Research Highlights

Research Highlights
Setting Graduate Students Up for Success in the Soybean Industry

Students on the 2019 tour. Photo: Rachel Vann

By Sarah Hill

Although the U.S. is the leading country when it comes to soybean production, the world of soybean research in academia is still relatively small. The Science for Success tour is designed to connect 15-20 graduate students from across the United States who will be entering the soybean research and extension field by introducing them to soybean production, and more broadly, agriculture in other U.S. regions. 

“These students are the next generation of soybean extension specialists, agronomists, or even leaders in private industry,” says Rachel Vann, assistant professor and extension soybean specialist, Crop and Soil Sciences department, North Carolina State University. “They get the chance to develop relationships with faculty from across the U.S., other graduate students who will become their peers in their careers, and it gets them thinking about future career opportunities.”

The two-day event takes place each summer. The kickoff event in 2019 was jointly hosted in North Carolina and Virginia; the 2021 event was hosted by Arkansas; and the 2022 event was jointly hosted by Michigan State and Ohio State Universities. The 2020 event was skipped due to the COVID-19 pandemic. The 2023 tour will be held in Minnesota and Wisconsin. 

“In Arkansas, we learned a lot about berry and rice production,” says Fabiano Colet, an agronomy doctoral student at Ohio State University. “In Ohio and Michigan, we talked to soybean farmers, and learned about sugar beets, which I’d never had the opportunity to see before.”

Students gather for a group photo at the 2019 Science for Success tour. Photo: Rachel Vann

University professors from across the U.S. identify graduate students who are researching soybeans and cover their costs to participate. The hosting university shoulders much of the costs, but financial support is provided by the United Soybean Board and state level soybean boards.

“Professors with graduate students working in applied soybean research have really believed in the value of this program, using their funds to support students’ travel,” Vann says. “We’re so thankful that the United Soybean Board has been a supporter, and many state level soybean boards have provided additional support during the tours.”

“It’s nice to connect with other graduate students,” adds Colet, who is researching soybeans and biological seed treatments. “I’m still in touch with some of them that I met during the tour.”

Part of the tour examined different end uses for soybeans, while letting the students — who are future colleagues — become more familiar with hands-on soybean production.

“We really appreciate the United Soybean Board’s support,” adds Laura Lindsey, associate professor in soybean and small grain production at Ohio State University. “It’s nice to see the checkoff get involved with students.”

“The students get to see applied soybean research being conducted by the host university and visit local farms,” Vann adds. “When planning the tour, we’re very intentional about showing the students unique agricultural aspects of that area. For example, in North Carolina, they got to see tobacco and sweet potato production and the port in Norfolk, Va., where a lot of soybeans are exported. On the upcoming Minnesota and Wisconsin tour, graduate students will be exposed to unique aspects of those production regions, like cranberry production and Organic Valley.”

Emma Matcham, assistant professor of agronomy, University of Florida, attended the 2019 and 2021 tours. During Matcham’s experience, she got to learn more about Southeastern cropping systems — valuable experience compared to the corn and soybean production in her home area. But for Matcham, the most valuable part of the tour was the network she built during the event.

“Interacting with extension professionals in the Southeast made my interview process at the University of Florida a lot more comfortable for me,” Matcham says. “I already knew about some of the hot topics in the area and had talked with farmers in the Southeast before. It helped me envision what being an extension specialist would be like, even though I’m not originally from the area.”

That network also came in handy during the pandemic, when a lot of research was shut down and data became harder to come by. Students that Matcham had met from Virginia ended up sharing datasets to help finish their dissertations. Matcham has also used her connections in conducting her own research.

“I also see some of the Clemson students I met on the Arkansas tour pretty regularly at industry conferences,” Matcham says. “The tour was such a great experience that I’m encouraging my own graduate student to attend this year.”

The tour includes fun activities, too, like dancing, sporting events, and other networking activities. Students also get to engage with state soybean board members and agricultural leaders from the hosting states.

Graduate students have found this experience tremendously valuable to expand their network and knowledge of soybean production across the nation — that really keeps the faculty in the Science for Success Initiative energized to host informative and impactful tours across the U.S. 

Published: Jul 10, 2023