Seed World

Get Involved in Mentoring the Next Generation of Plant Breeders

Forward-thinking organizations help bring young researchers together each year to network with a who’s who of the industry. Your organization can be one of them.

If Allen Van Deynze has one major challenge in his job, it’s feeding the pipeline with young, ambitious plant breeders.

As director of the Seed Biotechnology Center at UC Davis, Van Deynze leads a large department that thrives from a good supply of diverse undergrad and graduate students.

“To get young people interested in entering the plant sciences, and then plant breeding, you really have to start early and get them engaged early on. You also need to have a diverse group of students. Plant breeding certainly has been a man’s world in the past. I’m very happy to say that’s changed very significantly with time and proactive effort,” he says.

Enter the Borlaug Scholarship. Founded by legendary corn breeder Donn Cummings, the program strengthens the plant breeding profession by helping support attendance of future leaders at the National Association of Plant Breeders (NAPB) annual meeting.

The scholarship is how Chandler Levinson got on as a postdoctoral researcher at UC Davis. A former Borlaug Scholar herself, she’s also now secretary for the Borlaug Scholarship program.

She studies nitrogen fixation by microbiota in maize landraces and has authored/coauthored 10 peer-reviewed articles, provided leadership in the NAPB Early Career Working Group and Borlaug Scholar committee.

“Being at UC Davis is actually a direct result of the Borlaug Scholarship. It gave me so many networking opportunities that I wouldn’t otherwise have had,” says the 26-year-old graduate of the University of Georgia. “It was really exciting to network with the plant breeding community, especially as I was about to begin looking for jobs.”

The NAPB annual meeting is a large annual conference that brings together a who’s who of the plant breeding world. Each year, a variety of sponsors help bring a contingent of young Borlaug Scholars to the conference where they present their work and get a better idea of what the plant breeding profession is all about.

“It really helps them to get to know the plant breeding community and potential employers, and helps the employers get to know them, as well. We want to make sure these young people really hit the ground running,” Van Deynze says. He serves as chair of the scholarship committee and his department at UC Davis sponsors the scholarship as well.

Levinson attended the NAPB meeting in 2020, and for her, it was a great opportunity to meet others and have her work highlighted.

“I got just so much exposure, and different people would ask about my research. That’s where I met Allen [Van Deynze]. Even now, having been a Borlaug Scholar is still helping me because I can leverage the relationships I formed there.”

Each scholar is also paired with mentors who are members of the NAPB and are committed to their professional development, Levinson notes.

There have been 48 Borlaug Scholars since 2018, and the scholarship is made possible through a roster of forward-thinking sponsors who want to help mentor the next generation of plant breeders and meet potential employees. Van Deynze says the scholarship committee is actively looking for more to strengthen the program and further provide the industry with new talent.

“It’s a great way for organizations to recruit new people. We get so many applications each year, and it really becomes like splitting hairs when it comes to selecting who receives a scholarship. This scholarship attracts the brightest of the young talent out there,” Van Deynze says.

For a full interview with Van Deynze and Levinson see the video above. For info on the Borlaug Scholarship visit the NAPB website.

For more info visit:

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