International Women’s Day viewpoints – an interview with Fiona Burnett, Arable Knowledge Lead, SAC Consulting Solutions

Fiona Burnett, Arable Knowledge Lead, SAC Consulting Solutions

SRUC is celebrating International Women's Day 2024 today by bringing you the voices of women from across SRUC, SAC Consulting and SRUCSA. Here's what Fiona Burnett, Arable Knowledge Lead at SAC Consulting Solutions had to say:


Can you tell us briefly about your role in SRUC? 

My role really covers all things related to sustainable crop production and, in particular, the plant health aspects. I’m a Professor in Applied Plant Pathology and the Arable Knowledge Lead at SRUC, where I work between academic and consultancy teams to ensure research innovations have maximum uptake and impact. I’m also sector lead for Agriculture in Scotland's Plant Health Centre which is a cross-sector and cross-institute centre of expertise.  


What drew you to a career in plant sciences? And what do you love most about it? 

I’ve always been interested in the natural world and enjoyed an undergraduate degree in applied botany and zoology, but upon arriving in Aberdeen for a PhD on a newly emerging disease of potatoes was the moment when I knew I’d found my thing. I just loved that interface between food, farming and the land, and how interested and engaged growers and colleagues were. It’s remained my thing ever since – the sense of making a difference. 


Based on your own experience, what advice would you give to women considering pursuing a career in this area/sector? 

Never underestimate what good networks will do for you, so be open to opportunities and form strong bonds – be trusted and trust them. And keep your enthusiasm – it’s infectious and being surrounded by colleagues who are similarly passionate is inspiring. I’ve been really proud to stand on platforms with colleagues who love what they do and are at the absolute top of their game.  

If you see or hear anything inappropriate don’t be a bystander.  One of the hardest things to deal with is prejudice dressed up as clumsy compliments or jokes, and countering can be awkward for the individual concerned. It is really helpful that colleagues are much more likely now to hop in and call it out.  


Your work with SRUC has included research, management, commercial services and knowledge exchange. Are there any particular women in the sector, in business, or people who you’ve worked with, who inspire you? 

Sarah Gurr, a fellow plant doctor, who has a Chair in Food Security at Exeter University. She is really inspiring to work with. She leads quality, impactful research into key plant pathogens and ecosystem resilience, and she works widely across many groups and networks. She is proud to be an inspiring mentor to women scientists, and is brilliant at spreading her enthusiasm for her science  to groups such as the youth science forum. She is also lucky enough to have a child who is happy to post how proud they are of their mum. Something to aspire to! 


What influence do you strive to have on female colleagues and in your wider network? 

Primarily spreading that enthusiasm I mentioned earlier. But I’ve never forgotten the people who were open and inclusive to me early in my career and so I always make an effort to create introductions and openings for early career colleagues. This is self-serving as many of the women I’ve enjoyed working with have moved on to great things and remain core to my professional (and social!) networks.   

Posted by SRUC on 08/03/2024

Tags: Agriculture, SAC Consulting
Categories: Consulting and Commercial