Tell us about your current research or work involvements and their impacts.
Currently, I am the National Program Leader for Plant Pathology with USDA’s National Institute of Food and Agriculture (NIFA), which provides leadership and funding for programs that advance agriculture-related sciences across the country. My responsibilities include working with programs in the Plant Protection area that invest in, and support initiatives to protect our food production systems and ensure the long-term viability of agriculture. The University of Minnesota, other land-grant universities and stakeholders receive federal funding for research, extension and education from NIFA funded programs. I work closely with these universities and other partners and am involved in program management and strategic planning.
What’s your passion? What do you love about your work and your field?
My passion is to be able to help others, and make a difference in any way possible that will improve conditions enabling success. Having come from a lineage of scientists and medical professionals, I grew up with a love for science, particularly the life sciences. I was drawn towards agriculture because it was an area where I felt I would have the opportunity to work with people who influence the basis of our sustenance, but are often not given the recognition and respect they deserve. As a researcher, witnessing the effect of my research in improving the livelihood of growers, and as a teacher, educating and helping students learn and succeed in their careers, has been extremely rewarding. In my current role as a strategic leader and administrator, I really enjoy being able to help support development and implementation of innovative and novel approaches and initiatives, originating from diverse groups of smart and dedicated practitioners, who join hands with us in achieving our common goal of strengthening the agricultural enterprise and ensuring food security. It is this spirit and purpose of my role that keeps me going.
Why did you get involved with Plant Pathology at the University of Minnesota? Tell us about your path to Plant Pathology.
Having grown up in one of the largest agricultural economies in the world, India, I had often witnessed devastating impacts of crop losses that farmers had to face. Such losses were often considered avoidable and arose due to poor agricultural practices, misguidance, and lack of adequate education amongst the farming community. Seeing these, and with an aspiration to help alleviate the problem, I had made up my mind to become an agricultural scientist at a very early age. After completing a B.S. in Agriculture from India, and an M.S. in Plant Molecular Biology from the UK, my interest to specialize in an area in agriculture related to the reduction of crop losses remained profound, and hence I chose to pursue a Doctoral degree in Plant Pathology.
Making a choice of universities, particularly as an international student then, was not easy. Ironically, however, after minimal searching, UMN seemed to rise to the top of my list of choices! The university seemed to offer a perfect combination of attributes that I was looking for in a doctoral program: an interesting research topic, a department that is known all over the world, great facilities, diverse student population, a well-rounded program and an easily accessible location. All these factors, combined with a great supervisor and a full research assistantship made UMN my first choice (… and a great one after all!).
What’s great about the Department of Plant Pathology?
The rich history of the department; excellent faculty who are greatly revered in the field and yet very approachable; and a supportive environment with ample opportunities for mentorship, exposure and growth, make the Department of Plant Pathology an ideal place to train for a career in this field.
How did your education at the U of M help prepare you for what you are doing today?
The U of M contributed to shaping my career in ways that will be hard to quantify. The times I’ve spent there were some of the best, and most transformative years of my life. It was at the U of M that I gained a lot of the knowledge, skills and experience, that gave me the confidence to try and take up new challenges at every stage and reach for my dreams. My teachers and mentors at the U of M were (and remain), an invaluable support to me in my career development. I strongly believe that U of M helped me prepare, in every way, to become what I am today!
What advice do you have for current students (and future alumni)?
There is no substitute to hard work! My advice to all current students will be to put in their very best efforts in preparing themselves to what they have decided to become tomorrow. Stay focused, and yet broad! Research and coursework are critical to the development of one’s career. However, as we move up on our educational ladder, our focus seems to narrow. My advice would be to not lose sight of the horizons. Keep an eye on the broader scheme of things, as you move up the rung. This will help you to position your pursuits best, and be open-minded and flexible in your thoughts and outcomes as you move along.
Study outside the box! The U of M tends to provide students with a number of opportunities for all-around growth. Some may be offered directly, and others may have to be explored. Participating in activities outside the defined curriculum (such as workshops, volunteering, leadership courses etc.) can bear immense value.
Finally, developing a good personality is critical! Every effort should be made to become a good team player and respectful individual. Personalities differ, but collegiality, good communication skills, and ethical practices are like icing on a cake! They are characteristics that can be developed and practiced, and can serve you a long way.