SIPS Updates

Message from the SIPS Director: January 2024

I hope 2024 is off to a great start for you all.  We’re on the cusp of a new semester, with classes starting tomorrow, and what a semester it promises to be! For a start, 2024 marks the 10-year anniversary of the founding of SIPS! We will be celebrating the school with several events (watch this space) but please let me know if you have any suggestions of ways to highlight our decennial year.

To add to the celebratory atmosphere, this year also marks the centennial of the Boyce Thompson Institute (BTI). Congratulations to our plant science campus ‘cousins’. There will be a welcome reception for the BTI President, Silvia Restrepo, on February 5th (G10 Biotechnology Building, 3.30-5.30 pm), co-hosted by SIPS and the USDA-ARS.  Silvia, Jim Giovannoni and I have already been discussing regular co-hosted events at which colleagues in SIPS, the USDA-ARS and the BTI could meet, chat about science-related topics or just socialize, and we look forward to further strengthening the already extensive connections between the three units.

New SIPS faculty on the way!

Over the next few months, we’re going be meeting applicants for six new faculty positions in SIPS, who will be based at either the Ithaca or AgriTech campuses. We’ll be moving at a blistering pace, with multiple applications for each position and I can promise that you’ll not be short of wonderful seminars to attend and potential new colleagues to meet.

Please keep your eyes open for the seminar ads: a strong attendance, especially in person, is such an important signal of support and interest to the candidates and is recognized as a major factor in successful faculty recruitment.

First out of the starting blocks will be four applicants for the Plant Biodiversity and Adaptation position, which is part of the Empowering Biodiversity for People and Planet Transdisciplinary Moonshot cohort. Thanks to Chelsea Specht and the search committee for moving this Moonshot search along so effectively. Note that the first of the research seminars is tomorrow:

  • “Origins and evolution of plant diversity in novel environments: an integrative approach”
    Monday, January 22, 12:20 – 1:10 pm, 404 Plant Science & by Zoom
    Isaac Lichter-Marck, California Academy of Sciences
  • “Disentangling drivers of floristic diversity on sky islands: from phylogenetics to functional genomics”
    Hannah Marx, University of New Mexico
    Wednesday, January 24, 12:20 – 1:10 pm, 404 Plant Science & by Zoom
  • “Novel perspectives on the evolution of the world’s richest flora: insights from extreme botany”
    Ana Maria Bedoya, Louisiana State University
    Monday, January 29, 12:20 – 1:10 pm, 404 Plant Science & by Zoom
  • Title TBA: candidate works on adaptation across climate gradients
    Daniel Anstett, Michigan State University
    Monday, February 5, 12:20 – 1:10 pm, 404 Plant Science & by Zoom

CALS Faculty & Staff Awards:

I’m extremely proud to announce that SIPS is heavily represented in the annual CALS Faculty & Staff Awards.

  • Toni DiTommaso: CALS Outstanding Service to the CALS Community Award
  • Kathie Hodge: Donald C. Burgett Distinguished Advisor Award
  • Magdalen Lindeberg: CALS Core Value Staff Award in Communication
  • Keith Payne: CALS Core Value Staff Award in Initiative
  • Mike Scanlon: CALS Outstanding Accomplishments in Research Award
  • Gillian Turgeon: CALS Career Accomplishment Award
  • Hale Tufan: CALS Kathy Druckman Berggren Diversity and Inclusion Award

Their outstanding contributions to the college will be publicly recognized in an award ceremony in March. Many congratulations to the awardees for their inspiring accomplishments, excellence and dedication.  I’d also like to thank all those who took the considerable time and energy that is involved in nominating and writing letters for their deserving colleagues.

In this regard, I’m planning on establishing a SIPS Nominations and Awards committee to promote recognition of the contributions and achievements of our staff and faculty on the local, national and international stages. This will complement the awards infrastructure that is currently in place for our students.

Kudos Awards:

Congratulations to all those who were awarded, or who sent, kudos messages this month.

As always, PLEASE remember to recognize people in our SIPS community who have gone out of their way to enhance our School. All you have to do is complete the brief form here. For ~1 minute of your time you can absolutely make someone’s day!

  • David Waring: Going Above and Beyond
  • Mohamed El-Walid: Strong Team Spirit
  • Alex Wares: Going Above and Beyond
  • Peter Hyde: Creativity and Ideas
  • Yanã Campos Rizzieri: Strong Team Spirit
  • Caylun Riley: Strong Team Spirit
  • Veronica Perez: Strong Team Spirit
  • Ryan Hummel: Strong Team Spirit
  • Michelle Heeney: Strong Team Spirit
  • Josh Felon: Strong Team Spirit
  • Sam Sanders: Strong Team Spirit
  • Claire Volk: Strong Team Spirit

Wishing you all a successful and joyful year. Please reach out with your news and success stories so that we can share!



Message from the SIPS Director: November 2023

And just like that… the holiday season is upon us!  The last month has reminded me of the remarkable breadth and depth of SIPS engagement, and the significance of our partnerships, collaborators and stakeholders in New York State, nationally and globally. This has been highlighted by a stream of visitors from all over the globe, including Bram Govaerts, the Director General of CIMMYT (the International Maize and Wheat Improvement Center), who is an Adjunct Associate Professor in SIPS and a Cornell Andrew D. White Professor-At-Large. Bram spent a week with us discussing collaborative opportunities associated with sustainable agri-food systems, and participated in a fantastic panel discussion centered on “Food and Nutrition Security for a Resilient Future” (co-hosted by SIPS, the Department of Global Development and the Cornell Institute for Digital Agriculture). Thanks to the faculty, students and staff on both the Ithaca and Cornell AgriTech campuses who helped make the visit such a success.

SIPS ‘Search-a-thon’.

There has been excellent progress in our 2023/2024 “Search-a-thon” initiative to hire six new tenure track faculty in SIPS. The application pool for one of our transdisciplinary CALS Moonshot positions, Empowering Biodiversity for People and Planet Focus: Plant Biodiversity and Adaptation, is now being evaluated and four other positions have been advertised. Please share the links below with your colleagues or social media platforms.

Importantly, these positions are being advertised as SIPS positions, and the successful candidates will select a section for their primary affiliation and tenure home. I’d like to recognize the various search committees and administrative staff, who have done a phenomenal job in moving these exciting positions forward. We’re going to see a host of wonderful potential new colleagues next semester.

SIPS is literally off to the (a) moon!

In the spirit of the CALS Moonshot initiative, here’s some holiday fun. Next October, NASA will be launching the first mission to conduct detailed reconnaissance of Jupiter's moon, Europa, to determine whether it has conditions suitable for life. The Europa Clipper will travel 1.8 billion miles over a period of 6 years and SIPS will be along for the ride, with School of Integrative Plant Science stenciled, using an electron beam, onto a microchip attached to the craft as part of a Message in a Bottle project! Follow this link to learn more.  This is a good opportunity to give a shout out to SIPS and Cornell AgriTech scientists Katie Gold, Yu Jiang, and colleagues on the NASA Acres project, which was recently selected for funding.

Plant Science Building Renovation.

The enthusiastic jack hammering and vibrating of the coffee cup on my desk in the Plant Science Building are continuing throughout November, as we move through the various stages of ‘massive’ and ‘selective’ demolition.

Pictures show the installation of the formwork and rebar for the Elevator Pit (great to see evidence that it will be larger than the current elevator!); and a post-‘mass demolition’ view of the first-floor west wing. This starts to give a sense of the large open-lab spaces that are part of the design.

If you’re interested, here’s a link to other ongoing construction projects on the Ithaca campus, including Atkinson Hall, on Tower Road.

Staffing news.

A reminder of some of the recent hires among the SIPS administrative staff:

  • Administrative Lead: Cindy Twardokus (240B Emerson Hall, in the main office suite)
  • Student Services Lead: Leah Cook (117 Surge A)
  • Graduate Field Coordinator (Soil & Crop Sciences, and Plant Breeding): Shelby Champlain (231 Emerson Hall)
  • Event Coordinator: Danialle Hill, starting November 29 (135E Plant Science Building)
  • Emerson front desk administrative assistant (search underway)
  • Plant Science Undergraduate coordinator refill (planning underway)

Congratulations to Cindy and Leah on their new roles, and a big SIPS welcome to Shelby and Danialle. As the new positions are filled, updates on roles, responsibilities and locations will be shared and there will be regular ‘who to contact if you want to…” updates. Thanks to Magdalen Lindeberg for her stellar organization and for coordinating an extremely complex hiring process.

Holiday parties.

I’m looking forward to catching up with you at the ‘can’t miss’ annual SIPS Holiday Celebration, in the Statler Hall Ballroom. December 13, 3.00-5.00 pm. There will assorted hors d’oeuvres, desserts, wine, beer, soft drinks, and convivial company. Note that there will not be free valet parking as in previous years, but contact Magdalen (ML16) if you need a parking accomodation  See you there.

It was great to hear about the success of the potluck-style Friendsgiving for SIPS graduate students, which took place last week. More than 70 students attended, representing all the SIPS graduate fields, and thanks to the organizers who put in a lot of hard work to bring the grad student community together.

Kudos Awards.

As always, PLEASE remember to recognize people in our SIPS community who have gone out of their way to enhance our School. All you have to do is complete the brief form here. For ~1 minute of your time you can absolutely make someone’s day! Thanks to those who sent kudos messages this month.

  • Lailiang: Cheng:  Strong Team Spirit
  • Linda Cox:  Going Above and Beyond
  • Craig Cramer:  Going Above and Beyond
  • Michelle Heeney:  Strong Team Spirit
  • Dan Nickrent:  Creativity and Ideas
  • Greg Smith:  Going Above and Beyond
  • Sandra Wayman:  Inspirational Leadership

A very happy Thanksgiving to you all!



Message from the SIPS Director: October 2023

You may have heard that 12 seconds is the average time people spend reading an email before navigating away. Writing the monthly SIPS Director updates of exciting activities and news related to our school therefore comes with both quantitative and qualitative challenges: so much is happening and in such a broad range of areas. What a great problem to have though! Here is a selection of some news and views from across the SIPS universe (I’m conscious that I’m already at 12 seconds):

SIPS ‘Search-a-thon’:  Great progress has been made over the last month in our current initiative to hire six new tenure track faculty in SIPS. All six search committees have already been convened and I’d like to thank everyone who has generously agreed to serve. I’m especially pleased that each committee includes a graduate student. One of our moonshot positions, Empowering Biodiversity for People and Planet Focus: Plant Biodiversity and Adaptation, which is part of a cohort hire (Pioneering Life Science Breakthroughs), led by Chelsea Specht, has already been advertised. Please feel free to share this link with your colleagues through whichever social media networks you use.

Social Media: On the subject of social media, I’d like to send a quick reminder about Cornell guidelines concerning personal accounts and recognize the importance of thoughtful and considerate engagement with social media platforms.

Plant Science Building Renovation: A couple of weeks ago, we had a SIPS Town Hall meeting to discuss the renovation and heard about progress with Phase 1, which is now well underway. To summarize, asbestos abatement on the ground floor has been completed and there has been what is amusingly referred to as “selective demolition” of parts of floors 2-4. You may have seen all sorts of intriguing debris being removed through the Tower Road (south) side of the building. You can dive into details on the SIPS News blog.

Artificial Intelligence: There have recently been numerous presentations and discussions across SIPS over the last month about generative artificial Intelligence (GAI) and associated large language models (e.g. ChatGPT). This is a topic that will undoubtedly grow in significance, complexity and controversy in many, if not all, facets of our research, teaching and extension. I’d like to draw your attention to a recent report from a specially convened Cornell committee on GAI education and pedagogy, which has information, perspectives and suggestions that will likely be of interest to many of you.

SIPS ‘lightning talk’ seminars: We are a very large school with so many potentially intersecting and synergistic areas of interest, but we often move in very different orbits, housed in separate campuses and buildings, and with different schedules and section affiliations.  The Moonshot conversations last year exposed many collaborative opportunities but how do we keep that momentum going? This month saw the launch of a new “lightning talk seminars’ initiative to raise awareness across SIPS of our remarkable research and extension activities spanning plants, soils, microbes and so much more. The Plant Pathology and Plant-Microbe Biology Section recently held the inaugural lighting talk seminar as part of their regular seminar series and invited a faculty member from each of the other four sections to give a lightning talk (7 minutes with three minutes for questions). All four talks were then presented back-to-back. We heard fantastic presentations by Dan Buckley (Soils and Crop Sciences), Jenny Kao Kniffin (Horticulture), Larua Gunn (Plant Biology) and Greg Vogel (Plant Breeding and Genetics) and it was wonderful to see members of different sections involved in conversations that continued well after the seminar, and to hear multiple “you should talk to…” suggestions. The idea is that each section will similarly dedicate a seminar slot on a regular basis. Given that they are widely advertised for anyone to attend, in just a few semesters these represent great potential catalysts to learn about each other and our various communities.

SIPS Graduate Student Grand Challenge Fellowships: I’m excited to report the results of the first SIPS Graduate Student Grand Challenge Fellowship applications. This new program is designed to recruit and support a diverse cohort of graduate students, catalyze engagement with the SIPS Grand Challenges and promote new inter-sectional collaborations. A key goal of the program is to promote new collaborative research involving faculty from different SIPS sections.  The proposals were ranked based on criteria that included the potential of the research project and the strength of the student recruitment and mentoring plan, with priority going to new collaborations. A total of nine excellent proposals were submitted by teams that collectively involved all five sections and they were evaluated by the Graduate Field Council (GFC). The standard was extremely high, and it was very challenging to choose who would be awarded the four fellowships that were available. Congratulations to the teams that were selected, but also to those that were not for submitting some innovative and exciting ideas that I hope will still spark new collaborations. The selected proposals were:

  • Clare Casteel and Justein Vanden Heuvel “Engineering DNA-sensing bacterial biosensors for pathogen detection in New York State vineyards”
  • Gaurav Moghe, Mike Gore and Ed Buckler “AI and Evolution-guided genomic models for improving stress resilience in crops”
  • Neil Mattson, Yu Jiang and Alejandra Gandolfo “Leafy greens 2030: Optimizing trait development for sustainable CEA lettuce”
  • Vipan Kumar and Lynn Sosnoskie “Monitoring, characterizing, and managing multiple herbicide-resistant common waterhemp (Amaranthus tuberculatus) populations in New York (NY)”

Many thanks to the GFC for the tremendous amount of work that went into developing the program and evaluating the applications.

New AgriTech Director: I’d like to welcome and congratulate the new Goichman Family Director of Cornell AgriTech, someone we all in SIPS know very well, Chris Smart. Chris starts her new role tomorrow and I’m very much looking forward to working with her to further strengthen connectivity and opportunities between the Ithaca and AgriTech campuses. I’d also like to express gratitude to Olga Padilla-Zakour for her excellent service and support as the interim Director of AgriTech since the beginning of the year.

Kudos Awards: As always, PLEASE remember to recognize people in our SIPS community who have gone out of their way to enhance our School. All you have to do is complete the brief form here. For ~1 minute of your time you can absolutely make someone’s day! Thanks to those who sent kudos messages this month.

Thank you all for spending more than 12 seconds to read this far. Hope the semester is going well, enjoy the fall colors and stay in touch!



Message from the SIPS Director: August 2023

Dear SIPS community,

Welcome back to a new semester, which has kicked off in high gear! It was wonderful to meet the new Plant Science undergraduate, MS, Ph.D. and MPS students last week at the various orientation events, and thanks to all those who helped everything run so smoothly.

As ever, there is a lot going on across the school, but here are some highlights:

  • We have started the process (dubbed the “SIPS Search-a-Thon”!) of recruiting six new SIPS faculty over the next two semesters and the search committees are now being assembled and position descriptions finalized. There will be a community event in the next few weeks for the search committees to meet each other and the overall process will be coordinated SIPS-wide to make sure that we can efficiently interview and bring to campus the dozens (!) of candidates. We’re going to see an amazing array of talent and potential new colleagues over the next few months, across the range of plant, microbial and soil science disciplines, so strap yourselves in: exciting times!
  • Following consultation with CALS leadership, I’m very pleased to announce the reappointment of the SIPS Associate Directors: Chelsea Specht (AD for Faculty Development, Equity and Inclusion), Kathie Hodge (AD for Teaching), Rebecca Nelson (AD for Research) and Awais Khan (AD for Extension and Outreach). I’m very grateful for their expertise, creativity and hard work over the last year and for their willingness to continue in their roles as they enhance our operations, effectiveness and external engagement. Central to all their positions will be ensuring consistently high standards of support for students, faculty and staff across the school, and commitment to equitable processes, opportunities and resources throughout SIPS. You’ll be receiving updates from the ADs throughout the coming year on many fronts.
  • As a counterpoint to the SIPS-wide perspective, it’s important that while we encourage transdisciplinary engagement, we also maintain the identity of each of the five sections. Key to this are strong leaders, who provide valuable points of contact and critical advocacy for each section. With this in mind, and again following discussion with CALS leadership, the title of Section Chair is changing to Section Head, which is a common title for leaders of units in large schools, such as ours. This is a title that will continue to assert the identity of our five disciplines, while we increasingly engage in cross-sectional activities aligned with our SIPS Grand Challenges. I’d like the thank our current Section Heads, Gillian Turgeon, Toni DiTommaso, Justine Vanden Heuvel, Bill Crepet, and Mike Gore, for their exceptional leadership, and additional thanks to Mike who recently agreed to serve as Section Head of Plant Breeding and Genetics for another term.
  • Many thanks are also due to the leaders of our six graduate fields: Adrienne Roeder (Plant Biology), Taryn Bauerle (Horticulture), Jean-Luc Jannink (Plant Breeding); Matt Ryan (Soil and Crop Sciences), Sarah Pethybridge (Plant Pathology and Plant-Microbe Biology) and Dan Buckley (Integrative Plant Science MPS program). This group, together with the Graduate Field Assistants (Karin Jantz, Josh Balles, and Tara Reed) comprise the Graduate Field Council (GFC), and over the summer the GFC started conversations on a range of topics, including equity in student mentoring and support and coordination of recruitment between fields. They also worked hard on a new program: the SIPS Graduate Student Grand Challenge Fellowships, which is designed to recruit and support a diverse cohort of graduate students, catalyze engagement with the SIPS Grand Challenges and promote new inter-sectional collaborations.  Applications are due September 8th and I look forward to announcing the outcome and the new teams who will be funded.
  • The renovations of the Plant Science building are well underway and many of you will have seen that various entrances have been closed off, although there is still building access via the ground floor entrance adjacent to the conservatory, the bridge to Emerson Hall on the 3rd floor and the mysteriously-named “dog trot” /breezeway opposite the entrance to Mann Library. Regular renovation updates will be provided in Magdalen’s Monday emails and the SIPS blog. There will also be a Town Hall meeting in the next few weeks to provide updates on the renovations and answer questions.
  • Thanks and congrats to the organizers of the SIP graduate student cook-out at Stewart Park last weekend. There was a great turnout, including students from all the fields. Lou Luce gets special mention for supporting the event.
  • I also want to recognize Kerik Cox (PPPMB) and Courtney Weber (Hort) for their tremendous service as group leads on the AgriTech campus. We’re lucky to be part of a community with so many colleagues who are so generous with their time and commitment

As always, PLEASE remember to recognize people in our SIPS community who have gone out of their way to enhance our School. All you have to do is complete the brief form here. For ~1 minute of your time you can absolutely make someone’s day!

Have a great semester everyone!



Message from the SIPS Director: July 2023

Dear SIPS community,

I hope you’re all having an excellent summer, whether traveling or staying closer to home, and are enjoying a change of gears. It may be the summer break, but the SIPS machine continues to hum along, unabated and it’s been fantastic to hear reports of the diversity of SIPS-related activities that spring up round the world at this time of year. I thought I’d write with a short update and exciting news highlights from across the school.

I’m delighted to report that SIPS has just completed two successful faculty searches!

  • Madeline Oravec will develop a research and extension program as an Assistant Professor of Grapevine Breeding, Genetics and Genomics, in the Horticulture Section, based on the AgriTech campus starting in August 2024. Maddy is currently a postdoc at the University of Wisconsin-Madison.
  •  Gregory Vogel, a Cornell alumnus, will start in a few weeks as an Assistant Professor of Regional and Global Vegetable Improvement in the Plant Breeding and Genetics Section. He joins us from Bowery Farming and will be establishing his research and extension program on the Ithaca campus.

Many thanks to the search committees, staff and other members of SIPS, from both the Ithaca and AgriTech campuses, who helped recruit Greg and Maddy. This has been a great process and we’re fortunate to welcome two such exceptional scientists to our community.

As if adding two new Assistant Professors to our ranks wasn’t exciting enough, I‘m thrilled to share the news that CALS has given approval for a total of six (yes six!) faculty searches for SIPS in the coming year. This will be an unprecedented recruitment effort for our school, and an opportunity to bolster our strengths in a range of disciplines that align with the SIPS Grand Challenges. I’ll be sharing more details later, but here’s a summary:

  • Controlled Environment Agriculture (CEA): Plant Pathology*
  • Biodiversity-powered solutions to a planetary crisis: adaptation to a planet*
  • Landscapes in balance: geospatial science for sustainable land and water management*
  • Eco-physiology of field crop systems
  • Seed Biology and Technology
  • Urban Plant Ecology

The three positions with asterisks are affiliated with CALS Moonshots, and we also already have approval for an additional two Moonshot positions (Synthetic Biology, and CEA: Specialty Crops Physiologist) in 2024/2025). Thanks to those who have already stepped up to help lead the development/search for those positions, and also to those who will generously be agreeing to serve on the search committees once I’ve asked them!

Given all the new hires and expansion in SIPS, I’m excited and relieved to announce that the Plant Science building renovations have officially started! You will increasingly be seeing signs of activity around the west end of the building, before it eventually vanishes behind scaffolding. Needless to say, to get us to a wonderful, modern space there will be occasional disruption and inconvenience. There has been a massive amount of planning over the last few years to move the process along as effectively as possible, while minimizing operational problems, but you all know to expect the unexpected. To help with communications, there will be regular updates on the SIPS blog, through Magdalen’s weekly newsletter and we will hold a town hall meeting at the beginning of next semester.

  • I’d like to express gratitude and appreciation to Beth Ahner, who has just stepped down from her role supporting SIPS as Senior Associate Dean after serving two full terms. Beth has been a wonderful ally and supporter of SIPS over the years, and we wish her well!  I’m now very much looking forward to working with Sahara Byrne, formerly CALS Senior Associate Dean for Academic Affairs and Strategic Programs, who has stepped into Beth’s former position. Welcome Sahara!
  • Another warm welcome, or perhaps welcome back, to Andrew Scheldorf, who has accepted a position as a new SIPS Active Learning Initiative (ALI) postdoc. Andrew recently received a PhD from our very own field of Horticulture and will be supporting and enhancing a wide range of courses across the school. Congratulations Andrew!
  • Kudos awards: One of the joys of my job is working with so many staff, faculty and students who consistently support each other. PLEASE remember to recognize people in our SIPS community who have gone out of their way to enhance our school. Simply click here. You can make someone’s day!

Thanks, as always, for your support and feedback, and please feel free to send any news and updates that you’d like to share.



Message from the SIPS Director: May 2023

Dear SIPS community,

  • As we wrap up the semester, and a wonderful Commencement Weekend, many congratulations to all our graduating MPS, Masters, Ph.D., and undergraduate students, as well as to their advisors, instructors and those who provided support, guidance and mentorship!  The Cornell campus looked spectacular and all those who participated in the various joyful graduation and recognition ceremonies learnt about the remarkable breadth of achievements of our students.  We wish you well as you move on to new successes and adventures, and bon voyage! I’d like to thank all those who contributed to such a fantastic weekend, with special applause for Tara Reed, Lou Luce, Catalina Enright and Leah Cook for their outstanding efforts in keeping things running so smoothly.
  • In addition to celebrating our academic activities, I’d also like to add heartfelt thanks to our amazing administrative staff, who have worked tirelessly throughout the year, often in very challenging circumstances, to enable our success. We are entirely dependent on your dedication and hard work, and it’s important to turn the spotlight on you too!
  • One of the great strengths of our Cornell plant science community is the long-standing and close partnership between SIPS, and our wonderful colleagues in the USDA-ARS groups on the Ithaca and AgriTech campuses, and in the Boyce Thompson Institute (BTI). I’d like to take this opportunity to acknowledge how much we value their excellence, diverse contributions and collegiality. In that vein,  I’m looking forward to welcoming the new BTI President, Dr. Sylvia Restrepo, when she arrives in Ithaca later this year. Some of you may remember Sylvia from her time here as a plant pathology postdoc and research associate in Bill Fry’s lab.  Similarly, I’m excited at the prospect of working again alongside another celebrated plant pathologist, Chris Smart, when she takes the helm as Director of AgriTech in October. This is a very welcome outbreak of plant pathogen scientists in critical leadership positions!
  • I’d like to draw your attention to a couple of exciting upcoming symposia/meetings at Cornell.
    • An intercampus event, with organizers from SIPS,  the BTI and the Weill Cornell campus, Impacting Drug Discovery From Nature’s Metabolites, May 31-June 1, which is already fully subscribed in person, but for which there is a  Zoom link.
    • The 22nd GiESCO (Group of International Experts for Cooperation on Vitivinicultural Systems) meeting, July 17-21, which has been organized by Justine Vanden Heuvel.
  • I’m very pleased to report that Phase 1 of the Plant Science Building renovation is finally upon us! This summer you’ll start to see new signage, fencing and the installation of vegetation protection. Now is the last chance, for quite some time, for you to take photo ops in front of the building with no evidence of fencing, builders and scaffolding etc. We’re also about to start planning for Phase 2 of the renovation and I’ll be reaching out to some of you for help as we develop plans for our research, teaching and support spaces.  I came across this article about the various construction projects on the Ithaca campus, which you may find interesting.
  • Kudos awards: One of the joys of my job is working with so many staff, faculty and students who consistently support each other. PLEASE remember to recognize people in our SIPS community who have gone out of their way to enhance our school. Simply click here. You can make someone’s day!

Wishing you all a wonderful summer, wherever you will be, congratulations for everything you’ve accomplished over the last academic year, and thank you for making SIPS something we can be so proud of!



Message from the SIPS Director: March 2023

Dear SIPS community,

  • It’s Moonshot time! After several months of deliberation, this week the CALS Dean announced the outcome of the CALS Moonshot interdisciplinary faculty hiring initiative. The great news is that there are five SIPS positions included among the proposals that CALS is supporting, which corresponds to 20% of the total!  Some of the moonshots listed in the Dean’s letter (see below) are relatively unchanged from the submitted proposals while in other cases, CALS leadership has combined or significantly modified the submission. Faculty leads for each of these moonshots will be working to clarify position descriptions and timelines.  More detailed information will be communicated as this process unfolds. Thanks to the many people who contributed their thoughts, energy and ideas to the development of all the SIPS moonshot proposals. Importantly, even those that were not selected have sparked ongoing discussions and collaborations. This has been a great success and a true community effort! 
  • In other exciting news, I’m pleased to announce that there are new spaces for grad students and faculty to interact formally and informally, both with glorious penthouse views!
    • SIPS Collaboration Space (1105 Bradfield Hall): This is a lovely meeting room with floor-to-ceiling windows and a view up Tower Road, which is available to all the SIPS community. Many thanks to faculty in the Soil and Crop Sciences section for contributing to the new AV system that has just been installed.
    • Graduate Student Collaboration Space (1102 Bradfield Hall): A very large room, with windows overlooking west campus and Cayuga Lake, has now been carpeted and partly furnished for the use of SIPS graduate students, as well as any other graduate students who are currently housed in Bradfield Hall. I’m very pleased that we have communal space at last for all our students to share.

These are great places for us to mix professionally and socially. Take the elevator to the 11th floor of Bradfield Hall and check them out!

  • On the subject of supporting our graduate students, as an institutional partner of the Equity in Graduate Education (EGE) Consortium, we have the opportunity for SIPS faculty, staff, and graduate students to participate in the Beyond Broadening Participation webinar series organized by the National Academies, Inclusive Graduate Education Network, and EGE Consortium.  Please note that the Beyond Broadening Participation webinar taking place on March 28 is for PhD students whereas the one taking place on March 29 is for faculty, administrators, and other professionals. These are space-limited virtual events, so if you would like to participate in one of these webinars, please register soon!
  • Kudos awards: One of the joys of my job is working with so many staff, faculty and students who consistently support each other. PLEASE remember to recognize people in our SIPS community who have gone out of their way to enhance our School. All you have to do is complete the brief form here. For ~1 minute of your time you can absolutely make someone’s day!

Thanks everyone as ever for all you do, and roll on Spring!



Message from the SIPS Director: January 26, 2023

I hope your semester is off to a successful and flying start. It’s wonderful to see the students back, classrooms full and SIPS operating in top gear- thanks as always to everyone for enabling things to operate so smoothly. Looking into the crystal ball there are many exciting activities and initiatives already lined up on the various Cornell campuses and I’d like to share a few of them here:

Plant Science Building Renovation

While you can’t yet hear the sound of sledgehammers echoing in the Plant Science Building, wheels are in fact turning. We are currently in the Bid Phase, which is currently projected to span January-March. Contracting will take place March-May and construction is projected to start in June. Fingers crossed!


Some of you will have seen the update from the dean about the CALS Moonshot interdisciplinary faculty hiring initiative. For those who did not, a total of 26 proposals were submitted, of which SIPS was a partner in 16!  Magdalen has posted succinct summaries of the SIPS-related moonshots.

This is a remarkable testament to both the extraordinary effort that was invested in developing the proposal in such a short time, but also the impact and breadth of research, teaching and extension in the college. The moonshot ideas are now being reviewed by CALS leadership and I look forward to sharing the outcome with you in the next month or two.

SIPS reorganization proposal

The Moonshot process highlighted the phenomenal potential of the SIPS community to collaborate and innovate across traditional section-based boundaries, centered around daunting global problems, such as climate change, food security, environmental stability. Such issues, which are also encapsulated in the SIPS Strategic Plant and Grand Challenges, will increasingly drive research funding, the motivations of the next generation of the brightest scientists who we want to recruit, and the demands of students for education, training, and career development. We live in a high dynamic time and it’s critical that we are thoughtful and bold as we set new goals and take advantage of new opportunities. As all biologists know, we must continue to evolve and adapt to our environment in order to thrive and grow.

Over the last few months there have been a tremendous number of discussions about the evolution of SIPS, including external stakeholders and partners at Cornell and beyond. These have addressed what we value, how we could and should retain our communities, the profound importance of disciplinary excellence, and the need to continue the trajectory of enhanced interaction and mutual support that was initiated upon the foundation of the school, almost 9 years ago.

Next week I will be presenting a proposal for a revised SIPS organizational structure that I think is forward-thinking, exciting, and sustainable, in that it highlights the values and identities of our five historic disciplines and retains the intimacy of the smaller communities, while strengthening our synergies and interconnections 

  • Feb 1st:  I have scheduled 30-minute in-person/ Zoom presentations with the faculty in each section and with administrative staff (6 meetings all on one day!)
  • Feb 2nd:  I will be in Geneva to hold a meeting with faculty on the AgriTech campus.

Separate meetings will be held with students, postdocs, and other members of SIPS. The faculty and staff will receive Zoom invitations shortly.  If you can’t attend the meeting in the time slot for your section, please reach out and we’ll make alternative arrangements.

I anticipate a critical phase for feedback and discussion in the coming months as we co-create and solidify an organizational structure together, that also allows administrative staff to provide effective support while they themselves are supported. Your engagement is very important and I want to make sure that everyone has a voice.  This is an exciting time!

SIPS community:  

In the coming months I will be announcing new spaces for grad students and faculty to interact formally and informally, and I intend to ramp up the frequency of opportunities to mix professionally and socially. More details coming soon.

Message from the SIPS Director: December 22, 2022

I’m writing this from my office in the, currently very peaceful, Plant Science Building, watching the snow fall on the Ag quad, feeling festive and wondering how long it’s going to take me to dig my car out of the Tower Road parking lot this evening.

I’m also reflecting on a remarkable semester. This has been my first as Director of SIPS and it’s been a great pleasure getting to know many of you over the last few months. I have a new appreciation of the astonishing size and complexity of the school, but especially its impact. What you do is important and recognized within CALS and the broader Cornell universe, and also among the many life science and agricultural communities with which we collectively intersect. SIPS has a reputation to be proud of and one that we will contribute to build.

This was illustrated by the recent flurry of activity around the Moonshot faculty cohort hires; an experiment in promoting transdisciplinary interactions and conversations. Many of you participated in the two Moonshot launch community meetings, in the moonshot posters that were posted on the Ithaca and AgriTech campuses, and in the numerous individual and group conversations.

The outcome of all this has been that SIPS is wired into 16 (!!) moonshot proposals. This by itself is remarkable, but equally eye-opening is that these moonshots involve collaborations with 14 out of the 16 other departments in CALS, as well as the Dyson school!  Excitingly, most of the moonshots involved participants from different SIPS sections working together to think deeply about future research, teaching and extension initiatives, and about our engagement with diverse communities. This is deeply impressive and a huge thank you to all those who took the lead in, and supported, these proposals!

There have been many so many other activities that highlight our strengths as a school, but nobody reads emails for longer than 45 seconds, so I’ll wrap up by saying that I’m looking forward to new adventures, initiatives, partnerships and successes in SIPS in 2023.

Congratulations on your many successes across the board, thank you for all you do and have a peaceful and rejuvenating holiday season.

Warm wishes,


Message from the SIPS Director: November 23, 2022

We’re nearing the end of a remarkably busy semester, so the Ithaca campus this morning seems especially quiet, as we head into the Thanksgiving Break: the undergraduate students have vanished and the lines for coffee have finally shrunk. Magdalen’s weekly newsletters touch on some of the exciting SIPS stories and announcements, but as you can imagine these represent only a small portion of the accomplishments and activities across the school. It would take a fulltime team to keep everyone entirely up to date, but here are a few updates and recent highlights:


I’m delighted to announce that Vipan Kumar will be joining SIPS as an Associate Professor in the Soil & Crop Sciences Section. Starting in February 2023, Vipan will bring his considerable expertise in integrated weed management to bear on sustainable cropping systems, complementing our existing strength in weed science research, teaching and extension. Thanks to the search committee for their hard work in recruiting and supporting Vipan.

I’m also very pleased to announce that Enid Martinez, Professor in the Soil & Crop Sciences Section, has agreed to serve as a SIPS Leader for Diversity and Inclusion (LDI). Enid will join our other LDI, Tom Silva, representing the school on the CALS Diversity and Inclusion Committee. Enid and Tom will work alongside Chelsea Specht, the SIPS Associate Director for Diversity and Inclusion, and the SIPS DI Council. Thanks, Enid for taking on this important role.


Over the last month or so there has been great momentum associated with the CALS transdisciplinary Moonshot faculty hiring initiative. Ideas and discussions have emerged from two community moonshot events in October, sets of moonshot posters displayed in four locations on the Ithaca and Geneva campuses, and from numerous emails, meetings, and hallway conversations. Currently, there are at least five SIPS-centric moonshots brewing, as well as SIPS positions included in multiple proposals centered in other CALS departments. It’s been very gratifying and exciting to see faculty and students from different SIPS sections working together to develop innovative cohorts around creative transdisciplinary themes and I’m very much looking forward to seeing how these mature over the next month. Special thanks to all the PIs/co-PIs for taking the lead and to Rebecca Nelson, the SIPS Associate Director for Research, for providing critical coordination and guidance.

Plant Science Building Renovation:

I’m excited to report that we received a very generous commitment from Dr. Barry Richter (CALS ’72) and Dr. Joan Richter (HumEc ’73) in support of our Plant Science Building renovation project. When the project is complete, we will name the building lobby in their honor. Although Barry and Joan did not study Plant Sciences while at Cornell, they both have connections to our building from their time at Cornell that made this gift a very special one for them. We look forward to celebrating the Richter’s generosity once our renovation is complete.


As we head towards the end of the year, I’d like to highlight Cornell University’s Long Island Horticultural Research and Extension Center (LIHREC), which is marking its 100th anniversary. LIHREC provides critical support to the agricultural industries on Long Island and throughout New York. Many congratulations LIHREC researchers, extension experts and staff! I’ve included a couple of links that provide an overview of the scope and impact: video news

SIPS community:  

PLEASE remember to recognize people in the SIPS community (faculty, students and staff) who have gone out of their way to enhance our School and support each other.  The Kudos notes are a lovely way to do this: all you have to do is complete the brief form here, which takes 2 minutes at most. Receiving one can make somebody’s day and affirms our mutual support.

Social Events:

SIPS Holiday Celebration: It’s back!! Save the slot in your calendars for the party of the year:  December 7th 3:00 – 5:00 pm in the Statler Ballroom.

We’re already well into the World Cup (the other football!). To further community engagement and world peace, I’m planning to show as many of the games as possible live in the conference room next to my office (133 Plant Science Building) when there aren’t meeting reservations, including weekends. All are welcome.

Message from the SIPS Director: September 25, 2022

Here we are at the end of September: it seems remarkable that we are already five weeks into the semester and the fall colors are starting to show. It’s been wonderful to see the hallways, classrooms, labs, field research centers and meeting rooms filling with people again after such a long period of distancing, and the increase in energy is palpable. We have new cohorts of undergraduate, graduate and MPS students, faculty teaching exciting new courses for the first time, new research projects underway or being planned, and several exciting opportunities that I’d like to highlight:

Moonshots: CALS has launched a new college-wide faculty hiring initiative, based on transdisciplinary approaches to addressing complex real-world problems. Five Moonshot categories have been identified: Agriculture/food systems; Basic Biology; Synthetic Biology; Climate amelioration; Wild Card.  These resonate strongly with the research, teaching and extension activities of SIPS and there is obvious connectivity with the SIPS strategic plan and the associated four Grand Challenges (Sustainable Crop Production and Food Security; Plants and Ecosystem Health; Plant Production and Ecosystem Services in Urban/Peri-urban Environments; and  Biodiversity, Evolution, and Molecular Mechanisms). A key feature of this cohort hire will be strategic coordination with other departments/units CALS, and more details will be released by the college soon.

2030 Project: Big Ideas: There is an exciting and important opportunity for SIPS researchers to engage with the 2030 Project, a campus-wide investment to address challenges associated with climate change, including transforming food systems, innovating energy solutions, reducing greenhouse gas emissions, promoting environmental justice and shaping economic and policy decisions. There has been a call for “Big Ideas” and I anticipate that SIPS will be a key partner and leader.

There will be much activity around both Moonshots and Big Ideas in the near future, and I’ll keep you up to speed with new developments, but a critical first step will be for you to bring your innovative ideas forward and to start community discussions. Please reach out to your colleagues, section chairs and Associate Directors and feel free to contact me and rjn7 [at] (Rebecca Nelson) (Assoc. Director of Research for SIPS) such that we can support teams/groups to develop proposals. This is an exciting time I’m looking forward to seeing creative ideas emerge that will allow us to take advantage of these opportunities.

Plant Science Building Renovations: The project has either been sent out to bid, or this is imminent. Temporary partitions have been installed to block off vacated areas in the west side of the Plant Science Building. These partitions accommodate emergency and service access but are designed to prevent general access. Attached to the partitions are renderings of how the spaces may look after Phase 1, and I encourage you to take a look if you are passing.

AgriTech: I’ve been allocated touch down office space on the AgriTech campus (thank you Jan Nyrop!) and will be visiting on regular basis. To all the SIPS-ites up in Geneva, please let me know if you’d like to chat when I’m next on campus. I’ve had a great time on my last visits and look forward to getting to know you all.

SIPS community:  As I’ve learnt more about the inner workings of SIPS, I’m frequently reminded what a wonderful, generous community we have. PLEASE remember to recognize people in the SIPS community (faculty, students and staff) who have gone out of their way to enhance our School and support each other.  The Kudos notes are a lovely way to do this: all you have to do is complete the brief form here, which takes 2 minutes at most. Receiving one can make somebody’s day and affirms our mutual support.

Lastly, I had the pleasure the other week of attending the inauguration of the Tsujimoto Family Plaza, in front of the Mann Library, and was fortunate enough to meet members of the family. Their story is inspiring and can be found here.

August 22, 2022

I’m very pleased to announce that all four SIPS associate directors (AD) have now been recruited.

I have already been inspired by conversations with Chelsea, Awais, Rebecca and Kathie related to the future growth and enrichment of SIPS. They each have great experience and an impressive track record in their area of focus, reflected in their titles, but they also have a cross-cutting breadth of knowledge of our research, teaching, extension, and in many other facets of SIPS. The ADs have been appointed for one-year terms, starting on September 1st, and they will join the chairs of the five SIPS sections in forming the SIPS senior leadership team.

Responsibilities of the Associate Directors:

  • Guide community conversations around their appointed positions and develop a broad and bold vision for SIPS in the areas of DEI, Extension and Outreach, Research, and Teaching. What are our strengths? What are our aspirations? Do we have any areas that need reinforcing, or that might benefit from greater public awareness? How should we best communicate our identity and goals?  To address these and other questions there will be broad community engagement, and transparency. Above all, they will want to hear your ideas, needs and perspectives so that this visioning process has broad input from across the school.
  • Oversee specific operations in SIPS related to new resources for research, student recruitment and support, and education. I will be announcing some details of these resources at upcoming faculty meetings and in SIPS-wide townhall meetings.
  • Contribute to discussion about the structure of SIPS and how it can best serve our students, faculty and staff, bringing the vision and aspirations of the school into the future.

I note that these AD positions will supplement and enhance the existing organizational infrastructure of SIPS and they will not displace any current operations.

I look forward to working with Chelsea, Awais, Rebecca and Kathie and thank them for their willingness to take on these responsibilities.

August 14, 2022

It’s been a fascinating and rewarding couple of weeks as I start my term as SIPS director, and thanks to all those who came to say hello, or sent emails with wishes of welcome. In addition to many in-person meetings and impromptu chats in the halls, two of the highlights of the last week were a tour of the various farm locations of the Cornell Agriculture Experiment Station (including the wonderful Dilmun Hill student farm, as well as the sites in Freeville, McGowan Farm and Bluegrass Lane) and then yesterday’s Cornell AgriTech open house, which featured an amazing demonstration of digital crop imaging technologies and tours of the grape, apple and hemp collections. Thanks to everyone for the tours and giving up so much time and energy.

Clear and frequent communication will remain a high priority and this will come in many forms. It’s my hope to find time to meet with all faculty in person over the next semester or so, and I’ll be scheduling separate townhall meetings for faculty, staff and grad students, as well as meetings with groups in SIPS such as the DEI council. For all those up in Geneva, I will have some office space on the AgriTech campus and will be visiting regularly. I’ll also be sending out frequent email updates: sorry if some of you get these emails multiple times, but it’s impossible to capture the whole SIPS empire in a single list with no duplication.

Some updates on a few of topics:

SIPS structure: A number of people have reached out and asked about the organizational structure of the school. I’d like to re-emphasize there will be no immediate changes in the SIPS structure although, as I’ve highlighted in several presentations over the last few months, there is an intent to better integrate the school through the adoption of a new structure. As the new semester starts, the school will continue to operate as before to ensure continued smooth operation, but the leadership team of existing section chairs will be expanded in September to include several Associate Directors. These are existing SIPS faculty from both the Ithaca and Geneva campuses, who will each have a one-year appointment, and I hope to finalize their recruitment in the next couple of weeks. The senior leadership team will be tasked with leading discussions and reviewing and planning future SIPS activities, operations, and aspirations. Again, the goal is to restructure the school, but nothing will be done until there is has been a thoughtful and purposeful review of options and there is consensus that a viable modified organizational structure has been mapped out. I am committed to making this process transparent and to enabling everyone to have a voice. There will be many open group meetings, including the upcoming townhall meetings, but my door is open and I look forwarding to discussing this and hearing a spectrum of perspectives.

Plant Science Building Renovations: Thanks to all those who have relocated from the west side of the Plant Science Building to new labs and offices over the summer, for your good humor, patience and positivity. Thanks also to those who have helped coordinate the process. This first domino has fallen and Phase 1 of the renovation is underway!

  • Next week: Temporary partitions will be installed to block off vacated areas in the west side of the Plant Science Building. The west side entry to the building will be locked, but the partitions will be constructed to accommodate emergency and service access. Occupants of the building can expect changes in pedestrian circulation patterns.
  • This fall: Cornell Facilities and the architects are resolving final details in the building plans. We look forward to the project being sent out to bid sometime in the next few months.

Social activities: We’ve been experiencing various degrees of COVID-induced isolation since early 2020 and this has fragmented our community to significant degree. This summer it’s been great to see a rapidly growing enthusiasm for in-person professional and social events. Please send me your ideas for ways and excuses to get together. It turns out that pizza and beer/soda, coffee and cookies are key commodities that glue groups together and I’d love to hear suggestions for opportunities to meet. The organization of social events cannot rest on the shoulders of the staff, as they are already overstretched, but I’ve been looking into alternative ways to support this.

I’ve installed myself now in the director’s office in 135A Plant Science Building, in the SIPS administration suite, so please come by and say hi, or reach out with your news, ideas, suggestions and questions. If my door is open, come on in! If I’m not there, I may be in my lab office (331 Emerson Hall). If you’d like to reserve time to meet, please contact ct259 [at] (Cindy Twardokus), who wrangles my schedule.

August 1, 2022

Welcome Joss Rose, new SIPS Director!