Seed World

Why Gen Ha Park has to Work 10 Times Harder in the Field

In both professional and personal relationships, the exchange of feedback plays a vital role in personal growth and improvement. While filtering criticism is often necessary in professional settings to maintain a polite atmosphere, the dynamics between family members can offer a unique advantage: the opportunity for unfiltered feedback.

Now consider this in the context of a person with a disability and the need for physical exertion in a field like plant breeding.

Gen Ha Park’s father hesitates to push him too hard physically due to his cerebral palsy. For Park, a George Washington Carver Scholar who’s attending this week’s National Association of Plant Breeders (NAPB) conference in Greenville, SC, manual work is necessary for effective plant breeding.

“Controlling my muscle movement is not natural as for others, which impairs my ability to walk. But it doesn’t stop for me from pursuing a degree in plant breeding. I’m still able to walk throughout the field, and, you know, screen all my plants, but I have to work, like, 10 times harder than others,” he says.

“But you know, last year was my first actual field season in charge of my own project. I feel like that went well. So I can do it. But it just takes a lot more effort on my behalf.”

His disability has taught him to rely on his colleagues for help, which he says strengthens the cohesion of his team.

“Instead of working on my own, I like to have my colleagues work with me. So that reduces the likelihood of being discouraged and saying, ‘Hey, why am I doing this when I could be sitting in the office?’ Looking at your plants in the field is a must, and I feel like there’s no way around it,” he says.

“And so to be a professional plant breeder, I need to deal with it head on. That motivation sort of pushed me and drove me to where I am today. With the help of others, with the encouragement of others, and self-discipline, I think that’s what helped me get here.”

“Here” is working on his grad studies at the University of California — Davis, where he studies under the supervision of Allen Van Deynze. After completing his degree, he plans to return to Indonesia to help his dad run his seed company, Oriental Seed. Watch our video interview above for the full story.