DRIVING FORWARD GLOBAL FOOD SECURITY
Professor Nigel Scollan’s career journey has taken him from his home county of Fermanagh to Edinburgh, Canada, Wales and now back to Northern Ireland where he joined Queen’s in 2016 as the new Director of the Institute for Global Food Security.
A world-leading expert in animal agriculture and associated supply chains, for the previous eight years he was a leading figure at IBERS – the Institute of Biological, Environmental and Rural Sciences, Aberystwyth University.
During that time, he says, ‘I became very focused on the enterprise agenda and how we can nurture closer relationships between academia and business in the agrifood sector. I firmly believe we should be conducting excellence in research but research which is relevant to address major challenges in society. And to do that you need connections.’
One of those connections was with Waitrose. Through it, he became Waitrose Professor in Sustainable Agriculture at IBERS. ‘The Chair was positioned around Waitrose and their supply chains. That was a fantastic opportunity to learn about the key challenges that industry has. It’s an extremely good model of how you can nurture the development of novel working relationships between academia and business.’
FROM FERMANAGH TO QUEEN'S - VIA EDINBURGH, CANADA, WALES AND THE DEPARTMENT OF AGRICULTURE
From growing up in rural Fermanagh, Nigel’s passion for farming and animal production has been lifelong. He studied animal science at what was then the Edinburgh School of Agriculture and in 1987 was offered a postgraduate studentship from the former Northern Ireland Department of Agriculture, focused on key issues such as how to improve production systems and environmental sustainability.
In 1990 he undertook a two-year postdoctoral at the University of Guelph in Canada, sponsored by the Natural Sciences and Engineering Research Council. That was followed by a research scientist post at the Institute of Grassland and Environmental Research Aberystwyth which would later merge into the university to become IBERS and where he would hold a number of senior management positions.
‘Aberystwyth had a long history in plant genetics and plant breeding but it didn’t have a strong component in animal science. So linking scientists together was the mission back in 1993. That fuelled and excited me about the importance of interdisciplinary research.’
BECOMING THE DIRECTOR OF THE INSTITUTE OF GLOBAL FOOD SECURITY
Of his new role, he says, ‘This Institute is in a very exciting position – globally recognised, addressing major issues in food security, and we’re in a recruitment phase now, building on that platform.
‘We have three key themes – the development of future farming systems; then food safety, food authenticity and traceability; and finally human nutrition. These are the core areas we need to be driving forward with new staff appointments but we’ll also be seeking to grow areas of academia already in Queen’s which may not consider themselves to be in the space of food security.’
To explain, he points to another experience at Aberystwyth. ‘I also had a role as Professor in Public Engagement with Science and I had a parallel colleague, Richard Marggraf Turley, a specialist on Keats, who was Professor of Engagement with the Public Imagination.
‘We found a common interest – food. I was interested in the science of food and production of food that’s safe and of high quality. Richard was interested in studying food in literature from two or three hundred years ago, including the poems of Keats, and how the challenges then were not dissimilar to those today.
All of this can help to inform and guide us. Making connections between the natural sciences and the social sciences is exciting and I want to explore opportunities to build on that.’
ENGAGING THE PUBLIC
Nigel sees the immediate future as ‘furthering our global reputation for leadership in interdisciplinary research, education and enterprise. And it’s about how we engage with wider society. I’m passionate about public engagement. The end users of our work need to be part of our whole scientific journey.
‘We must be sure that our work is acceptable to society. If there’s an understanding of what science is trying to do then we can make better connections and deliver more effective solutions together.’
Find out more about the work being done at the Institute of Global Food Security