In the Field: Qiuxia Chen

Author: In the Field

Qiuxia Chen, a graduate student in horticulture at Michigan State University, shares how a high school rooftop led to her love affair with plants.

May 15, 2018

Quxia Chen

Qiuxia Chen, a graduate student in horticulture at Michigan State University, shares how a high school rooftop led to her love affair with plants.



 In the Field, A Rooftop Led to a Love Affair With Plants with Qiuxia Chen - Transcript

Kraig Ehm: Welcome to "In the Field", a podcast originating from the College of Agriculture and Natural Resources at Michigan State University. I'm your host, Kraig Ehm. In this episode of "In the Field", I'm joined by Qiuxia Chen, graduate student in the department of Horticulture at Michigan State University. Qiuxia, I'd love to hear about your growing experiences you had while you were on the roof in high school.

Qiuxia Chen: Thanks Kraig. When we first started, we renovated some of the old greenhouses that were within our high school and, I got some teachers involved that used to work on top of the greenhouses. And so, we just wanted to get those up and running again, and have an opportunity to grow plants indoor in these little structures that we already had within our high school. And so, one of the first crops that we grew were tomatoes. The next crops we grew were succulents, because these were readily available seeds, and the teachers who were teaching us how to grow plants, they were able to access to them and were knowledgeable in growing those plants. And so, I remember growing them out into different pots and then pruning them and learning how to get the plant structures so that we could have the most fruit available. And so, it was just kind of, learning all these new horticultural techniques, and I was able to pass those on to other students as we improved the program at my high school.

Ehm: Was it a little eye opening to know what kind of work went into growing vegetables like that?

Chen: I thought it was really neat that we got to have this hands-on opportunity where we get to grow the food that we would be able to see in the super market. I've had to have previous experience at home from my family growing different crops and different flowers. It was nice to have it in a different sort of setting where can I manipulate some of the environment such as, light and heat. That I could grow things throughout the winter where I wouldn't be able to do that outdoors.

Ehm: Were you able to take things that you learned in high school then, and carry them on as you got older?

Chen: So, from what I learned in high school I really wanted to carry that forward and I decided to major in Horticulture when I started attending Undergraduate school. And so, that's where I got my undergraduate degree in Horticulture at Kansas State University.

Ehm: Horticulture. You're going to graduate soon with a Masters' degree in Horticulture, what do you see in your future plans?

Chen: That's the big question to ask every graduate student. What do they see after graduation? I think for me, I want to stay within the realm of horticulture and, I've been drawn to horticulture. I've been working in the horticulture field for the past 10 years now. And I just really have a broad interest in everything that I do. There hasn't been an experience that has turned me away from horticulture that I don't want to do it. And I have been really drawn to ornamental plants. Working with ornamentals' versus working for agronomic crops. So, I would really like to be in the field or in a career, where I would have the opportunity to draw from all of my experiences that I've had within horticulture. So either working in the field, working in the laboratory setting, working in greenhouse settings. I'm really open to a lot of different opportunities and options. But, as long as I get to stay within my horticulture field.

Ehm: Now, horticulture you get your hands dirty, right?

Chen: Oh, I love getting my hands dirty. It's the best part.

Ehm: Talk a little bit about student organizations at Michigan State University and your experiences.

Chen: So I think student organizations are a really good opportunity for graduate students. Especially, for graduate students who come from all over the country, and all over the world. Especially, like in Horticulture, we don't just have graduate students coming from Michigan. We have graduate students who are all the way from California, who are coming from Florida. I myself, I'm originally from New York City. We also have a lot of international graduate students, people from China. People from South Korea, from Nepal. So, we have a conglomerate of graduate students who are very different and diverse, and who come from a lot of different places. And having student organization provides the opportunities for these students to come together, to gather, to have a strong support system, a strong network. Graduate students, they know what you're going through. They have the shared experiences and you can kind of, celebrate the good things that are happening within your lab. Or you can commiserate together when there is a really tough course that you're going through, and being able to bounce ideas off of each other, and we're in a world that we're never by ourselves. Learning all these networking skills, team building skills, it's very important and being within a graduate student organization that allows you to carry those skills, are also important. And for me, I've been a big part of a lot of different organizations on campus, especially for my department, we have the Horticultural Organization of Graduate Students, which we call "HOGS" and I think HOGS has provided a lot of opportunities for graduate students who are able to sit on the faculty member, their meetings every month. We can sit on our Graduate Programs committee. And having our graduate student representative, gives us a voice in those meetings. Representing what graduate students would want and having a direct link to all of the faculty members that are on those different committees or on the whole meeting so that, we can represent some of the issues that are important for graduate students. And especially since graduate students are helping a lot of different labs and promoting the work and the research. So, this would give us an opportunity to learn how different administrations work and an opportunity for students to grow their professional development skills.

Ehm: Being involved in a student organization also gives you a voice.

Chen: Specifically, being in HOGS has definitely given the graduate students a lot of opportunities to speak out. So being involved ... Graduate student representative on our Graduate Programs committee, we're in the same room when we're revising our Graduate Student handbook. We can reflect what are some of the important courses that are really important to graduate students that hasn't been available? We can start that dialogue with the faculty member who are on those committees of, how can we improve and enhance graduate student experiences? Having a graduate student representative on our faculty meetings, we're able to communicate the things graduate students are doing and presenting those to our faculty members. And also, learning about what is within the faculty issues that they can then bring back to our group and what can we do to help them if there are some programs that they want to provide students, we can provide feedback for them. Or if there are some part of the curriculum or some part of our graduate student experience we feel like we are missing, then we can have that opportunity to voice it to them and have the shared experience.

Ehm: With gradate students coming to Michigan State from all over the world, does student organizations, do they kind of fill the role of family?

Chen: I think it is one sort of family. I mean, a lot of the students in our department, I feel like, we're a really close group. Especially when I compare to other organizations or other graduate programs where they are so big and everybody's kind of, have their own bubble and their own work circle. They don't really go out of the lab very much. But we kind of, form our family unit in HOGS and in our department to make sure that every student feels welcome and that, they have an opportunity to join in any of our social events or any opinion on any issues that they have.

Ehm: What about mentoring and the importance of either, mentoring someone or being mentored?

Chen: I think it's important to establish a lot of different mentoring relationship. Either, yourself being a mentor for undergraduate students or for students within the community. I think it's a really good opportunity to help promote STEM field for all the younger kids. And also, it's important for graduate students to be able to find a good mentor that can help them promote themselves, and the work that they're doing. Whether it's in the lab, or it's just having somebody that you can go to for advice when you're having a difficult time working in the lab, or you're just having a difficult time in life, you know? Your car breaks down, you just want to have somebody you want to vent towards and maybe, they can offer suggestions. And especially for people who are not from around Michigan, this is their first time in the state or in the city, and they don't know what's the best mechanic to go to. Where are they going to take their car when their car breaks down? Or, what are opportunities for needing to go to the doctors? What are some prescriptions and things like that. And I think having a mentor or just maybe, having an academic mentor who can give you ideas on how to do a certain statistical analysis or finding somebody who can provide some expertise for you. Whether they have or it or they can refer somebody that does have the expertise to help you out. It's good to establish those relationships.

Ehm: What is the Graduate Women in Science?

Chen: The Graduate Women in Science, it's a conglomeration of different Masters candidate, a PhD candidate who are within the STEM field, and this organization has provided a lot of opportunities for outreach programs, for social activities and just a good network of both social and academic network, for you to provide a uniformity within the STEM field. So that we can all support each other and also provide different opportunities to move within the STEM field.

Ehm:  "The plants I work with don't feed the world, instead they nourish the soul." I believe that might be a quote from you. Can you please elaborate?

Chen: That quote kind of refers to the crop that I work with. Right now, my research study is in Petunia. And I have a lot of focus on ornamental plants, a lot of experience with ornamental plants. And when you're thinking about ornamental plants, they're not corn, they're not soy bean, they're not wheat. Our research isn't providing an answer to end world hunger. But, at the same time, we do know that plants play a major role in our lives, not just physically with feeding us but also mentally. When we're thinking about now in the spring, as plants are coming out of the ground, trees are putting out new leaves, they're putting out new flowers. They're going to provide these beautiful aesthetic plants in our landscape, they kind of brighten the world. And it brightens the places that we're in and especially, I know in cooler climates where we have a lot of dark days since November, the hours are really short and now we're starting to see longer days and we have more plants coming out. People just start to be happier, everybody wants to go outside, you know? Like right now, I wish I was outside and get to just sit under a tree and enjoy the shade and enjoy the sun that's outside. And so, working with ornamental plants I feel like, it provides the extra brightness in the world that makes everything seem a little bit more cheerful. And so hopefully, the work that I'm doing, my research, and just in general, working with ornamental plants can provide that opportunity to provide a little bit more color in everyone's lives.

Ehm: I think as long as there is always a long, hard winter there will always be a need for a Horticulturist, do you think?

Chen: I hope so. Job security.

Ehm: I would like to thank Keisha Chen for joining me today on "In the Field". Have a great day.



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