NAS Featured scientist: Prof Lise Korsten (Professor in Plant Pathology and Co-Director of the DSi-NRF Centre of Excellence in Food Security - Department of Plant and Soil Sciences)
Q: Why did you choose to study plant pathology?
A: Curiosity, wanting to explore the unknown and be a scientist. I loved plants and wanted to work with some aspects related to health. But I was not sure what options were available and had to choose between entomology and plant pathology. It was the first-year student standing next to me at the University welcoming event that made me decide; plant pathology it shall be. I never looked back and will always be grateful to Dr Johan Ferreira who introduced me to this wonderful field of science. I have often thought about how fortunate I have been to have been exposed to the best choice for me. I often see students knowing they want to study science but am not aware of the different options and particularly scare skills.
Q: Why is science (including plant pathology) important?
A: The prevention, eradication, and control of plant diseases are extremely important for food security and general well-being. Plant health forms a critical component of OneHealth and will remain a critical element in the post-COVID world. Further advances in plant pathology will contribute to a more stable food supply and help address global biodiversity concerns associated with agricultural production systems. By reducing pesticide usage, a more harmonious production system and safer food supplies can be supplied within the context of a sustainable food production system. A more science-based risk assessment and prediction approach can guide policy and decision-makers to more sustainable production and regulatory system. Similar models exist in big data, epidemiology, and blockchain management systems where estimates of food quality and supply can bolster trade and economic growth. Stabilising food trade and creating intervention frameworks can contribute to a more food sovereign food approach.
Q: Why do we need to celebrate/observe International Mother Earth Day?
A: Caring about mother earth should be a core principle for all. You cannot love yourself if you do not love mother earth. You have to make a difference and help restore the ecological balance that man has destroyed. Our challenge is to make a difference, now, start today! Be the agent of change and help heal mother earth.
Q: What were the highlights of your career so far, including your time at UP?
A: Working with students and having to deal with new technologies that far exceeded my wildest dreams thus being at the forefront in science and technology and using the opportunities. Science is exhilarating. Being part of the global world of thinkers and directing research as a conductor does his orchestra in perfect harmony. Knowing you made a difference, even in the smallest way possible. Being part of the global science family and having friends all over the world. Functioning in a world where ethics were paramount and the very essence of science life.
Q: Describe a day in the life of Prof Korsten. What does the work of a plant pathologist entail?
A: Waking up to the smell of coffee, finishing your first hundred emails in bed and then rushing off to start the day. During COVID it became even more important to engage with staff and students. Managing my day became a war field between admin, students, projects, funding emails, staff and students, and finding time for my family. Keeping your finger on the pulse of international papers, your peers, and research development, publishing in highly cited papers, and communicating your research to a community level requires extra skills we often do not start with.
Q: What qualities does a good scientist need?
A: Passion, energy, zest, initiative drive, and a determination to succeed and be the best. Never shy away from being driven and ambitious and step into your shoes as quickly as you can.
Q: What advice would you give to young scientists?
A: Work hard extremely hard and remain focussed and passionate about what you are doing. Identify the best in the world and align yourself with what they do how they do it and taking your aspirations one step further. Never fail to deliver and make your promises matter. Be passionate about writing and acquire as many skills as you can. Never fail to learn and learn to fail. As they say, practice makes perfect, and try and try again.
Q: What motto do you live by?
A: To be kind and truly care about people. To be grateful for the opportunities I have had and to give back to society and make this a better world. To empower and enable young people to succeed and guide them to achieve even greater heights than I could ever have imagined.