Ute Budliger

A couple of years ago, I became convinced that engaging with nature and especially plants is a great way to improve everyone’s life quality. Whether this is gardening or composing bouquets, engaging with plants reduces stress levels, can offer a sense of achievement and trains agility and dexterity, especially of elderly people. This believe made me found two companies Dr Budliger Institut für Gartentherapie (https://budliger-gartentherapie.ch) and Flower Your Mind (https://floweryourmind.com) that offer products for and training in engaging with plants.

When I began my academic education, I was already aware that I wanted to work in industry – specifically, I was interested in the fields of agriculture and horticulture. After finishing a gardening apprenticeship, I studied Agricultural Science and Plant Biotechnology. While I had planned to transition to industry after receiving these degrees, the job market suggested that attaining a PhD would increase my opportunities. For this PhD, I worked on nematode resistance in potato plants. During my PhD, I was faced with a lot of pressure to work long hours and publish high impact papers. However, a large part of this pressure was self-generated.

While I had carried out a few internships in industry, no job opportunities opened up once I finished the PhD, so I continued in academia for two short PostDocs. In terms of job opportunities, I believe partly, one has to be in the right place at the right time. But also, everyone can forge their own job opportunity: I finally scored a job as Product Biologist at Syngenta Crop Protection by sending out an unsolicited application. During the job interview, I felt, a deciding factor ended up being not my amassed professional experience, but rather a charismatic demeanour. In fact, the most decisive professional experience – application of plant pesticides – I had already acquired during my gardening apprenticeship.

At Syngenta, I was first part of an interdisciplinary team for product (herbicides) development. Among other things, it was my responsibility to make sure the herbicide would be effective in different parts of the world and would cause minimal harm to the treated crops. In the company, I rose to become Technical Lead in Crop Protection for Africa and the Middle East. I was then responsible to provide the local Syngenta branches with products from the company’s portfolio that matched the countries’ demands.

Key assets that I had acquired during my PhD were experiences in communicating with people from different nationalities and cultures. Also, critical thinking and scientific writing were important. Only during my work at Syngenta, I realised the importance of keeping a healthy work life balance. Now, I set a clear restriction to my daily working hours, which can be hard, especially when I’m very excited about the work I do.

I ended up quitting my job at Syngenta when I had enough of the constant travelling that was required. For founding my own companies, I felt, this process was much easier than expected. It requires a good idea, a bit of a just-do-it mentality, a group of people with complementary expertise (and personalities!) and some persistence to stick around until revenues can be generated.

In addition to running my companies, I am part time coordinator at the PSC and responsible for the feminno Career Program aimed at young female researchers. Here, one of the main messages I want to deliver is that women need to be more confident in their abilities.

Being confident in my abilities has helped me face fears and then overcome them. Looking back on my professional life, I think, I would have wanted to realise earlier, how to sell skills that I acquired during my PhD – management of projects & people, or presenting – to employers in industry.

Engaging in a Science and Policy Dialogue