ASPB Webinar April 14: What I Wish I Had Known When I Started Grad School

April 14, 2023

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The ASPB Early Career Plant Scientists (ECPS) Section wants to help you succeed in graduate school. So, we’re bringing back one of our most popular panel discussion webinars, “What I Wish I Had Known When I Started Grad School.”

In this webinar, a panel including recent grad school graduates or grad school students just beginning their journeys will share lessons they’ve learned, their experiences, and tips and advice on how to successfully navigate graduate school. This panel is targeted toward those thinking about graduate school, those about to start, and those already in it! Come prepared with questions for our panelists!


Person outdoors wearing a hat smiling at the cameraPatrick Thomas is a postdoctoral scholar at Penn State University where he works under Drs. Mark Guiltinan and Siela Maximova on functional genomics of cacao specifically looking at chromatin accessibility and tissue-specific gene expression. A native of Long Island, New York, he earned his his BS in agricultural science from Penn State in 2014 and went on to earn his PhD in plant biology in April 2022 from UC-Riverside where he was advised by Dr. Linda Walling exploring the genetic mechanism behind whitefly resistance in alfalfa.

Person smiling at the cameraDr. Kevin R. Cope is an expert in the field of beneficial plant-microbe interactions. He earned his PhD in this field at the University of Wisconsin–Madison and completed four years of postdoctoral research at South Dakota State University and Oak Ridge National Lab. He currently employs his expertise as a Plant Physiology Scientist II at Bayer Crop Science focused on identifying and characterizing microbes that improve the growth and development of corn and soy. Through controlled environment testing, Kevin evaluates third-party biologicals that are candidates for development as Bayer products. This work is aimed at enhancing sustainable farming practices by significantly minimizing agricultural dependence on synthetic fertilizer inputs.

Person outdoors standing by trees and smiling at the cameraMelissa Draves graduated from Iowa State University in 2022 with a Bachelor of Science in genetics. She is now a first-year PhD student in the Division of Plant Science and Technology at the University of Missouri. She works in the Flint-Garcia lab and her research is focused on heirloom maize of the United States.

Person outdoors smiling at the cameraDr. Gurleen Kaur completed a PhD in December 2022 at the University of Florida under the guidance of Dr. Harry Klee. She was born and raised in a farm family and is a first-generation graduate. Dr. Kaur worked on understanding and improving tomato flavor using integrated omics and breeding techniques. She received her master’s degree from New Mexico State University, working on the high oleic trait in a peanut breeding program. She has received several scholarships of over $10,000 throughout her graduate studies. She got the 2022 Borlaug Scholar Award from the National Association of Plant Breeders (NAPB). She is currently the chair of the NAPB George Washington Carver Award to foster diversity in plant breeding students. Gurleen leads a group of graduate students, post-docs, and researchers from academia and industry to support students from diverse groups in their plant breeding careers. Her workshop proposal, “Introduction of Big Data in Plant Biology,” was accepted for the American Society of Plant Biologists’ (ASPB) Plant Biology 2022 meeting. She also received the 2022 Recognition Award from ASPB for attending the annual meeting and a travel award from the Crop Science Society of America for attending the 2022 annual meeting in Baltimore. She has won several flash talks, oral talks, and poster presentations highlighting her research work. She has served as an Early Career Representative of ASPB’s Equity, Diversity, and Inclusion Committee since October 2022. She believes in contributing to community service and is actively involved in events to educate students, growers, consumers, and the broader community. She wants to work in crop improvement utilizing her integrated experience in plant breeding, genomics, and bioinformatics.

Person standing in front of a flowering tree looking at the cameraSummer Blanco is a second-year PhD student in the Department of Plant Biology at the University of Georgia. Prior to graduate school, they earned their BS in botany from Cal Poly Pomona and subsequently pursued a post-baccalaureate program at Michigan State. Her work includes using genomic, transcriptomic, and metabolic approaches to understand flower color variation in Geranium. In addition to their research, Summer is passionate about the recruitment and retention of students from marginalized communities in higher education.


Person indoors smiling at the cameraBrianna D. Griffin grew up in Florida, where she graduated from Florida State University with her BS while working in Dr. Hank Bass’s maize genetics lab. She is currently a PhD candidate at Iowa State University studying plant biology with a specialization in predictive plant phenomics in Dr. Justin Walley’s lab. Her work focuses on the role of post-translational modifications in plant-pathogen interactions in maize. She is also currently the EDI Chair for the Early Career Plant Scientists section of ASPB and is on ASPB’s Council as an Early Career Representative.


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