Measuring up: the life of a young professional
By: Mary Fielding, Agronomic Research Specialist, Crop Science, Bayer U.S.
I am only 22 years old, weigh 100 pounds, and I’m under 5 feet tall. Seems like a recipe for disaster for a girl whose job involves operating huge combines and tractors, manhandling heavy seed, and fixing equipment. When people ask incredulously — “Are you sure this is really what you want to do?” — they actually mean, “I don’t think you’re cut out for this.”
Getting started in the working world is never easy, but young professionals today face additional, unique challenges. There is a bigger push for us to enter the workforce with extensive, real-world experience under our belts, and it often feels like we are expected to be up to par with people who have been in the field for years.
I see my peers struggling to break into the workforce, and I am fortunate to have landed a great job as an Agronomic Research Specialist with Bayer. Here are some things I have learned along the way:
Believe in what you have to offer.
If you feel good about your choices, then don’t let anything stand in your way.
As an Agronomic Research Specialist, my role involves managing field research within our corn and soybean pipeline. When most people picture research, they envision a pristine white laboratory. Instead, my laboratory is outdoors so we can test hybrid performance in a real-world environment.
We take massive amounts of data. This involves using a variety of proprietary programs, utilizing new technology for data collection and recording plant traits, and applying agronomic knowledge. This process is unique to Bayer, and most technical skills are learned on the job, not in school. Many tasks when learning a new role are challenging, and you will fail at times. However, that doesn’t mean you are a failure.
As young professionals, we may not have a lot of experience to rely on, but we still have much to offer. It’s easy to get caught up in our failures or tackling the seemingly insurmountable learning curve before us. Remember the unique qualities that come with the diversity of our age, our ability to adapt quickly, and whatever else makes you great.
Follow your heart.
Growing up on a farm, mud pies were gourmet and collecting bugs was cool. Sure, Mom was a little upset when we tracked mud all over the house, but when my sister caught poison ivy she was the one who started teaching me how to identify plants. When I complained about always eating the gross kinds of vegetables, my dad reserved me a small plot of land to start a garden to plant whatever I wanted. When it came time to choose a career, I already knew without a doubt that my future — and my heart — was in agriculture.
Unlike most farms in the Midwest, which specialize in commercial corn and soybeans, the farm where I grew up had an apple orchard, 10 acres of hand-harvested sweet corn, and a variety of fruits and vegetables. This meant I had the opportunity to meet my customers, the people I was feeding, at the local farmers’ market where we sold our produce.
Those connections made me especially focused on our end goal. At Bayer, I work in research & development, where I’m not meeting my customer face to face, but I still know who I am serving. While I can’t talk about Bayer’s confidential research, I can tell you my job allows me to see some amazing things that will be in farmers’ hands in the next 5 to 10 years. To have a role in that research is beyond incredible. Every day I get down and dirty in the field to deliver data that drives Bayer’s product pipeline and in turn benefits growers and helps feed our growing world, and I wouldn’t have it any other way!
Build to where you are going.
Internships are key to gaining experience while you are in school. The summer following my junior year at the University of Illinois, I had the opportunity to work for Monsanto (now part of Bayer), as a Field Testing and Operations intern. The connections I established as a summer intern were invaluable — especially since I interned with the same group I work with now in field testing.
Real-world experience is crucial to gaining your first job, so someone along the way encouraged me to think about additional internships during the school year. Initially I thought that was crazy with the hours I was already spending on my studies. However, I ended up working during the school year as a Student Ambassador and an Agriculture Communications and Sustainability Specialist.
These internships also were with Monsanto, and the teams there worked with me to create a flexible schedule that accommodated my studies. In addition to helping me gain work experience and get my foot in the door, these opportunities helped me confirm this field was indeed where I saw myself in the future.
Work hard for success.
During the winter months I work regular hours gathering instructions from our scientists, mapping fields, and planning what work I will do in the spring. Harvest and planting seasons are a different story.
I often arrive to the site before sunrise and operate a tractor or combine all day until dark. During harvest season, sometimes I will even stay in a hotel near my location and not return home for the week, or even work on weekends. This dedication is the life of a farmer — and an Agronomic Research Specialist at Bayer.
Working hard is easier when you are doing something you love. I have a sign in my office that holds the key to success in four easy steps: 1) Wake up; 2) Kick butt; 3) Be kind; 4) Repeat. Whatever kicking butt means for you, go do it to the best of your ability. Every day.
Have fun and stay involved.
Many Bayer employees are very focused and have a wealth of experience. As a young professional, I bring unique qualities to this dynamic. I have a lot of energy, and I like to use that energy to have fun and build good relationships. When we focus on our people as the platform for success, it unlocks unlimited potential as we embrace our mission, Science for a Better Life.
Also, having your first full-time job does not mean you should stop being involved in your community. In addition to my core job responsibilities, I had the opportunity to champion planet impact projects across Bayer’s breeding organization. Furthermore, allocating time for experiences outside of work and updating your resume with new activities continues to be important. Recently I was elected to a Young Leader position on the Board of Directors for the Illinois Specialty Growers Association. It is a chance for me to become more involved with a side of the agriculture industry not a lot of people know about and gain additional knowledge.
As young professionals, it is important for us to soak up experience at every step along our journey. Our predecessors didn’t face the same issues that young professionals are facing today, but they also did not have the same knowledge and resources that we have. Companies like Bayer that take the time to train young professionals have a competitive advantage because we are the future. I may be small in stature, but I do my best to measure up to the demands of my new career in so many ways. I promise to be there cheering every time one of my newly graduated peers lands a job!