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Sigrid Maebe

Science communicator

Phytofar

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You can do and you can be anything you like! Even if it is scary.

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WHAT DO YOU DO?

I work as a science communication expert on agriculture at the Belgian association of the crop protection industry Phytofar. My job is communicating about agriculture, sustainable use of crop protection products, preserving the environment, and producing enough health food in Belgium, but also in Europe. I write press releases and content for the website and social media. I organise events and meetings to bring stakeholders together to tackle problems they encounter with the sustainable use of crop protection.

WHY DID YOU CHOOSE THIS FIELD?

I studied Biology at the KU Leuven, Belgium. Captain Cousteau was one of my heroes and I loved the ocean so much, so I decided to get a extra degree in Oceanography at the University of Aix -Marseille in France. It was a fantastic experience: the course was very interesting, I met some wonderful friends for life, I learnt to scuba dive… When I returned to Belgium, I could start as a marine biologist in the brand new aquarium, Sea Life National Park Blankenberge, and later in the Royal Belgian Institute of Natural Sciences. Communicating science, marine science, and the beauty of the ocean has been my job and my passion. But after 20 years, I wanted to change my horizon.

Now I am working in the world of agriculture. It is so exciting to learn new things about food production, crop protection, European legislation, and all the passionate people that are working in the world of agriculture! As a communicator at the Belgian association of the crop protection industry, Phytofar, I have to explain the science of crop protection to stakeholders, to politicians, to the general public. I believe communication is the key to cooperation. If scientists and farmers and public understand each other, then politicians can take well founded science based decisions, on agriculture, on food and nature, and that will change the planet for the best. I am so happy that I can play a role in this!

HOW DO/DID YOU TACKLE OBSTACLES?

It is always a challenge to find your place in a new (professional or private) group. And although I am always a little nervous at the beginning, I am not afraid to throw myself into a new adventure, and to put lots of energy and effort in my contacts with other people. I just love the interaction, the process of adaptation and the group spirit that comes out of it!

Especially, the different voyages on sail training ships or marine research vessels taught me how to adapt in a group, how to live with so many different characters, nationalities, cultural backgrounds.

I think it is my capability of adapting in a group, and still being myself, brings me where I am now. Going to study in France in 1992 where I did not know anybody and when my French was really bad? No problem, I just went and did it. Luckily I had some good friends who wanted to help me out with their notes! Or going to Svalbard in the Arctic in 2017, as a communicator on the Polish research vessel Oceania that was measuring the consequences of climate change on the Arctic waters. Not all the crew spoke English, so I decided to learn Polish there and then, with help from the people on board, so we could better communicate and the trip would be more fun for me and the crew. The hole journey was impressive, the Arctic is amazing, I made friends for life and I still followed Polish lessons in my home town after I got back!

It is so important, to be vulnerable, to ask for help, to push yourself a little and to discover all the things you are capable of!

WHAT DO YOU LOOK AT & THINK, "I WISH YOUNGER ME WOULD HAVE KNOWN THIS WAS POSSIBLE?"

I have been selected to participate in HomewardBound, the international leaderships project for women in STEMM. Its goal is to give 1000 women, within 10 years, the skill and will to lead with impact and influence for the greater good. With this amazing group of women in STEMM, we follow an online course that ends in a 3 week voyage to Antarctica where we will finally meet and finalise the course. I am just so thrilled to be part of this project, and I can not wait to go to Antarctica, hopefully in March 2022. This has always been my dream, and now at 50 years old, it will finally come true. So keep dreaming and keep working towards your dream!

https://homewardboundprojects.com.au

WHY DO YOU LOVE WORKING IN STEM?

People in STEMM and their discoveries, just amaze me! I meet so many interesting people and I keep learning things every day. It is a privilege for me to take this science and to communicate it to others, so people can understand things better, and maybe love nature more, or change their habits or actions, for a better planet.

When I come on a farm and I see how food is cultivated, how innovation is used by the farmers of today, how much passion and know-how is used, I always feel the need to talk about it, to share this information. I feel it is my duty to talk about it so people are more informed.

BEST ADVICE FOR NEXT GENERATION?

You can do and you can be anything you like! Even if it is scary.

If I say it like that, it sounds a little cheesy, but looking back at my life, and looking at the wonderful people I have already met in my life, I can really say it is true. You can be anything! Just keep faith in yourself, work hard (but that is easy if you love what you do) and just grab the opportunities that come on your path. That is so important. People sometimes say, “you are lucky that you got this job or that you could spend time on a ship”, but if you do not apply for a job or apply for a prize or apply for something you really want, then surely you will never get it. So just go, look out for opportunities, and grab them even if it is really scary! And if it does not work out, you will have learnt something, and it makes you stronger.

I guess that counts for everybody, but girls in STEMM can use that extra push!

INSPIRATION

The movement of youth for climate in Sweden and Belgium and all over the world: these young girls make me proud. I probably would be one of them when I was a teenager now. As I am 50, I carry my card board sign “mama4climate” around when I go on the streets to strike for climate. With Covid, the climate emergency seems out of the picture, but it is more urgent than ever! So I do whatever I can to support, even if it is in a less visible way. I even participate (as one of the 58.000 supporters) in taking the Belgian governments to court because they lack to take measurements to tackle climate change! Check out www.klimaatzaak.be

“If you want to go fast, go alone If you want to go far, go together.”