Rachel Combs-Giroir Selected as a Farm Foundation Cultivator Recipient!

Nov. 29, 2023
Rachel smiling in a field of pennycress in a grey HCS polo.

Congratulations to Rachel Combs-Giroir on being selected as a Farm Foundation Cultivator recipient! As part of the Cultivator program, she'll be heading to Kona, Hawaii this January to participate in the semi-annual round table meeting. Rachel's currently pursuing her PhD in Translational Plant Sciences here in the Department of Horticulture and Crop Science (HCS) under the advisement of Dr. Andrea Gschwend

Rachel gave us the scoop on the Farm Foundation and the Cultivator program "The Farm Foundation is a nonprofit organization focused on the collaboration between food and agricultural stakeholders to positively advance agriculture through meaningful solutions. Their mission is to build trust and understanding at the intersections of agriculture and society."

"Each year they bring together influential leaders through round table meetings to explore ideas and insights on current agricultural challenges facing farmers and industry. The Cultivator program provides awards for up to six students from accredited agricultural programs in the U.S. to participate. I am very honored and grateful to have been selected to attend this round table meeting as a Farm Foundation Cultivator. This event will be an opportunity for me to learn and engage in broader topics related to current challenges and advancements in agriculture and to network with industry leaders. I’m looking forward to presenting my research and interacting with other participants!"

Graciously, Rachel took the time to share some insight into her life as a graduate student... 

How did you first become interested in plant science?

I first became interested in plant science after working in a soybean molecular breeding lab as an undergraduate at Mizzou. During this time, I became fascinated with the complexity of plant genomes and began to understand how important plants are in our everyday lives. This experience led me to pursue a PhD in plant genetics. 

How is your research going?

My research is finally wrapping up and I am in the process of writing my dissertation. I plan to graduate in the spring! 

Rachel, her advisor & fellow graduate student standing in a field smiling.

what is a typical day as a grad student like?

A typical day as a post-candidacy grad student in HCS consists of carrying out research projects in the lab, greenhouse, and field, training undergraduate and graduate students, analyzing data, writing manuscripts, and attending lab and project meetings. 

What've been a few highlights of your time as a grad student?

One highlight of my time as a grad student so far has been the participation in several monthly meetings and annual in-person meetings for our collaborative, DOE-funded pennycress grant. It has been a very rewarding experience to see how people across different institutions and disciplines engage in collaborative ideas and research.

Another highlight has been meeting all the wonderful people in this department. I have felt supported and challenged by the faculty and have formed meaningful connections and friendships with the students here. Another highlight was my summer internship at Bayer Crop Sciences last summer. This gave me a better idea of what it’s like to work in the agricultural industry sector and I had the opportunity to meet and work with many individuals with very different backgrounds.

One last highlight was serving on the HCS Graduate Student Association for a couple of years. This experience made me feel more connected to the department and I learned a lot from planning events for our students. 

Rachel at the International Plant & Animal Genome Conference.

How do you balance all your responsibilities?

I’m a big fan of to-do lists. Every week I have a list of things I need to get done with the most important things prioritized at the top. Another way I balance responsibilities is by setting goals. At the beginning of the semester, I set goals with my advisor of everything I would like to accomplish. Throughout the semester I refer back to these goals and track my progress. 

closing thoughts?

I’m very thankful for my advisor’s [Dr. Andrea Gschwend] support these past few years. With the help of Dr. Karcher [HCS Department Chair], she nominated me for this opportunity. I wouldn’t be where I am now without her guidance and mentorship. I’m also very grateful for the support and fellowship of my lab mates. I will miss them when I graduate! 

Rachel, two fellow grad students & her advisor smiling at the 2023 Graduate Research Symposium.

We know Rachel will be a great representative of The Ohio State University at the round table meeting and are absolutely thrilled to have her as part of our department for one more semester before she graduates.

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