#sheffvista 20 – Research Scientist, Dr Rodrigo Echegoyen Nava

Each Friday we post a new v i s t a profile, a career beyond the academy story (use the tags at the bottom of the post to find the entire list). These posts accompany our curated events to support post-PhD career transitions, v i s t a mentoring, and also #sheffvista on Twitter.

Job title and company: Research Scientist – Corn Nursery Research Seed Production, Pioneer.

Approximate salary range for your type of role: Professional scale, very variable — check individual job adverts for details.


As a government-funded scholar, I returned to Mexico, my home country, after completion of my PhD in Plant Science. One of the requirements that government asks from us, the CONACyT scholars, is to return to Mexico once we successfully finish our degree for at least six months. The aim of this is to return to Mexican society the benefits of having acquired such a qualification. Either by developing science in Mexico, or in any possible way we could have a positive impact on society.

In my case, I got back with my newly obtained flashy document stating I had spent the last four years of my life in a foreign country, doing science that most people would not understand or not have the patience to listen to. And so, I was ready for my next challenge in life: finding my first job.

The first place I thought about was my former university, thus I decided to pay a visit to my former BSc thesis director, Juan Martinez. He and most of my university teachers received me kindly and even invited me for lunch. Juan told me that one of his friends, who worked as a corn breeder at Pioneer was looking for a research associate near to Guadalajara, the second largest city in the country, and that there was another position available in Puerto Vallarta, known for being a top touristic destination.

In that moment, to me it was a no-brainer. I applied for both positions, and after approximately four months of waiting, I received a job offer. I would be in charge of the winter nurseries at the Nursery Research Seed Production site at Puerto Vallarta! I began there on April 15th, 2013. I was named Senior Research Associate and I had 4 research associates working directly for me, and more than 200 indirect reports who did most of the field work. I was part of the leadership team and all was great! I lived 5 minute-walk away from the beach and I was finally receiving my first pay check by the end of the month.

IMG_3235.JPGOne year after I began working I was promoted to Research Scientist, and took charge not only of the Maize Development Program, but also for Sorghum Development Program and all seed and goods movement to and from the site (imports and exports). I no longer had 4 research associates, but 7 research associates, 1 research assistant and 5 field operators with more than 350 season workers during peak season. My company had provided me with leadership training along the way that helped me grow into this role and lead my teams. I’ve received some mentoring from my own boss, lots from HR and have also taken some online courses. In hindsight, academia would really benefit from the more structured approach to leadership development that we have in industry. I feel most postgraduate students struggle with self-esteem, which is a basic component of leadership.

Currently, I am in charge not only of the programs mentioned above, but I’m also responsible for seed inventories and special projects. It’s important to mention that the inventories are kept in cold rooms that did not exist prior to my arrival. These were built by special projects that had to be planned, submitted, approved and executed in a timely manner.

Typically, in a work week I constantly interact with corn and sorghum breeders around the world, shipping contacts, government officers, planning meetings with colleagues, frequent visits to the fields to make sure the operation is running smoothly and also providing reports to my superiors.

Compared to academia, it is very intense, fast-paced atmosphere. However, the rewards for a job well done are proportionate and sometimes more than you could imagine. Competition keeps us at edge and motivated enough to make always the best out of our daily activities.

I believe academia is awesome, but so is private industry. The kind of pressure you face in each of them is different, and it all comes down to your personality traits.

Where can researchers look for jobs like yours? They can look for science-related jobs at the talent acquisition webpages of several transnational companies, such as the one where I’m working or Syngenta, Monsanto, Bayer, Limagrain, BASF.

What professional/accrediting bodies, or qualifications are relevant to where you work? In management positions you need process improvements qualifications and these were offered to me by my employer to enable me to do my job: e.g. Six Sigma Green Belt, Six Sigma Black Belt and these are provided as part of the job.  Leading groups of people, formally or informally is always a plus.

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