What do you do for a living?
I’m an Associate Professor in the Department of Horticultural Science at the University of Minnesota.
How’d you get started in this job, or what was your first job in the plant world?
I got started working with plants back when I was in high school. I went to a summer camp where I got to work on a project with insects in apple orchards and I loved it. I ended up getting my Master’s degree in entomology. While working on my Master’s I met Mike Dirr and knew that I had to work in horticulture — So I got my Ph.D. in horticulture and then took this job in 1998.
What’s your typical day like?
1. Get into work
2. Teach Class
3. Advise some students about classes / jobs / internships
4. Work on a paper / article / review
5. Go to a meeting
6. Work on that paper some more until the day ends.
What’s the coolest thing you get to do at work, and what’s the nastiest, most boring, most soul-sucking awful thing you have to do at work?
Coolest — I really like to teach. Teaching wasn’t something that I thought I’d enjoy doing when I went to school (they don’t teach you how to teach in graduate school — isn’t that crazy?), but it always ends up being one of the most relaxing and rewarding parts of my day. I love it when students “get” something and their eyes light up. It’s like winning a video game.
Soul-sucking — Meetings. Nothing good comes of meetings.
What does the future look like for your job? Are there technology changes, outsourcing, or other forces at work that are going to change your job going forward?
I’m very frightened about the outlook for the future of the type of position that I hold. I’m an applied plant scientist. I don’t mess with biochemistry, molecular biology, or plant physiology too much (though a working understanding of all of those topics is necessary for any plant scientist nowadays). Universities are not hiring people like me much anymore. Instead, they’re looking for the types of people who can bring in large grants. They’re also not looking for people who do a lot of outreach/extension work like I do right now. This isn’t to say that things won’t change in the future, but right now I sometimes feel like a dinosaur.
What advice would you give to somebody thinking about getting into your line of work?
Love school. You’ve got to love school to stick with it for as long as I have. If you don’t really love it you’re not going to make it through all the years you need to devote to it. And remember — perseverance is much more important than smarts in this line of work.