Trailblazer puts people first

Caroline Mohammed has become the first female Professor in agricultural science at the University of Tasmania, an achievement that shines light on the opportunities provided by a career in STEMM.

It has been a fascinating and globally diverse journey for Professor Mohammed, whose passion for people and solving real-world problems has inspired her research for over thirty years.

“I originally trained in tropical plant pathology in Trinidad off the coast of Venezuela. When I moved to France and took up forestry research – the only opportunity going at the time – I needed to apply my skills to bigger plants,” Professor Mohammed said.

More recently, Professor Mohammed has collaborated with farmers in Indonesia and Vietnam to reduce the impact of diseases that severely limit productivity. One study has involved trialling the use of fungi as biocontrol agents against root rot disease.

“I have moved from studying a particular disease, to looking at the impact that the disease is having on our environment, and how managing the disease can positively impact people’s income and quality of life,” Professor Mohammed said.

“I am interested in people, how things work and solving real problems – that’s probably how I ended up working in agricultural systems at the Tasmanian Institute of Agriculture here at the University of Tasmania,” she said.

Leader of the newly established Centre of Agricultural Systems at the Tasmanian Institute of Agriculture (TIA), Professor Mohammed is embedding a new kind of thinking into agricultural research.

“Professor Mohammed is developing the scope of TIA’s agricultural systems research. Caroline contributes to solving the really difficult problems, such as the impact of climate change on pasture and crop growth, and biosecurity concerns,” TIA Director Professor Holger Meinke said.

Professor Mohammed is also contributing to the Australian Government funded Cooperative Research Centre for High Performance Soils, a major collaborative effort working to bridge the gap between soil science and farm management.

“I’m not specifically a soil scientist but I am contributing my experience in plant productivity – agriculture is a fascinating field that links with many other disciplines,” Professor Mohammed said.

As a female scientist in an era when this was extremely uncommon, Professor Mohammed has experienced inevitable career challenges, but what has kept her committed is the impact her work makes on people, and those ‘ah ha’ moments.

“Any research project involves hard work, but it’s absolutely worth it to get results and ultimately make a difference. If you know where you're going and what problem you’re trying to solve, then it's all quite fun," Professor Mohammed said.

Despite progress, only 20 per cent of Australia’s senior professors in STEMM are women, and initiatives like the recent United Nations International Day of Women and Girls in Science is a reminder that there is still work to be done to women as they progress along their scientific careers.

“What has kept me in science is solving problems that really impact on people, the freedom to think big, and the capacity to make a difference,” Professor Mohammed said.

Read more about Professor Mohammed’s expertise on the University of Tasmania website: utas.edu.au/profiles/tia/Caroline-Mohammed

This article appeared in Tasmanian Country on 2 March, 2018.

Published on: 02 Mar 2018 4:10pm