The PRL’s Golden Anniversary: 50 Years of Plant Science Exploration and Discovery
Imagine a Gordon Conference crossed with a family reunion and you will have a pretty good idea of what it was like at the recent 50th year anniversary celebration of the Michigan State University (MSU) Department of Energy (DOE)-funded Plant Research Laboratory (PRL). Inspirational talks of current and future science intermixed with nostalgic reminiscences of the days, people and science of the past. As a current graduate student of the PRL, I was both impressed and inspired by the history and future of this amazing group of plant scientists, and I thought I might share some of the lessons I learned with you
Lesson #1: Big science is done by people who are not afraid to ask big questions. It is not enough to just dream big. You have to actually step out on that limb and DO big. We all get into science with big dreams, big aspirations and big questions in an effort to understand the world around us and potentially use that knowledge to make it a better place. But for many of us it does not take long until we “learn better” than to challenge the established paradigms and to question our capacity to actually make a meaningful difference. The Great Explorers of the PRL have challenged me to not give up on these dreams, regardless of how competitive, risky or daunting the task may be.
“I decided that I’d look for something that looked like a big challenge.” Debby Delmer’s description of her approach to establishing her research program as the first woman faculty member in the PRL.
Lesson #2: Great explorers are most productive when given a vibrant, collaborative community in which they can thrive rather than merely survive. While this may seem simple in concept, it takes a lot of effort and leaders with commitment and vision to both establish and maintain such an environment. In my opinion, the collective contribution to plant science made by the PRL members both past and present provides substantial evidence to support that the effort is well worth it.
“We take things for granted. We just sort of thought that’s how it’s supposed to be. But later I knew that it was an enormous amount of work.”
Lesson #3: Because change is the only constant, adaptation is a necessary process. While the PRL has faced many hurdles over the last 50 years, we have met each with determination, big ideas and team work. The key challenge moving forward is to remember that if in our attempts to survive we sacrifice the fundamental, basal elements that define us, we have not truly survived at all.
Were you at the PRL 50th Anniversary Celebration or have you recently attended an analogous function? Please share your stories, thoughts and observations in the Comments line.