Growing up on a family farm in Brazil, Daniela Pezzini, Ph.D., watched her father work the land and produce crops that fed her community. But she also witnessed her father and other farmers fare with unpredictable weather, work under the hot sun and grapple with crop-harming insects.
Her childhood experiences and love for agriculture inspired her to study crop and soil science as an undergrad in Brazil and later pursue her Ph.D. in entomology at CALS, where she researched the impact of pests on crops.
“Farming is such a humble, yet strong, profession,” Pezzini says. “You have to cope with these challenges constantly.”
As an AgBioFEWS Fellow, Pezzini faced her own challenges researching the science, policy and public engagement aspects and impacts of agricultural biotechnology on food, energy and water systems.
“It was an amazing fellowship. I was exposed to different opinions and constantly challenged to use rationality to defend my values and beliefs.”
However, Pezzini noticed that she and her peers had research knowledge that didn’t necessarily translate into career preparedness. “We were technically trained, but then we ended up being skilled people who didn’t know how to communicate or solve problems.”
Not shy about taking the initiative, Pezzini reached out to her faculty advisor, professor and Extension specialist Dominic Reisig, after she learned about the Rockey Foundation for Food and Agriculture Research (FFAR) Fellows Program.
FFAR Fellows, an NC State-led program, boasts 93 participants from 30 universities. The program offers a unique blend of personal development lectures, personality assessments, industry sponsorships for students and mentoring to help prepare students for productive and fulfilling careers. It is one of the few programs that provide research funding for international students.
“FFAR provided personal development that complemented the more technical training from the AgBioFEWS Fellowship. Now I have many friends that are FFAR Fellows, or they’re applying to the program.”
Pezzini completed the FFAR Fellows Program in two years (instead of the typical three-year cohort). After graduating in May 2022, she took a position at Bayer Crop Science as a crop protection technology development representative.
“I Used to Analyze My Personality”
Is one’s personality a liability or an asset? Can an individual’s personality evolve through education?
Blessed with an outgoing, charismatic personality, Pezzini can network with ease. However, her dominant nature created self-induced frustrations, particularly in group settings.
“If I’m not leading, I feel like I’m doing nothing–like I’m not contributing. When we had AgBioFEWS meetings, I would leave them feeling frustrated, and I didn’t know why. And then, after FFAR, I understood I wanted to be in the driver’s seat all the time.”
“The assessments helped me understand myself. It was a game-changer to know my strengths and my weaknesses. Then I understood that it’s fine to take the back seat, join the ride and contribute. It’s fine to be flexible. After that, I wasn’t upset anymore.”
Pezzini’s soft-skill development grew from taking personality tests, interactive lectures and job search preparation.
“In professional settings, I understood where my frustrations originated. I could better understand how to deal with people. This recognition was big for me as I learned to be more open, flexible, respectful, empathize with other types of personalities and understand where they fit in a project. I’m more patient now; I can see the benefit of different personalities and how we can better use diverse skills to achieve goals.”
With a new awareness, Pezzini learned to nurture productive relationships with her peers. “I used to be different, but FFAR opened my mind to understand how I’m wired and that I can understand that other people are not wired the same way as me.”
Planning for Success
Success rarely happens without a plan.
Regular sessions with her Corteva Agriscience mentors supplied the real-world perspective Pezzini needed to discover her career goals.
“We talked about drawing a path for my career. One thing that was very important to me was creating a plan for personal and professional time management. We also talked about company cultures and potential positions—what I should look for and what is important to me.”
She also designed a professional development plan that included contacting various companies for informational interviews. As a result, Pezzini landed a six-month internship with UPL, a multinational company specializing in agrochemical production.
“My professional development plan gave me this internship opportunity because I was connecting, not asking for an internship. It was great, and I had a fantastic manager, Natalie Hummel. I worked with her on a global project, which was super cool. I learned a lot.”
The Benefits Go FFAR Beyond
The FFAR Program not only benefits students but their faculty mentors as well. Impressed with the program’s personality assessments, Reisig integrated them into his mentoring methods.
“I like the personality analysis the students complete,” he says. “I’m incorporating the analysis into my Extension program with my students. The personality analysis helps them understand who they are as people. FFAR director Rebecca Dunning provided resources that helped establish a standard baseline mentor-mentee relationship across the program.”
Influenced by Pezzini’s work establishing advisor-advisee expectations, Reisig also created an expectations documents to clarify academic roles and responsibilities in his lab.
“I think FFAR delivers a lot of intangibles, such as the formalized mentor relationships you wouldn’t normally have outside of your bubble.”
Investing in the Future
NC State aims to produce well-rounded graduates who can move seamlessly into industry roles. Companies gain by connecting with NC State researchers and sponsoring graduate students, thereby nurturing their workforce.
“Daniela is a case-in-point for why companies should become sponsors,” Reisig says. “Companies are interested in the soft skills that are important in the workplace. Sponsoring a FFAR Fellow is to their benefit.”
The most successful programs are the most collaborative ones.
“You can be successful being a lone ranger, but you’re going to burn a lot of bridges, or you’re going to have a lot of avenues that are untapped,” Reisig continues. “We’re better and more creative when we work together. It’s crucial in industry, academia or government work.”
Inspired by Agriculture and Helping Others
“I’m very inspired by helping people. I’m not afraid to talk to people,” Pezzini reflects. ” People can have so much talent, but they’re nervous about it. They think they’re not good enough. I came from a different country, my English was limited and I couldn’t communicate well. But it’s a process for everybody, so don’t fear the process. Don’t think you can’t do it. Focus on the good parts. As much as I can, I try to look after other students. Now that I’m working at Bayer, I can be a mentor and support a student.”
Currently, Pezzini is responsible for collaborating and conducting research with chemicals, such as herbicides, fungicides and insecticides, and providing technical support to the Bayer Crop Science sales team. Her time in FFAR Fellows helped her understand the importance of personally connecting with her colleagues. “Now that I’m working at Bayer, I understand how important it is to build these relationships.”
Pezzini also improved her presentation communication skills by translating complex scientific information for select audiences. “I work with farmers and have learned to use a different language to explain my research.”
“I love agriculture. Even though I’m very results-oriented, I know life is about the journey. Happiness and inspiration stem from working toward something. And that’s the neat part—working with others and learning about ourselves, having challenges and dealing with them.”
This post was originally published in College of Agriculture and Life Sciences News.