My philosophy of teaching is to create an environment that allows for supervised exploration and is based on the idea that my focus should be on students’ learning as opposed to my teaching .I believe that the most significant learning occurs in situations that are both meaningful and realistic. The overriding goal of my teaching has been to place learners in these types of situations: for the first few weeks, in a classroom, learning the principles and methodologies, and at the laboratory, learning to develop their skills, and in the final weeks interacting with the producers learning the complexities of crop production, or even within an ongoing research project for graduate students learning the principles of agricultural research. For situated learning to occur, the learner must be given access to the environment where the skills and knowledge will eventually be used. My job as an educator is to tailor my teaching methods to fit the needs of my students. Thus, I have formulated a teaching plan designed to help large numbers of students learn in the classroom setting while giving students as much personalized attention as possible.
I firmly believe that lecture and assigned reading alone are not enough for students to truly understand the important concepts in soil science. Thus, I plan to set aside time during each lecture to work through problems relating to the concepts that were covered in lecture that day. This problem-solving process will help students gain a firmer grasp on concepts that may have seemed abstract at first. In addition, it will help them understand the logic behind the derivation of fundamental principles. More importantly, I want to help students take ownership of the material that’s covered in class. To do this, students must reinforce their own understanding by working through homework problems. I intend to make homework a major part of my grading in order to encourage students to study the material on their own. I will set up my homework assignments so that the problems will lead students through an analysis in a step-by-step fashion and illustrate abstract principles in more concrete, empirical terms. This might be a very time-consuming way for students to learn, but I believe that by putting in the effort and working at their own pace, students can build a better understanding that’s based on their own thought processes.
Furthermore, I want to give students as many opportunities as possible to work with me individually or in small groups. I believe that the Socratic Method is one of the most effective tools for teaching and learning, and engaging in discussions with students will help me and the students find the sources of their confusion and clarify them. I will encourage students to attend my office hours and take these opportunities to teach them by working through a problem together. In addition, I will hold help sessions in which students can get individual attention from me or a teaching assistant. I believe this type of personal guidance is very valuable in helping students navigate particularly thorny concepts. In addition, they will give me valuable feedback on my problem-writing and teaching style.
I believe that W.B. Yeats captured the exhilaration of teaching when he wrote: “Education is not the filling of a pail, but the lighting of a fire.” My goal as a ‘teacher of teachers’ is to ignite in my learners a passion, to create a learning environment that fosters a conflagration of educational experimentation and innovation at this academic center.
In my current role, I lead a team of multidisciplinary scientists for the development and evaluation of next generation plant nutrition products. I have conceptualized a soil-applied fertilizer formulation that can increase the overall efficiency of “chelate-assisted” delivery of micronutrients to the deficiency zones near the plant roots. Preliminary results from my experiments have enabled me to file a provisional patent within six months of my employment in industry. I am also in the process of testing products with the novel nutrient element “silicon” for alleviating abiotic and biotic stress in crop plants. Another project that I am also involved in the development of a “controlled release fertilizer product” for different crops. I have also initiated experiments to incorporate selected biomolecules like “chitin” to improve the soil carbon status while enhancing productivity. This job has provided me with invaluable first-hand experience in fertilizer development industry within its different frameworks by collaborating with the scientists, commercial team and the farmers.
My work as a postdoctoral research associate focused on soil chemical composition, enabling targeted optimization of agricultural management practices aimed in the production of high-quality crops without compromising the soil health. I employed an untargeted metabolomics approach for characterization of molecules in the different soil horizons of agricultural fields under contrasting long-term management practices. The initial results from this study identified certain molecules like chitin, glucosamine and gibberellin supporting the possibility of a significant role played by fungal biomass in carbon stabilization in soil by different abiotic and biotic mechanisms. This study also brings forth the possible effects of inorganic nutrient additions in the form of nitrogen and phosphorus fertilizers on the C status of soil. Irrespective of tillage, soils under high diversity cropping systems recorded the maximum carbon content. I am in the process of identifying the significant molecules that would elucidate the role of plant root exudates in bringing about the differences in molecular fingerprint of soils under different management practices. In the long term, this method would produce an updated “Nutrient Management practices” optimized for different crops, soil and climate by integrating all available tools of crop production today.
My Ph.D. work resulted in the completion of a comprehensive survey of soil chemical properties including soil silicon levels of more than hundred agricultural fields in Louisiana. The critical silicon level for growing rice in six different soil series was established with a two year calibration study. This calibration study also evaluated seven different extraction procedures for estimating plant available silicon in soil. This work also paved way to understand the behavior of silicon fertilizers in different soils. The laboratory incubation work with these fertilizers in soil was completed in 8 months that won me the Best Ph.D. presentation award in 2014 in the Soil fertility and Plant Nutrients section of the ASA-SSSA-CSSA meeting in Long Beach, California.
There is an overwhelming number of reports about the beneficial effects of silicon in agriculture. This underutilized technology has immense potential for the advancement of agriculture through the alleviation of abiotic and biotic stress in field crops. Therefore, one of my next major projects will be aimed at the development of precise doses and right sources of this nutrient element for crop production particularly focusing on its role in plant root interaction with abiotic and biotic processes in soil. The scientific community has come to a broad consensus on positive aspects of the relationship between biodiversity and ecosystem functioning. Although soil quality is known to involve interactions between plant roots, soil microorganisms, and organic molecules, the mechanisms remain poorly understood, constraining our abilities to restore these degraded but critical components of arable soil structure through targeted changes to land management. Hence, another research area of my interest is the chemical biology of soils wherein the knowledge about the molecular composition in soils could be used to integrate different components to diversify a cropping system. The rhizosphere and non-rhizosphere research to characterize the small molecules in the soils of differently managed agricultural fields would shed light on the “molecular signature” that is significant to maintain good yield without compromising the environment in this time of climate change. The LC-MS based untargeted metabolomics could be used on soils under different cropping systems and has unlimited potential to produce a bigger picture of agroecosystems functioning with high throughput experimentations.
I would like to offer two new courses: Rhizosphere manipulation for future agriculture, and Soil Nutrient dynamics in Agroecosystems (a directed research course) for graduate students. The first course would give an overview of nutrient dynamics in soil in plants in addition to learning plant-soil-microbial interaction for attain goals of future agriculture. This course would also cover the various aspects of crop production, such as, the environmental impacts of crop production, agroecology, and sustainable agriculture in relation to soil nutrient management. The second course would be using hands-on field experimentation and research proposals to learn the principles of soil nutrient cycling.
Research works geared towards sustainable intensification of agriculture makes your department attractive for my future research in complex soil-plant-microbial interactions. Environmental agronomy is something I think could play a significant part in generating information from the projects on biogeochemistry of agroecosystems that I am currently working on and would like to continue. Collaborative field and greenhouse research work on “silicon nutrition” in different cropping systems would be something I am also interested in.
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