Where can a graduate degree from the University of Illinois take you? In this monthly series, we catch up with one recent Graduate College alum and ask the question: “Where are they now?”.
Amber Hendricks graduated from the Illinois Professional Science Master’s Program in 2011 with a master’s degree in Agricultural Production. She has held multiple research positions in the agricultural industry and currently works for Corteva Agriscience™, Agriculture Division of DowDuPont™ as a Production Research Scientist at the Johnston, Iowa campus. In her role, she uses data to inform decision-makers on best practices for improving corn seed quality and cornfield yields.
What is the most interesting, rewarding, and/or challenging aspect of your job?
At present, the most challenging and interesting aspect of my job is working through the transition of merging Dow AgroSciences™ and Dupont-Pioneer™ to create Corteva Agriscience™, Agriculture Division of DowDuPont™. The complexity of bringing two world class companies together is a challenging balancing act and is pushing many of us to step outside our comfort zones. The diversity of thought I am exposed to every day is outstanding, the knowledge that is being leveraged is remarkable, and it’s hard not to feel enthusiastic about where this transition will take us if we stay the course and execute it correctly.
What was the transition from graduate school to a professional career like for you?
I felt very prepared for a professional career after graduate school. The Professional Science Master program requires a summer internship along with other professional development seminars. The soft skills that were taught during the seminars and fostered during the internships were a key factor in making my transition from graduate school a smooth one.
What experiences made an impact on your career path/choice?
Industry involvement and effective mentors are what made the largest impact on my career path. While applying for graduate school, I worked for a major agricultural company in an hourly/seasonal position. From that experience, I was exposed to different parts of the business and formed an idea of what I may like to specialize in. It was the foundation for the network I started to build in the agricultural industry and provided me with many valuable mentors. Through my mentors’ thoughtful guidance and exposure to the business, I was able to find a path that highlighted my strengths and has been extremely rewarding to pursue.
What has been the most valuable transferable skill you gained from graduate school?
There are so many, but I have to choose critical thinking. Graduate school teaches you higher level problem solving that can be applied to any subject matter. I feel that undergrad laid the groundwork for my science, then graduate studies taught me how to look into the processes and intricacies of that science for solutions and innovations. I find myself applying those critical thinking skills to most every piece of my job.
What is one piece of advice you would give to graduate students at Illinois?
Advice that has proven to be invaluable to me is to build a network. Having a graduate degree from the University of Illinois will get you noticed, but having strong professional connections will make you stand out. This not only helps you gain employment after graduation but also find a career path that is right for you. Utilize the services the Graduate College has to get in touch with industry partners. Get to know your professors and what they are researching, then stay in contact with them. Keep in touch with your classmates and cohort members.
Don’t limit your network to just those in your industry, if they are interesting and/or influential, commit the time and resources to connect with that individual. A robust and diverse network can propel you forward at crucial junctions in your professional life, whether it be helping to execute a project more effectively or informing you about a dream job that will be opening up soon.
This inteview was conducted by Mike Firmand, Assistant Director for Employer Outreach in the Graduate College. He works with employers to connect University of Illinois graduate students to new opportunities and promote the value of graduate education. He previously worked for the College of Business at Illinois State University and has held positions in insurance, marketing, banking, and retail and event management. Mike holds a B.S. in Recreation, Sport and Tourism from the University of Illinois and an M.S. in Communication from Illinois State University.