MSU grad student now at intersection of industry, research
Author: Vanessa Beeson
Mississippi State is giving special recognition to a new graduate student beginning research on the impact of emerging plant herbicides.
John T. Buol is receiving the university’s 2015 Will D. Carpenter Distinguished Field Scientist Graduate Assistantship. The Monroe, Wisconsin, resident began work during the spring semester on a master’s degree in agronomy/weed science.
The Monsanto Co.-funded award honors the 1952 MSU agronomy graduate who spent 34 years of his career with the Missouri-based multinational agrochemical and agricultural biotechnology corporation. Carpenter retired in the early 1990s as vice president and general manager of the new products division.
Buol said most of his early years were spent on a dairy farm before graduating from high school and entering the University of Wisconsin at Madison. “I chose biochemistry because it is a basic science you can apply to anything,” he said. “It proved to be a challenging program that provided a good base.”
While at UW, Buol first worked as a research assistant in a biotechnology and genetics laboratory. He then held the same position in UW’s agronomy department, where he conducted research in small-plot integrated pest management.
That work enabled him to combine personal passions for agriculture and research. After excelling in his duties, he was allowed to pursue his own research interests and attend competitions and conferences. Prior to his senior year at the Wisconsin land-grant institution, his accumulated expertise earned a summer internship with an agricultural biotechnology company.
“During my undergraduate experience, I discovered I loved both the agricultural industry and research, and I sought to find a path that would combine the two,” Buol said, adding that his quest for more knowledge and experience led him to Mississippi State.
At the Starkville land-grant institution, Buol is investigating cotton’s susceptibility to auxin herbicide injury. His work is directed by weed science professor Dan Reynolds, holder of the College of Agriculture and Life Sciences’ Edgar E. and Winifred B. Hartwig Endowed Chair in Soybean Agronomy.
Buol said he purposely chose cotton in order to move beyond his research comfort zone and, in the process, significantly enhance his professional expertise and prospects for post-graduate employment.
“I grew up in the Midwest so I have appreciable experience with corn, soy and alfalfa, but I didn’t know anything about cotton,” Buol explained. “This research gave me a chance to diversify my knowledge of various crops, cropping systems and challenges faced by producers.”
Buol said he considers the assistantship to be more like an apprenticeship. “In my opinion, graduate school teaches you how a bicycle works and how to ride it. The assistantship shows me what the street looks like around me.
“I have the opportunity to ride along with field scientists, which shows the relevancy of the research and shows how my work will be applied,” he continued. “It takes me out of the classroom, contextualizes everything I do and shows me how our work as researchers impacts the industry, government and world.”
The assistantship also pairs Buol with Anthony Mills, a Monsanto researcher for nearly 30 years specializing in weed management technology. Because of many achievements he has received over the decades, Mills holds the title of Monsanto Distinguished Field Scientist.
“Monsanto created the distinguished field scientist position as a way for senior development representatives to further advance their careers in the field,” Mills said. “The designation requires that the scientist conduct or oversee a special project. My project centers on recruiting and developing new talent to bring into our company.”
Mills, a University of Kentucky doctoral graduate in agronomy and crop science, said he finds the mentor role to be most rewarding. “My passion lies in the field assisting customers. More recently, at this stage in my career, I’ve found it a lot more satisfying to see younger people come on board and benefit in ways I can help those students or new employees develop within the company.”
He especially enjoys helping further develop students like Buol so they may join a company like Monsanto following graduation and require only a truncated training period.
“Hands-on training with our agronomists in the field can take up to two years when a new hire comes on board,” Mills said. “The program affords a student the opportunity to gain critical, tactile industry experience while still in graduate school.”
Mills said the spirit of the Mississippi State assistantship also epitomizes the personal and professional character of the university alumnus whose name it carries.
Carpenter and a company team received international recognitions some years ago for helping greatly increase global food production through their development of two popular weed- and grass-control products, RoundUp® and Lasso®.
Mills praised Carpenter for being “a great leader for Monsanto and for the agricultural industry as a whole. He did much to further the advancement of crop protection.”
He also acknowledged Carpenter’s well-known and continuing support for Mississippi State University.