Plant Breeding Center Student Spotlight: Aaron Anderson
I always give a roundabout answer whenever people ask me where I am from. In short, I am from Tennessee, but grew up in a small Appalachian town called Blaine before moving to Nashville, where I attended undergrad at Lipscomb University. I started college wanting to be a veterinarian before realizing that while I loved my animals; other people’s animals were kind of gross. After deciding that animals, and people for that matter, were not fun to study, I ended up focusing on plants. I saw plant-based research as a way to directly impact the food system to help alleviate hunger because I fully believe that we should try to leave the world a better place than we found it. After 2 long years—really though, how many natural disasters can we have in my two years of grad school?—I will graduate with a Master’s from the Horticulture and Agriculture Graduate Group at the end of this summer.
My path to Davis was quite interesting. I wanted to take some time off after undergrad, but my academic advisor convinced me to apply to a few graduate programs so I would have the option. I purposefully only applied to schools within driving distance to an ocean/large body of water. It just so happened that one of the professors who I asked for a reference knew a professor at Davis, and after she sat up a conversation with Dr. Charlie Brummer, he got me in contact with Dr. Dan Putnam. The two of them agreed to be my co-major professors. Additionally, all this happened while I was studying abroad in Florence, Italy. Everything seemed to fall into place, and I decided to give this grad school thing a try.
Working with the alfalfa dream team, I have studied how salinity impacts alfalfa quality at the West Side Research and Extension Center and what exactly salinity tolerance means in terms of a forage crop. I have helped set up selection nurseries for salinity tolerance as well as helping out other students and projects in the labs to learn about other crops. To be frank, at Davis I have learned that research is not what I thought it was. I have shifted my long-term plans to focus more on policy and education through the use of applied research. The faculty who value the input of the general public and include producers in their research made an impression on me and I would like to implore other faculty to remember that we research to better the world, not to compete with each other.
In the future I would like to work with the United Nations and the USDA on food security issues. I see myself working to improve aspects of agriculture to address issues in local areas and working for policy changes to better serve the public. I have been fortunate to attend many conferences and meetings throughout my graduate career. Principal amongst these was the Congressional Visits Day as a representative of the National Association of Plant Breeders with the Agricultural Tri Societies. Sam Hilborn, another student in the Brummer lab, attended in 2019 and encouraged me to apply for the 2020 visit day. It was an amazing opportunity that I encourage all students to attend to understand the US political system and to meet influential people from all walks of life that are passionate about agriculture.
If I had to give one piece of advice to students, I would say to stay true to who you are no matter what. The status quo of science is stupid, and you should NEVER let anyone else tell you that you should change to fit in to a role that they want you to play. Let others advise you and help you grow, but it is your life, your career, and your passion. Never forget that.