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By Megan Wittmeyer
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  • Animal Science
  • Agriculture
  • Environment
  • Plants

Bhupinder Jatana, former postdoctoral research associate with the Nutrient Management Spear Program (NMSP), found his way to Cornell after completing a Ph.D. at Clemson University. Now returning to Clemson, Jatana begins building his own lab as an assistant professor in horticulture in the Department of Plant and Environmental Sciences. Jatana shares his educational journey and how the NMSP team prepared him for his new role.

Bhupinder Jatana grew up helping his father grow rice, wheat, cotton and vegetables on their family farm in Faridkot, India. His favorite job was helping flood the rice paddies, where he and his friends would later play in the muddy water. The work (and play) instilled in him a lifelong passion for agriculture.

In 2013, Jatana graduated with a Bachelor’s degree in Agriculture from Punjabi University. He went on to pursue a Master's in Agronomy at Punjab Agricultural University where he focused on strategies to improve the growth and productivity of late-sown wheat. Upon graduation, Jatana moved to the United States to begin a Ph.D. at Clemson University. His research combined agronomy, soil science and plant physiology to determine how rendered animal products can efficiently provide nitrogen and phosphorus for crop growth. Jatana’s goal was to eventually have his own lab solving agricultural challenges. 

Jatana first discovered NMSP on the hunt for a postdoctoral position. “I saw a postdoc position in Cornell’s Animal Science Department, and I’m a plant science person so I thought, forget it. But one of my friends said, ‘No, this is a plant science position, you should apply!’”

Though Jatana applied and did not get the position, he was not discouraged. He contacted Quirine Ketterings, director of NMSP, to ask for feedback on his interview. Ketterings thought, “If he’s interested in feedback there is potential for a mentor-mentee relationship, which is critical for this type of position.” So she asked him if he would be interested in joining the team on a different project. Jatana jumped at the opportunity saying, “I was looking for an advisor who could actively mentor me and I saw that in Quirine.”

Once a member of NMSP, Jatana’s core focus was on a series of rainfall simulation experiments, evaluating practices to minimize nutrient runoff from manure application and soil conservation benefits of different manure types. The research is part of an ongoing collaboration among Cornell University, Auburn University, Oregon State and USDA-NRCS North Carolina, and involves testing of different manure sources and application rates at each location. In addition to these studies, Jatana evaluated datasets on the impact of land application of acid whey and on the use of various manure sources on soil test phosphorus increases over time. He was also involved in projects testing biologicals that aim to increase yield and nitrogen supply for corn.

Jatana gained additional experience with classroom teaching and mentorship. For Ketterings’ Whole-Farm Nutrient Management Class, he developed a phosphorus index exercise and was a co-instructor for the laboratory session where the students worked with the exercise. In addition, he had the opportunity to mentor several students, including an intern from Puerto Rico and two high schoolers that he trained to use the rainfall simulator. "Working with young, curious minds and seeing them learn and grow is one the most rewarding parts of being a mentor," Jatana said.

Beyond research and mentorship, Jatana emphasized NMSP’s supportive team environment. “It’s the little things that make a difference when building a scientific community. When I joined NMSP, members of the team organized Friday night dinners.” He also expressed appreciation for Ketterings’ investment in her team members. “Each week, Quirine sets aside an hour for you to discuss your projects and professional development. Considering the size of the team, that’s a day and a half of her work week!” 

After a year with NMSP, Jatana returned to Clemson University to fulfill his goal of running his own lab as an assistant professor in horticulture, investigating plant-soil microbial interactions in vegetable crops. As he builds and manages a lab team, he will draw on the teamwork and leadership skills he gained at NMSP. 

"To be a good leader, to be a good team member, you need to be a good listener. You learn from each and every person–intern, peer, or supervisor. Everyone is unique, everyone teaches you something.”

 

Megan Wittmeyer is a writer for the Cornell Nutrient Management Spear Program.

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