. In the winter, I workout at a gym because I’m not doing physical work at the farm all day.

What advice or encouragement would you give others seeking a similar career?

Experience is just as important as classroom work. I had never run a farm or used tractors before I got this job. I got this job because I had transferable skills and experiences. Get real experience in problem solving, working in teams and applying skills. Volunteer in areas you might want a career in. Learn about industries through the news and online publications. Take a lower paying job to gain experience. Be active in trying to figure out your career path, instead of letting life choose it for you.

CurioCity Careers

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