University of Queensland research fellow Dr Karen Harper.
University of Queensland research fellow Dr Karen Harper. Lachlan McIvor

Karen found her comfort zone in ag science

WITH a love for animals and her father a local veterinarian, it seemed like a natural progression for Dr Karen Harper to study vet science.

But, with her school marks not quite enough to get her into the program at the University of Queensland, she needed to enrol into another course as a platform to jump across.

Agricultural science was at the top of the list, literally, so that's what she decided to study.

"When I started it, I just loved it,” Dr Harper said.

"I loved the range of courses, it gave me such a good grounding on earth sciences (and) biological sciences.

"It was so interesting because you had maths and physics and chemistry and saw how it related to the environment.”

By the time she lifted her grades to switch over to vet, there was no chance of her making the change.

"There was no way I was going to look after sick animals, I wanted to make animals more productive and healthy,” she said.

While at uni she met her husband, Dr Steve Harper, who is now the principal research scientist with the Department of Agriculture and Fisheries based in Gatton.

Their eldest daughter Jessie is in her third year studying agricultural science.

After finishing her undergraduate degree at the St Lucia campus, Dr Harper spent a couple of years as a tutor at the Queensland Agricultural College, which is now the UQ Gatton campus.

She returned to Brisbane to complete her Master of Agricultural Science and, after getting married and having three children, finished her PhD.

Dr Harper worked in the lab during the day while her three girls were at school and came back home at night to write up her findings. She is a research fellow at the university, where she takes classes and mentors post-graduate students, while also managing a $1.8million project designed to improve ration formulation for smallholders in Indonesia.

"Every day is completely different, I'm always learning something new and exciting about agriculture, and meeting people from around the world,” she said.

With National Agriculture Day held today, Dr Harper believed the under appreciated industry needed to be celebrated by all Australians.

"I think agriculture is perceived in Australia as un important both at a government level and personal level, particularly in cities. We take the wonderful produce that we have available on a daily basis, for granted,” she said.

"When you go to any other country, developed or undeveloped, agriculture is just crucial in terms of government policy. The general population are very proud of their countries produce, they know how important it is to their economy.

"I really do believe there should be a lot more emphasis on the importance of agriculture here in Australia. Most farmers are incredibly innovative and take this huge amount of risk to provide safe and delicious produce, as well as clothing for us every day.”


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