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Previous Recruits

2020 Students

Ethan Baldwin
Ethan Baldwin

What brought you to UGA? I came to UGA to work with faculty that strongly aligned with my research interests.

What are your research/study interests? Phylogenetics and population genetics.

What has been a benefit of being part of IPS?/How did it help you select your program? Lab rotations made IPS/UGA an attractive choice for a PhD program. Not being locked in to working with one professor and being able to experience working with multiple professors was hugely beneficial for me.

What are your career goals? Either a faculty member with a research-heavy position, or staff at a research institution (e.g. government). 

Who is your major professor? Dr. Jim Leebens-Mack and Dr. Magdy Alabady

Emile Barnes
Emile Barnes

What brought you to UGA? Beyond UGA’s excellent reputation in plant sciences, I was particularly drawn to the university’s longstanding connection to local agriculture and the amount of research being done on crops important to farmers and consumers in the state of Georgia. The interdisciplinary nature of the Plant Center and the ability to rotate in several departments through IPS was also very exciting. 

What are your research/study interests? Broadly speaking, I am interested in crop improvement through molecular breeding and biotechnology. In the Wild Peanut Lab, my research involves both breeding peanut lines with improved disease resistance, and helping to develop resources for the peanut breeding community through basic genomic research.

What has been a benefit of being part of IPS?/How did it help you select your program? Being a part of IPS was hugely helpful! My research interests are represented in labs across the plant biology, genetics, plant breeding, and horticulture departments, and being able to rotate among them was an opportunity unique to IPS that made me confident I would find a home lab that’s an excellent fit for me. My semester doing rotations also served as a useful refresher in various lab techniques, and was a good introduction to UGA beyond my home department.

What are your career goals? Whether in industry or academia, my goal is to work towards a more secure and resilient global food supply. 

Who is your major professor? Dr. David Bertioli

Wesley Bonelli
Wes Bonelli

What brought you to UGA? I sent my P.I. an unprompted email asking for a job as a programmer in early 2020. He hired me as lab staff and then encouraged me to apply as a grad student.

What are your research/study interests? I’m interested in developing phenotyping software to process high volumes of image data in HPC/HTC computing environments. I would also like to develop mathematical characterizations of root system architecture and computer simulations of root branching patterns.

What has been a benefit of being part of IPS?/How did it help you select your program? Coming from a background distant from plant science, IPS provided great exposure to a wide range of subdisciplines. This helped me come up to speed quickly. I was able to learn about computer vision techniques for phenotyping, bioinformatics pipelines for genome sequencing and structural variant calling, and mechanical/physiological measurements (stress-response curves for cavitation and embolism), spanning from sunflower to tomato to various tree species.

What are your career goals? I’m not sure yet. I’d either like to pursue a career in industry developing phenotyping software or in academia as a mathematical biologist. I’d like to wed these two areas if possible.

Who is your major professor? Dr. Alexander Bucksch.

Hannah Cook
Hannah Cook

What brought you to UGA? 

What are your research/study interests? 

What has been a benefit of being part of IPS?/How did it help you select your program

What are your career goals? 

Who is your major professor? 

Walter Dauksher
Walt Dauksher

What brought you to UGA? UGA has so many great qualities. I was drawn by the impressive breadth and depth of plant research. UGA is among the best institutions in the country for plant research, and paired with the fun, diverse, collaborative atmosphere of the school, along with the town of Athens’ rich traditions and lots to do, the choice was easy. 

What are your research/study interests? I am broadly interested in the genetic engineering and manipulation of plants to meet the needs of humanity. My current research involves engineering herbicide resistance in turfgrass. 

What has been a benefit of being part of IPS?/How did it help you select your program? There are many benefits to the IPS program. My cohort was a wonderful positive, as I had the opportunity to quickly make friends with people from diverse backgrounds and similar interests. Another major benefit of IPS are the rotations. Being able to rotate through a few labs from an assortment of departments allows you to define your interests, know the lab culture, and ultimately make the best decision for a home base lab for the next few years.

What are your career goals? I am open to all pathways, but my current aim is to work in industry. I would like to be involved with the genetic engineering of plants with value-added traits. Specifically, I would love to work on projects that help to solve the tragedy of world hunger. 

Who is your major professor? Dr. Wayne Parrott 

Michelle Henson

What brought you to UGA? The botanical research and location. UGA has a strong reputation in plant science and I wanted to be a part of that. Also, Athens is a great community not only for me, but for my partner who moved down here with me as well.

What are your research/study interests? I’m interested in studying the effects of fire on plant-soil microbe interactions and post-fire recovery patterns.

What has been a benefit of being part of IPS?/How did it help you select your program? I really liked that I could rotate through the different labs and get a feel for the different types of plant research I could do at UGA. Not only did I get to interact and meet new people this way, but I was also able to add new skills to my skill set.

What are your career goals? I’d like to work for a non-profit organization as a research director or as a federal research ecologist.

Who is your major professor? Dr. Anny Chung

Eliana Herman
Eliana Herman

What brought you to UGA? 

What are your research/study interests? 

What has been a benefit of being part of IPS?/How did it help you select your program

What are your career goals? 

Who is your major professor? 

Chen Hsieh
Chen Hsieh

What brought you to UGA? People’s attitude and dedication.

What are your research/study interests? Bioinformatics and plant physiology.

What has been a benefit of being part of IPS?/How did it help you select your program? The guarantee of stipend and wide range of programs to choose. Rotation let me experience the lab culture before joining one, prepared me with correct expectation.

What are your career goals? I am aiming for an industrial position.

Who is your major professor? Dr. CJ Tsai

Chazz Jordan
Chazz Jordan

What brought you to UGA? Friendliness of the professors and being a recipient of the GREAT fellowship.

What are your research/study interests? Evolution, phylogenetics, conservation biology, floral morphology. In short, I study the genus of Echinacea through a phylogenetic and morphological lens. 

What has been a benefit of being part of IPS?/How did it help you select your program? I made a good friend through the cohort and was able to experience a range of labs in the plant biology program. By choosing and rotating through different labs, I was able to understand the culture of the department and labs better – therefore, aiding in my decision. 

What are your career goals? To do a postdoc outside of the United States and then become a research coordinator at a botanic garden. 

Who is your major professor? Dr. Jill Anderson

Madeline Long
Madeline Long

What brought you to UGA? 

What are your research/study interests? 

What has been a benefit of being part of IPS?/How did it help you select your program

What are your career goals? 

Who is your major professor? 

Brandon Mangum
Brandon Mangum

What brought you to UGA? 

What are your research/study interests? 

What has been a benefit of being part of IPS?/How did it help you select your program

What are your career goals? 

Who is your major professor? 

Xiomy Pinchi Davila
Xiomy Pinchi Davila

What brought you to UGA? 

What are your research/study interests? 

What has been a benefit of being part of IPS?/How did it help you select your program

What are your career goals? 

Who is your major professor? 

Lubana Shahin
Lubana Shahin

What brought you to UGA? 

What are your research/study interests? 

What has been a benefit of being part of IPS?/How did it help you select your program

What are your career goals? 

Who is your major professor? 

Samantha Surber
Samantha Surber

What brought you to UGA? Being from the Midwest I was looking to explore new ecosystems and plant systems of study and the South intrigued me with their programs in plants and plant interactions with the environment. The IPS program allowed me to explore new options that I was considering without making me decide quickly on what I wanted to do. For that reason I was super thankful for the rotations we did and it allowed me to meet more people while we were still mainly staying home.

What are your research/study interests? I am interested in understanding how plants are responding to the changing environment due to climate change and other stressors at a molecular level. I worked in a wide range of crop species in my prior work and I am excited to be working in a woody tree species and learning about metabolism in a new study species!

What has been a benefit of being part of IPS?/How did it help you select your program? As I said above, I really enjoyed the part of IPS where we rotated for a semester. While I see where some might think that would put you behind in a graduation track, I think quite the contrary. It allowed me to explore new realms of science before deciding on working in genetics and metabolism for sure. The ability to do that gives people the chance to meet advisors and experience different mentorship which they can then choose the best place for them and a project that they are passionate about. The rotation program is one of the reasons that drew me to UGA, and I do not think I could have found a better place for me to be for the next years of my Ph.D..

What are your career goals? I do not have a concrete answer for this because of the possibilities that have been presented to me over the last year. I would ultimately like to work in science policy and communication while also still being part of a research team. I am keeping my options open, but I plan on seeking outside opportunities in the future.

Who is your major professor? Dr. CJ Tsai

Mary Washburn
Mary Washburn

What brought you to UGA? 

What are your research/study interests? 

What has been a benefit of being part of IPS?/How did it help you select your program

What are your career goals? 

Who is your major professor? 

Previous Recruits

  • 2019 Students

    Philip Bentz

    What brought you to UGA? I decided to come to UGA after learning about the breadth of plant research being done here, which illustrates the dedication that UGA has to producing cutting edge plant science. Plant science research at UGA is super collaborative and all plant related departments are very supportive of each other!

    What are your research/study interests? My current research uses comparative genomics and phylogenetic approaches to investigate the evolution of dioecy and sex chromosomes. I am also interested in the diverse array of desert adaptations across the plant tree of life.

    What has been a benefit of being part of IPS?/How did it help you select your program? As an incoming IPS student, you get to spend your first semester mostly focusing on a few short research projects that are part of your specific lab rotations. Even though I already had a good idea about which lab I wanted to join, IPS helped me choose my home department by exposing me to the various departments that you are able to join.

    What are your career goals? I am open to a number of different career paths. My main goal is to have a positive impact on society and future generations of people.

    Who is your major professor? Dr. Jim Leebens-Mack

    Qian Feng

    What brought you to UGA? UGA has strong plant sciences departments and actually the IPS program is one of the most important reasons I chose here.

    What are your research/study interests? I am in a tomato genetics lab now and I am interested in the genetic characterization of fruit size and volatiles.

    What has been a benefit of being part of IPS?/How did it help you select your program? IPS really helped me find what my interests were by allowing me doing rotations across departments. It also gave me time to know the labs and the people.

    What are your career goals? I plan to take an academia path and work in a research institution.

    Who is your major professor? Dr. van der Knaap

    Kelly Goode

    What brought you to UGA? I was initially drawn to UGA because of the Plant Center. Even though I did work with molecular breeding at my undergrad institution, there was a disconnect between our group in the forestry department and the plant biology/genetics departments across campus. The Plant Center showed a priority in facilitating communication between different research groups.

    What are your research/study interests? I’m working on the characterizing the molecular interaction between root-knot nematodes and soybeans.

    What has been a benefit of being part of IPS?/How did it help you select your program? I would not be in my current lab without IPS. My PI had moved to UGA the summer before I came to UGA and hadn’t learned anything about IPS.  I met my PI at the Plant Center Retreat in October and changed my final rotation the weekend before it started. The IPS program also provided great experience in other research areas. I still use techniques learned in my other rotations.

    What are your career goals? I want to work in academia, but also work with the growers who will benefit from agriculture research through extension programs. There is a huge disconnect between the research lab and the applications of research. I want to help educate scientists to see all aspects of their research, instead of getting sucked up into bench work.

    Who is your major professor? Dr. Melissa Mitchum

    Austin Menzmer

    What brought you to UGA? My best friend’s father is a horticulturist, and when he heard I had an interest in plants, he told me that I should come to UGA Plant Biology. Simple as that – and I’ve never regretted my decision!

    What are your research/study interests? The effects of wind disturbances – such as tornadoes and hurricanes – and salvage logging on herbaceous plants of the southeast.

    What has been a benefit of being part of IPS?/How did it help you select your program? Prior to IPS I already had a good idea of who I wanted to work with, but IPS did give me the opportunity to work with professors and learn who I work well with. It’s kind of like being able to go on a date with a girl before proposing marriage, which is much appreciated!

    What are your career goals? College professor at small liberal arts teaching university.

    Who is your major professor? Dr. Chris Peterson

    Shreena Pradhan

    What brought you to UGA? The IPS program was what attracted me the most to UGA. I stumbled across it when I was looking at the IPBGG website and the rotations and involvement of many departments immediately grabbed my interest.

    What are your research/study interests? I am in Devos Lab now and I work in genetics underlying the leaf traits that help in salt tolerance in different turfgrasses.

    What has been a benefit of being part of IPS?/How did it help you select your program? The rotations were a big help to start grad school as a research assistant. Not only were these rotations my very first step towards wet lab work, but also a way to understand lab culture, research discipline and my own particular interests of what I wanted to work on.

    What are your career goals? I hope to work in a research position perhaps in an industry or organization. Things may change as I advance further!

    Who is your major professor? Dr. Katrien M. Devos

    Justine Rojas

    What brought you to UGA? I came across the IPS program while looking for potential graduate schools to attend. I found the IPS program appealing because of the terrific faculty and graduate students to collaborate with. Not only has the program been amazing so far, but the opportunities and resources available through UGA has been great for grad students!

    What are your research/study interests? My research is focused on the effects of drought on tree form and function. Specifically, I am interested in water transport of trees and how water is stored and released during drought or other stressful environmental conditions.

    What has been a benefit of being part of IPS?/How did it help you select your program? The rotations that IPS requires students to do was a great way to meet a potential advisor or committee members. It is also a great way to meet other graduate students for collaboration or networking.

    What are your career goals? I would like to work for the Forest Service R&D or work as a professor at a university.

    Who is your major professor? Dr. Daniel Johnson

    Yibing Zeng

    What brought you to UGA? IPS gave me a chance to rotate. It’s so important to know your advisor beforehand, important that both parties had choices.

    What are your research/study interests? I am interested in synthetic biology.

    What has been a benefit of being part of IPS?/How did it help you select your program? IPS is a great program, the biggest driver is that IPS provides rotations.

    What are your career goals? I want to be a researcher in the future.

    Who is your major professor? Dr. Kelly Dawe

  • 2018 Students

    Max Barnhart

    What brought you to UGA? I came to UGA because I wanted to go to a top plant sciences school and UGA felt like a great culture fit! It also happened to be close to some of my family in Atlanta.

    What are your research/study interests? I study the evolution of temperature stress resistance in sunflower! My work involves screening the pollen of cultivated and wild sunflower species for temperature stress resistance and using that information to understand the underlying genetics of that resistance.

    What has been a benefit of being part of IPS?/How did it help you select your program? I loved being a part of the IPS cohort and made many close friends right away. The supportive nature of the faculty involved in the program made me feel like the plant sciences program at UGA was the right place for me to grow.

    What are your career goals? I would like to work in the start-up or non-profit sector helping to achieve food security for low-income families while promoting food equality in urban areas. Who knows what the future holds though!

    Who is your major professor? Dr. John Burke

    Ben Chadwick

    What brought you to UGA? To join the IPS program. I was interested in fungal pathogens and UGA has many research professors in the fungal biology field.

    What are your research/study interests? My area of interest is fungal biology and genetics. My PhD research focuses on the role of CO2 tolerance in pathogenesis, and mechanisms behind cellular differentiation in Cryptococcus neoformans.

    What has been a benefit of being part of IPS?/How did it help you select your program? I think the most beneficial aspect of the IPS program is having lab rotations before selecting a program. The rotations give a chance to experience ​being a part of different labs studying different topics.

    What are your career goals? ​My career goal is to launch my own lab and contribute to biological research as well as train future scientists.

    Who is your major professor? Dr. Xiaorong Lin

    Yen-Ho Chen

    What brought you to UGA? As an international student (Hi, I’m from Taiwan), I was first attracted by the closely-connected Plant Science community and the high diversity of plant science in terms of the research materials, approaches, and aspects. Then, I had chances to talk to several IPS faculties who are doing cool researches, so I came. Also, the weather took a huge part of my decision-making. I prefer the warmth of the south because I am a sensitive ecotype to cold stress.

    What are your research/study interests? I am curious about how trees, as long-lived plant organisms, manage to survive from the environmental stresses through their life. Now I am working with Dr. CJ Tsai to figure out the Salicylic acid signaling pathway and oxidative regulation in poplar tree.

    What has been a benefit of being part of IPS?/How did it help you select your program? The IPS is a great portal program that helps students to rotate in different research groups and to find their best fits. IPS also includes outstanding professors working on diverse research aspects of multiple plant species. That’s a big plus for me.

    What are your career goals? I wish to contribute on research, to explore a little tiny bit more into the unknown darkness of plant biology, no matter it’s in academia or industry.

    Derek Denney

    What brought you to UGA? I was interested in the extensive plant biology programs at UGA. There are many faculty and vast resources dedicated to studying plants. Few institutions have this amount of resources in one location, let alone accessible through a program like IPS.

    What are your research/study interests? I am interested in the way plants respond to changes across environments, be that spatial or temporal changes. Currently I’m studying the genetic basis of local adaptation and the evolutionary consequences of climate change.

    What has been a benefit of being part of IPS?/How did it help you select your program? I really enjoyed the opportunity to interact with people from multiple departments. This let me weigh the benefits of each department and program that best fit my needs. It has also increased my network so I can seek assistance from others outside of my realm.

    What are your career goals? I would like to pursue a research position at a university.

    Who is your major professor? Dr. Jill Anderson

    Razi Ibrahim

    What brought you to UGA? The reputation of UGA in the field of plant sciences research, its world class faculty, state-of-the art research facilities, and well equipped labs intrigued me to apply to this school.

    What are your research/study interests? I am interested in applied plant breeding and plant genetics. I am trying to develop a herbicide resistant white clover cultivar.

    What has been a benefit of being part of IPS?/How did it help you select your program? Applying to IPS was one of the best decisions of my life. The lab rotations helped me to explore the labs that I was interested in. Before joining a lab I had the opportunity to learn about the lab, work environment, and the lab members which helped me to make my decision.

    What are your career goals? My carrier goal is to work in a company or research organization. My dream is to develop and release at least one cultivar that farmers will grow with confidence.

    Who is your major professor? Dr. Ali Missaoui

    Simone Lim-Hing

    What brought you to UGA? UGA has a world-renowned plant program with myriad resources for research and teaching opportunities. Apart from the institution, I found Athens to be very welcoming and charming.

    What are your research/study interests? I am interested in how plants interact with their enemies and how they employ defense mechanisms. I find chemical ecology and plant-pathogen interactions really exciting.

    What has been a benefit of being part of IPS?/How did it help you select your program? IPS has allowed me to branch out my networks and work directly with the different departments at UGA that are working with plants.

    What are your career goals? ​I have no idea!!!

    Who is your major professor? Dr. Caterina Villari

    Mia Rochford

    What brought you to UGA? I first became aware of IPS while researching universities that offer PhDs in plant biology. My college plant ecology professor earned his PhD from the Odum school of ecology, so I asked him about his experience. He spoke very highly of the university’s graduate programs.

    What are your research/study interests? I study the joint effects of habitat fragmentation and climate change on native plant populations. I am also interested in rare plant conservation.

    What has been a benefit of being part of IPS?/How did it help you select your program? Rotations allowed me to get a sense of the day-to-day work and ethos of each lab so I could make an informed decision before committing. The same goes for choosing which department to join.

    What are your career goals? I hope to have a research position at a museum or botanical garden.

    Who are your major professors? Dr. Jill Anderson and Dr. Jennifer Cruse-Sanders

    Dakota Starr

    What brought you to UGA? The faculty and students were very welcoming when I visited for recruitment. The research that they were conducting was of the highest caliber. 

    What are your research/study interests? My research is using CRISPR Cas9 to investigate the molecular basis of sex-determination and the origin of dioecy in the genus Asparagus.

    What has been a benefit of being part of IPS?/How did it help you select your program? The benefit of being in IPS was getting to do rotations in three different labs. I joined the lab that was the best fit based on the projects that I would get to work on in the lab and the members of the lab.

    What are your career goals? My career goals are to go back to industry and lead my own research team.

    Who is your major professor? Dr. Jim Leebens-Mack

    Momo Xie

    What brought you to UGA? A group of world-class plant scientists.

    What are your research/study interests? My research interest is to study the origins of root architecture diversity in crops. By combining knowledge from biology, statistics, and computer science:
    (1) I develop a computing pipeline to describe and measure the diversity of root architectures using mathematical shape descriptors.
    (2) I dissect the genetic components that regulate root architectures under water-sufficient and drought conditions.
    (3) I question whether the maternal effect of seed size and kin recognition of root neighbors contribute to root architecture diversity.

    What has been a benefit of being part of IPS?/How did it help you select your program? IPS program allows students to experience three labs that they are interested to work in. By interacting with fellow graduates and PIs during my three rotations, I am grateful and happy to choose the one that most suits my interest and personality.

    What are your career goals? My primary goal is to be a professor at a research university. If my primary goal does not work out, my second goal is to be a data scientist in the industry. As long as my work that beneficial to humans’ well-being and build a better world for the current and next-generation, I embrace any career opportunity that life brings to me.

    Who is your major professor? Dr. Alexander Bucksch

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