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Graduate students in crop science fields visit leading plant science research sites in St. Louis

By for CAES News

This summer a group of nine graduate students in the University of Georgia’s crop science disciplines embarked on a two-day site visit to corporate and nonprofit agricultural research centers in St. Louis, Missouri. 

Master’s degree and doctoral students from plant pathology, plant breeding, entomology and related fields studying at UGA’s Athens and Tifton campuses made the trip to learn more about career opportunities in the plant sciences.  

Accompanied by Andrew Crain, director of experiential professional development at the UGA Graduate School, the students visited with representatives from Bayer Crop Science and the Donald Danforth Plant Science Center as well as agricultural technology companies such as The Climate Corporation and Benson Hill Biosystems. The group also participated in a networking event with local alumni at a St. Louis Cardinals baseball game.   

Known as the Crop Protection Tour, the annual road trip was organized by the UGA Graduate School’s Experiential Professional Development (xPD) initiative. The initiative aims to enhance career development support within industry, government and nonprofit fields. The Society of Aspiring Plant Pathologists (SAPPs) co-sponsored the program.  

Plant pathology alumnus Russell Ingram, who now works at Bayer Crop Science in St. Louis, organized the first Crop Protection Tour as a doctoral candidate in 2016. 

“As a doctoral student we organized some incredible corporate site visits, and I was excited about the opportunity to help continue this program in my new role as a full-time scientist at Bayer,” Ingram said. “I think developing firsthand knowledge of company culture and the hiring process can be crucial for graduate student success in the job search.”  

At each company, the students met with research and development leaders, toured the facilities and labs, and talked with human resource professionals. Along the way, there were opportunities to network with UGA alumni and other company representatives at luncheons or coffee hour events. 

“I wanted to learn more about non-academic career paths and see examples of my future career opportunities,” said Jovana Mijatovic, a current doctoral candidate in UGA’s Department of Plant Pathology. “In this tour, you gain insights about the necessary skills to succeed in the job market, as well as how to package your skillset to more strongly align with the organization’s hiring needs.”  

Programs like the Crop Protection Tour are organized primarily for students, but they are also a way to maintain connections with UGA alumni and industry partners, Crain said. 

Minglu Gao, a postdoctoral researcher at the Donald Danforth Plant Science Center, helped organize the student visit to the institute.  

"Immersed in such a supportive and dynamic scientific community, I am constantly exposed to cutting-edge technology and inspiring talks at the Danforth Center,” Gao said. “I really enjoy working here and I would love to share my experience and the culture of the Danforth Center with UGA students.” 

Founded in 1998, the Donald Danforth Plant Science Center is a nonprofit research institute with a mission to improve the human condition through plant science. A key aim of the Danforth Center is to position the St. Louis region as a world center for plant science.  

At Bayer, student participants were able to gain firsthand knowledge on the potential benefits of working for a multinational corporation. They also received tips on career preparation and searching for the right job.  

According to Bayer’s website, this focus includes innovation in areas such as disease control, professional pest management, industrial vegetation management, and the turf, ornamental and forestry industries.  

“It is a privilege to host this group of talented students and provide them with an opportunity to view our innovative technology and interact with employees. I am excited when students are able to truly get a feel for our culture,” said Amy Utterback, emerging talent acquisition lead at Bayer. 

During the tour, students heard a lot about the emergence and importance of data science as a driver in the crop sciences. Benson Hill representatives offered a particularly unique perspective as a crop improvement company unlocking the natural diversity of plants based in the St. Louis area.   

“At Benson Hill, our foundation lies in our people thriving in a healthy organization and culture,” said Matthew Crisp, CEO and co-founder of Benson Hill. “The key to our company, like many companies, has been our people — the caliber of talent we can attract and welcoming students to learn firsthand about our environment helps unlock that talent.”

The organization is expanding rapidly and recently announced plans to build its headquarters, a $52 million building on the Danforth Center campus. 

For more information about the Experiential Professional Development (xPD) initiative, visit the UGA Graduate School homepage or connect on social media (@UGAGradCareers). More information about Bayer Crop Science, The Climate Corporation, the Danforth Plant Science Center or Benson Hill Biosystems may be found on their respective websites.  

(Writers from the UGA Graduate School contributed substantially to this release.) 

Merritt Melancon is a news editor with the University of Georgia College of Agricultural and Environmental Sciences.
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