Professor Nicola Cannon

When did you join the RAU and what brought you here?

My first experience of the RAU was when I became a PhD student in 1993. After completing my PhD I did a range of jobs but got a call in 2002 asking if I could cover for a member of staff who was off sick. This then lead into some more regular lecturing and I was a peripatetic lecturer until 2008 when I became a part time member of staff. In 2012 I became full time and gave up my other jobs.

How did you get into Agriculture?

I grew up on a beef and sheep farm just outside Hastings, East Sussex but I soon discovered that I preferred working for other farmers rather than working for my father (something to do with the money I think!). I soon discovered horticulture, dairy and arable production and decided that despite my early career aspirations to become an astronaut, I would study for a degree in agriculture. During my undergraduate studies I found crop production really interested and I decided to pursue that avenue further.

What made you go into teaching?

Well, I rather fell into it really when doing some short term work at the RAU. I taught some short courses at Otley College in Suffolk to farmer groups and delivered a few sessions when I was a postgraduate and found it very rewarding.

What do you enjoy about it?

Getting to know the students and seeing their knowledge and interests develop. I feel I am really lucky to teach a subject where so many students are keen to become knowledgeable and understand more about. I really enjoy supervising dissertations and it is fantastic to see students focus and learn so much about a topic that they are really interested in and learn how to investigate within their chosen field of study. It is really rewarding to reflect on students personal development during their time at the RAU and I get great pleasure in meeting up with them again as they develop careers within the agricultural sector – many of them become very useful contacts to know!

What’s the most challenging aspect of teaching/learning about Agriculture?

Initially it is often to make students who come from farming backgrounds appreciate that there is so much more to learn and not be complacent in thinking they know it all!  It is fantastic to see that education does work when our students from non-agricultural backgrounds can express important agricultural issues and students realise that there is so much more to appreciate and learn about agronomy.

What would be your top three tips for anyone thinking of ...

  1. Starting a UG/PG course?
  • Make sure you talk with other people about what is going on in the farmed environment around you. Discuss the current hot topics and question why different farms take approaches to growing crops
  • Download the key agronomy apps onto your phone and go out and discover the RAU farms. Look at the satellite imagery, identify plant diseases, learn to recognise weeds and use the technology to help you in the process
  • Make sure you have a warm coat, hats, wellington boots and embrace the weather
  1. Studying Agriculture?
  • To gain some work experience in a wide range of agricultural enterprises and appreciate the key issues in making the enterprises succeed
  • Enjoy it! be enthusiastic and have a curious mind.  Don’t be afraid to question
  • The other obvious answer is to attend all lectures, farm visits, lab sessions and carefully plan your study time for outside of lectures. It is really important to start assignments in plenty of time to give the opportunity to think about the best approach for the assessment and enable ample research around the topic

How would you describe life at the RAU/Cirencester?

The RAU is small enough to still have a very personal atmosphere but large enough to offer a wide range of people from all across the globe and find like-minded friends. 

What makes it distinctive/special?

The people, the buildings, the location and a friendly, fun atmosphere.