Published on 06/12/17

University of Georgia grad students kick off summer by traveling to Florida to explore careers

By Merritt Melancon, Russell Ingram

The search for a perfect job can feel like a major quest. That quest turns literal for a group of University of Georgia College of Agricultural and Environmental Sciences (CAES) students for one week each summer.

As part of the student-organized Crop Protection Careers Tour, 21 CAES graduate students set off to Florida this year for what has become an annual pilgrimage to agricultural science hubs to learn about careers in crop protection.

The students, who are studying in the CAES departments of entomology, plant pathology and crop and soil sciences, traveled by bus May 10-13 to visit crop development and research centers in Florida. During the four-day trip, the students visited the University of Florida (UF) Institute of Food and Agricultural Sciences (IFAS) Plant Diagnostic Center; the UF IFAS Department of Plant Pathology; Syngenta’s Vero Beach field research station; and the U.S. Department of Agriculture’s Fort Pierce Horticultural Research Laboratory, the epicenter for citrus disease research.

“I thought the most efficient means of learning the wants and needs of the industry was to go straight to the sources and let them tell us what they are looking for in a potential employee,” said Russell Ingram, the trip’s organizer and a master’s degree candidate studying plant pathology at CAES. “As it was last year, the ultimate goal of this trip is to help at least one student get an internship or a job offer.”

Ingram organized the first Crop Protection Careers Tour in 2016, when he and a few dozen other CAES graduate students set out to the corn and soybean fields of Indiana to visit the global headquarters of Dow AgroSciences and Purdue University. The industry career focus of last year’s tour was research-and-development-laboratory-based positions.

For this year’s Crop Protection Careers Tour, the students switched directions and headed south to the sunny citrus groves of Florida.

While at the UF IFAS Plant Diagnostic Center, students attended a brief workshop on Florida’s economically important crops and diseases. The director of the center, Carrie Harmon, also spoke to students about working in Cooperative Extension and her experience as a diagnostician and administrator.

During the visit, two field scientists from Dow AgroSciences — entomologists Alejandro Calixto and Joe Eger — talked to students about working as private industry field scientists, including specific responsibilities, work-life balance and preparations to be viable job candidates.

After the visit with Dow AgroSciences at UF, students got another chance to see more of the field science and product development in practice at Syngenta’s field research facilities.

At Syngenta, company representatives Bryan Delp, James Hadden and Marty Wigglesworth helped students gain a better understanding of research scientists’ role at Syngenta and the way they fit into the business of science. Students also had the opportunity to meet with the many staff scientists on site to ask about everything from gender equality in the workplace to the impact of the recent agrichemical company mergers to the future of the industry.

On the last day of the trip, students learned about the innovative disease management research on citrus greening at the USDA Horticultural Research Laboratory.

The visit highlighted the impact that properly coordinated interdisciplinary collaboration can make in the advancement of science. Many people outside of the areas of citrus production and crop protection are unaware of the citrus disease Huanglongbing, or citrus greening disease, as it is more commonly known. This citrus disease has wreaked havoc on the Florida citrus industry since its introduction, leaving the industry at the brink of collapse.

“The scientists at the USDA are currently racing against the clock to find a solution before this disease completely wipes out the citrus industry in Florida, worth over $1 billion,” Ingram said. “The creative solutions that the scientists at this site are developing to try to save the citrus industry are nothing less than inspiring. In a way, it was very fitting to end the tour on this note.

“Exposure to the current situation with citrus greening in Florida was a great way to reinforce to students the importance, need for and impact of crop protection professionals in everyday life.”

The three-night, four-day tour cost each participating student only $50 thanks to generous contributions from Dow AgroSciences LLC and Syngenta; professional sponsors the American Phytopathological Society Experiential Award and UGA Society of Aspiring Plant Pathologists; and the CAES departments of plant pathology, entomology and crop and soil sciences.

Merritt Melancon is a public relations manager with UGA's Terry College of Business and previously served as a public relations coordinator for the UGA College of Agricultural and Environmental Sciences and UGA Extension.

Russell Ingram, coordinator of CAES's annual Crop Protection Tour and a doctoral candidate in plant pathology at UGA.

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