Case study

Assistant scientist — Alex Wealleans

Alex says that feed additives is a vibrant industry that's producing some really interesting science

How did you get your job?

At the end of my agriculture degree I didn't really know what to do, but my PhD in pig nutrition allowed me to put it off for a while.

During that time I worked with a number of feed additives companies, which opened my eyes to the world of ancillary agricultural companies.

With DuPont I had telephone and face-to-face interviews that included a presentation of my PhD research and I went out to lunch for a more informal getting-to-know-you type meeting.

If you want to undertake a PhD, look for one funded by industry as it'll give you a good insight into the ways companies work and think

How relevant is your degree to your job?

My studies were essential in securing my job, my undergraduate degree provided the foundation, and then my PhD allowed me to focus more closely on the kind of work I wanted to be doing.

The role requires nutrition knowledge but the business elements that I learnt in my degree enable me to better understand the commercial pressures the business and our customers operate under.

What are your main work activities?

I manage trials designed to measure and explain improvements in the growth and health of animals that are fed diets containing our products. This involves talking to research institutes around the world, writing protocols, and dealing with results.

The job's very team-focused, so I'll liaise with colleagues in other departments, perhaps putting together a data pack to support sales, using my scientific knowledge to answer customer questions, or supporting our regulatory team to register products with government agencies.

I also read the scientific and trade press to keep up-to-date with what's going on in the industry.

How has your role developed and what are your career ambitions?

When I started I worked very generally, helping more experienced colleagues. Now I run my own projects, collaborating with colleagues both from R&D and the wider company.

In terms of career ambition, I aim to become more deeply involved in scientific leadership and innovation for the company.

What do you enjoy about your job?

One of the most interesting aspects of the job so far has been the opportunity to look at data and combine and analyse it in ways that allow new conclusions and theories to be drawn.

The work is engaging and varied and there's opportunity for travel and advancement, which creates a feeling that you're doing something exciting.

What are the most challenging parts of your job?

Time management is difficult - in industry you have a lot of tasks and there's no sequential deadlines like at university. It can be easy to concentrate on the interesting or easy jobs, leaving the more complicated tasks to the last minute.

Sometimes it feels like everything needs to be done at once, but you get used to organising and prioritising your time and then it gets much easier.

Any advice for someone who wants to get into this job?

You need an interest in the science of feed additives but also in the way that science can be applied in a business environment.

A PhD isn't essential - a degree in biology, animal science, or agriculture is a solid foundation - but if you want to undertake a PhD, look for one funded by industry as it'll give you a good insight into the ways companies work and think.

Practical experience on farms or with the animals you'd like to work with is always highly valued. Read the trade press to get a flavour of the variety of companies and additives out there; it's a huge sector and you don't know what's waiting for you until you really start to look.

Find out more

See what opportunities are available at Danisco Animal Nutrition.