Dr. Essman's Journey from Undergrad Employee to Visiting Assistant Professor

July 7, 2022
Dr. Essman posing next to a giant weed found out in a farmer's field

It’s not every day we have an undergraduate student employee work their way through our ranks all the way to an assistant professor level – but that’s exactly what has happened in the case of Dr. Alyssa Essman. She began her time at HCS in the Loux Lab in April 2014, while she was an undergrad studying Agribusiness here at OSU, she received her bachelor’s in 2015 then proceeded to become a two-time alumna of HCS receiving her Masters in 2018 & her Phd in 2022; all while working as a research associate!

Dr. Essman specializes in weed science & will be helping with lectures, extension & research in her new role here. She gave us some great insights onto her journey so far; which you can read below: 

What sparked your interest in weed science & pursuing a career in this field?

I was looking for internship opportunities as an undergraduate student in Agribusiness when I was made aware of an opening in the weed science lab. At first, I thought it would be a good opportunity to get some hands on experience in the research side of production agriculture, and that I would find another internship more in line with my major at a later date. I quickly realized how much I enjoyed the work and ended up staying on as a student research assistant throughout my undergraduate program. As graduation neared the opportunity to become a graduate student in the lab became an option, and I never looked back. 

How'd you get started as an undergrad in the Loux lab?

I was first hired as an undergrad to assist with the creation of a series of weed science iBooks. The first book was a low cost, digital alternative to the more expensive paper version of the lab manual for the weeds class (HCS 5422). The second book was a weed ID guide that focused on some of the most important species in Ohio crop production. Other books included a noxious weed ID book, an ID guide in collaboration with a university in Prague, and even a weed cookbook. As an undergraduate I was also able to gain field experience assisting with industry funded herbicide trials, an annual soybean driving survey, growing plants for the weeds lab, and greenhouse research. This experience gave me an appreciation for agricultural research and a desire to learn more about the field of weed science. 

As a grad student employee what types of projects did you participate in?

At the start of my graduate program I knew I wanted to focus on the role of cover crops in weed management, as there was a growing interest in the practice. My master’s degree work focused on optimizing the use of cereal rye for management of glyphosate-resistant horseweed. A second project at that time evaluated the spatial and temporal distribution of late-season horseweed escapes in soybean. During my PhD, I was focused on the impacts and management of herbicide-resistant weeds in Ohio agronomic crop production through a broader lens. Two of my studies focused on different cover crop management factors and their influence on weed populations. A third project evaluated the impact of simulated drift of growth regulator herbicides on hemp, a novel crop in Ohio. A fourth study consisted of an herbicide screen to evaluate the presence and level of herbicide resistance in pigweed populations collected from around the state. 

How did HCS grad school help prepare you for your new role?

The graduate program in the department of Horticulture and Crop Science has been a tremendous place to learn and develop as both a person and professional. We have a fantastic group of classroom and extension educators that I have been so fortunate to spend time working with and learning from. My experience in the department has prepared me for my new role through exposure to unique research, teaching and extension opportunities. 

What were some of your favorite parts of being a research associate?

I have had so many great moments in my time as a research associate. Some of my favorites include the chance to travel across the state and US to conduct and present research, the opportunity to work with some of the most experienced and knowledgeable weed scientists in the field, and taking part in cutting edge research to address current weed science related issues.

Why'd you decide to continue on here at OSU HCS after completing your PhD?

The decision to continue working at this institution and in the department of HCS was an easy one and I’m very thankful for the opportunity. I really enjoy working with undergraduate students in the lab and in class, and I’m excited to continue doing so as a lecturer and researcher. I have a passion for research that provides unbiased results to develop recommendations for Ohio farmers. The department of Horticulture and Crop Science is the perfect environment to fulfill these personal and professional interests. 

What are you most looking forward to in your new role?

In my new role, I am most excited to continue working with students in the department as well as farmers around the state. It is invigorating to be around so many great people all passionate about the field of agriculture. I’ve been very fortunate to learn and grow in my previous roles in the department and I’m looking forward to giving back and working with the next generation of farmers, educators, and researchers.

Dr. Essman conducting field research