My name is Donagh Berry and I am the Director of the VistaMilk SFI Research centre. I am an animal geneticist at Teagasc; an animal geneticist uses statistics and maths to determine if an animal has good genes or bad genes for a whole range of traits. Teagasc is the government appointed body responsible for research, education and advisory services in agriculture and food. Outside of work, I enjoy travelling and farming. I have back-packed the world immersing myself in the different cultures; although age is catching up on me now, I played team sports, especially GAA in my youth.
Has your opinion of STEM changed since you were a teenager?
Completely! STEMs were just another boring and irrelevant subject in school but it’s really in later in life that you realise that the products of STEMs are all around us and actually crucial for life. If explained properly, STEMs is really exciting
In your opinion, what is the biggest myth about STEM careers?
That it was useless in life and was only for geeks! In school, science and maths were simply just boring and seemed to have no application to real life – this even kind of followed into the start of university too. However, much of STEMs is extremely useful in every walk of life and is making a difference all around us.
Do you believe that there is enough being done to encourage girls to study STEM and pursue STEM careers?
There’s probably not enough full stop irrespective of gender. Do students understand why they are taught Irish, or even English literature? The same thing for STEMs – some real-life practical applications is a great way to tickle an interest in STEMs as a career. Diversity (not just gender) is crucial for exploiting differing opinions and outlooks.
What do you love about your current role?
My research is used by over one hundred thousand Irish farmers (as well as farmers in other countries) to make healthier food in a more efficient and sustainable way – I see the fruits of my work everywhere I look. I’m also strongly challenged which keeps you on your toes.
What has been your most exciting career moment to date?
Developing the tools and pipelines for the first every direct inclusion of DNA information in cattle breeding in Ireland; Ireland was second in the world to do this, just 3 weeks after the US. The outcome has been a 50% acceleration in the rate of genetic improvement.
Do you ever get to travel abroad for work?
A lot. I did my PhD in the Netherlands after an internship in the US and have completed sabbaticals in New Zealand and Australia. I’ve given several talks in the European, American, African, Asian and Australian continents; I have travelled to New Zealand or Australia at least once annually in the past 10 years.
Is your current job, and the work of the wider team, making a difference in the world?
Certainly – simply from a dairy cow perspective in Ireland, our research has delivered €1.5b to the Irish dairy industry and these gains have been achieved with a reduced carbon footprint.
If a young person told you that they would like to get into your role, what advice would you give them?
Irrespective of role, the desire to work somewhere should be driven by passion and enthusiasm for that subject area. Genetics is an extremely exciting discipline. Genetics for life are like what foundations are for a house. Knowledge of the genetics of different diseases growing daily opens up a whole new domain of precision genetics/genomics but also personalised life-styles. People differing in susceptibility to different diseases will look after themselves differently much like a personal trainer will personalise a gym routine to a given client. Genetics is genetics, no matter if an animal or a plant or a human being….very exciting things to come.
What do you want to see change in the industry in the next 10 years?
The main challenges facing animal agriculture in general is the environment hoofprint, animal well-being and the volatility of the markets. Animal breeding programs traditionally focused on only traits of economic importance but things must change to also focus on traits important to society.
Did you complete any sort of placement or internship during your studies? If so, did it prepare you for what you do now?
International placement/internship is a must. I had to go abroad as there were no experts in Ireland but almost all my students go abroad – think about it, why would I hire someone I’ve trained as I know nearly everything they know. I need people who know more than me.
What television series are you currently watching?
Vikings for sure! Just finished Luther
What living person do you most admire, and why?
Michael O’Leary – Ryanair. Always innovating (of course not always positive innovation!). Imagine the price of a flight today if low-cost airlines has never come into existence.