SRUC Alumni Profile – Hannah Donegan
Hannah grew up in the west of Ireland on a small family beef farm. Spending her spare time with her dad on the farm, and as she grew older helping out her local vet, her sights were set on a career in farming from a young age.
“I always knew I wanted to do something in agriculture, but I was never going to get the grades to study veterinary medicine. I spoke to SRUC staff about Animal Science at a careers event in Dublin, it was another route into vet medicine. I quite liked the idea of the small classes, and you could spend a lot of time out learning on farms. It wasn’t all classroom-based or lab-based.”
After four years of studying Animal Science at SRUC, Hannah learned there were more career options open to her.
“I always used to think ‘there are either two routes into agriculture, you’re either a farmer or a vet’ and that’s it. But there are so many more job opportunities, particularly in the supply chain and food industry.”
After completing her Honours degree, Hannah quickly found a route into the food industry with Tesco.
“I started with Tesco in 2014 as a Quality & Development Assistant in red meat and fish. My role was split into three areas: new product development; quality assessment of products; and product specification. I also worked a lot with analysis of customer complaints, and also with counter labels and labelling legislation. I did that for six months.”
Hannah was very proactive about helping other teams with project work to seek further opportunities. This quickly lead to Hannah being promoted.
“A role came up in the agricultural team looking at the lamb category. I continued to progress through the company until I got to where I am now, looking after the red meat category entirely. I also manage the Tesco Future Farmers Foundation programme.”
Tesco is a global retailer, so Hannah travels extensively as part of her role.
“Working with such a large multinational company you’re not just looking at a UK market, you’re looking at a global market. It’s fascinating, very fast paced, and no two days are the same. I’ve been to New Zealand a couple of times, Europe a few times, and I spend quite a lot of time in Ireland as well on the beef side. I’m very busy. Sometimes you wish you could go back to being a student!”
Hannah particularly enjoys not only the variety in her day to day role, but all of the different people she gets to meet and network with.
“I could be meeting the minister one day to farmers, and the scale in between is huge. I’ve made some great industry contacts. From this, I then get invited to speak at numerous events, including the Farm Management Congress last year in Edinburgh. I also get invited to speak at many of the National Sheep Association events.”
Hannah sees resilience as one of the key attributes needed to thrive in the agricultural industry.
“What I like about working in agriculture, and particularly retail, is it’s a fast-paced environment. You need to be willing to adapt to change. Working in a job like I do, you have a strong level of resilience. You’re not going to get everything right and you’re going to upset people along the way.”
When asked about other challenges Hannah faces in her career, she is quick to point out that these can be turned into opportunities.
“A lot of people think that agriculture is not a woman’s world. That’s not the case at all. There are a lot of women working in agriculture from farm level right up to senior positions. I’d recommend more and more women to look to agriculture for a career, because it’s got fantastic opportunities.”
Hannah’s recommendation to students, to open up more opportunities and set themselves apart from the rest, is to gather as much experience as possible.
“One thing that I found that when applying for jobs that made my cv stand out, is the experience I’d collected over my four years while I was at SRUC. I had spent three summers working at Moredun in their parasitology department. I spent another summer in the Isle of Man in a pig unit. Having experience once you apply for jobs, particularly as a graduate, is really key to setting you apart from the rest.
“While you’re studying, you meet quite a lot of people and contacts, particularly when you’re on trips and site visits. If you could get work experience from them, even if it was just for two weeks, take it, because when you’re applying for graduate positions experience makes you stand out. It also helps you to answer interview questions because you’ve got actual practical experience to relate back to, ‘well, I was actually working for such a thing and we decided this’. It really does help you apply for jobs and during interviews.”