Dr. Steve van Nocker enjoys the diversity of people on campus

Professor says the intellectual and experiential melting pot at MSU allows us to view and approach scientific questions from many different angles.

Dr. Steve van Nocker is a professor in the Department of Horticulture who studies developmental genetics of plants. We asked him a few questions about his career and educational path.

Describe your educational background

Rocky, at best! I managed to eek out a B.S. in biological science with a concentration in genetics at Cornell, in Ithaca, N.Y., near where I grew up. Later I fell into a Ph.D. program in cell and molecular biology at University of Wisconsin. By the way, my first choice for a Ph.D. was MSU, and I got accepted all right, but the acceptance letter never got to me. We did things by snail mail in those days!

Where did you work previously and what kind of work did you do?

If you mean scientific work and the University Wisconsin, as a student and then post-doc, I researched gene regulation. Ultimately, how and where genes are turned on or off determines how people and plants grow and respond to their surroundings. I've always found that fascinating!

What led you to work at Michigan State and when did you start?

When I was looking for a faculty position, all my friends told me to check out MSU because there's easy parking on campus! No, seriously, I was interested in a job studying plant development, and MSU has one of the largest populations of plant biologists anywhere. I was fortunate to be offered a position [in 1998]. Plus, although I grew up in upstate New York, my family has lived in Michigan going way back.

Which classes do you teach?

A graduate level plant development course, PLB/HRT865, and a course on scientific writing, HRT860, at the graduate level, though not excluding undergrads.

Describe your research or what you are currently working on.

As plants grow, they can continue to produce growing shoots with leaves or switch over to producing flowers instead. For most plants the time of that switch is tightly controlled and driven by a very complicated interaction between their developmental stage (i.e., age) and factors in the environment like daylength and temperature. Flowering is very important to horticultural industries, of course, but also a fascinating biological question!

What do you enjoy most about working at Michigan State?

The intellectual/experiential melting pot we have here. Among our faculty and students, there's a richness and diversity in interests, expertise and life experiences that really synergizes plant research. For whatever scientific question you have, this allows you to view and approach it from many different angles.

Is there anything you’re hoping to do or accomplish in your time at MSU?

Honestly, that changes all the time. When we answer a research question several more tend to become apparent. I would be happy to finish all that I've already started!

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