IWD Profile: Dr Jenni Rant

International Women’s Day (8 March 2021) is a global day celebrating achievements of women. It’s a time to recognise the work of women in a range of fields and this International Women’s Day, we have brought together the profiles of women who work in areas of agriculture to showcase them, their work and find out more about their roles in agriculture.

Dr Jenni Rant is Programme Manager, The SAW (Science Art and Writing) Trust. The SAW Trust seeks to demonstrate that science and the arts are interconnected through a range of events, projects and activities. Her work looks at science communication and offers new ways to explore scientific concepts.

Dr Jenni Rant, The SAW Trust

What is a typical working day for you?

My days can be very varied so I could be working on designs for a new exhibition stand or activities for a school workshop.  This will typically involve lots of research and meetings before I get to start creating new resources.  As a self-funding charity, I also have to spend a lot of time fundraising and securing new contracts as well as reporting and communicating our work online, in print and by giving presentations. Oh and emails, I write an awful lot of emails!

What do you enjoy most about your job?

The people. I get to work with so many passionate, talented people from such diverse professions which is always very interesting and we all learn a great deal from each other!  I also love delivering our Science Art and Writing (SAW) workshops for teachers, children and the public, seeing people’s enjoyment in making new discoveries about the topics and about themselves.

Who has been the biggest influence in your career and why?

My boss, Professor Anne Osbourn for demonstrating that a good work-life balance is not only possible but can lead to a fruitful and enriching career – a ‘plate-spinner’ par excellence!

I first met Anne when I was an undergraduate at the University of East Anglia (UEA) and went to do a Gatsby summer placement in her group at the Sainsbury Laboratory in Norwich.  This was my first taste of being in a research lab and I absolutely loved it. However, my daughter was 4 years old at the time and I wasn’t sure how ‘family friendly’ science would be as a career and so was heartened to learn that Anne had a family and still managed to run a research group.  Later, during my PhD at the John Innes Centre I met Anne again and she had just returned from completing a fellowship in the School of Literature and Creative Writing at UEA.  As a keen writer, she had been exploring science as a starting point for poetry and it was during this year that she experimented with a project in schools from which the Science Art and Writing Trust was born.  I joined Anne’s lab as a postdoctoral researcher but also worked closely with her as we developed the work of the SAW Trust.  I learned so much from Anne and was always amazed that she managed to run a very successful research group whilst also finding time to build a charitable trust and continue her own creative writing.  In the last two years Anne, who is Director of the Norwich Research Park Industrial Biotechnology Alliance, was awarded an OBE, has been made a Fellow of the Royal Society and also published a collection of her poetry!  She is a wonderful role model who inspires me everyday and gives me confidence to believe that we really can achieve great things and make a difference.

What does International Women’s day mean to you?

International Women’s Day makes you stop and think about the way the world used to work and how in some parts of the world women still face limited choices, education and opportunities.  We’ve come a long way since the early part of the 20th Century, particularly in science but there are still a lot of female scientists who made great discoveries but were never acknowledged for their work and who’s names have been largely forgotten.  As much as its important to focus on the present day, resetting the history books would make a big difference in dispelling perceptions that gender has any relevance on career choice.

What are the challenges facing women in agriculture today?

I think many of the challenges facing women in agriculture are the same as those facing women in science and other STEM (Science Technology Engineering and Maths) subjects.  These sectors have less females in senior positions which means a lack of role models for younger women and less women are promoted, often as a consequence of lacking confidence to put themselves forward.  In addition to this, perceptions of potential gender pay gaps can erode motivation to take on more senior roles and so more transparency here would help.  I think its an improving picture but with statistics such as UK farming being the least ethnically diverse career, we need to do all we can to encourage young people to go into agricultural and STEM careers and demonstrating rewarding career pathways for women in these industries is of course, half the battle!  

What advice do you have for women starting out in agricultural careers?

Agriculture offers a diverse array of careers so I think as a sector it offers real scope to carve out a really fulfilling career with opportunities for innovating and diversifying.  I think role models are really important, so networking is an extremely valuable activity!  It’s a challenging time for agriculture, dealing with changing policies, a growing population and a changing environment so we need creative minds and highly skilled people to work together to ensure sustainable food production for the future.  I think women should encourage and support each other to be bold and confident and based on my own experiences I think any extra projects and groups you can get involved with that compliment your work will help you grow in your industry and in yourself.