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Biology Overview 


Vincent P. Gutschick

Director
Global Change Consulting Consortium, Inc.

Prof. Emeritus
New Mexico State University
Las Cruces, NM

 

B.S., Chemistry, University of Notre Dame, 1966
Ph.D., Chemistry, California Institute of Technology, 1971
Vincent Gutschick researches the physiological and physical basis of how plants use resources (water, nutrients, CO2, light), using extensive computer modelling and field experimentation.
"Get all the math and language you can grasp, and then some more; the ability to take a quantitative approach is increasingly important, and the ability to express yourself is at least as important as native talent in biology."


What fields of biology do you work in?
Gutschick: Physiological ecology of plants; global change biology.

Q: When did you know you wanted to become a Biologist?
Gutschick: I first became a chemist, which I wanted to be from age 8. Job opportunities led me to switch to biology as a postdoctoral fellow, particularly at Los Alamos National Laboratory, and I never looked back.

Q: What was your college experience like?
Gutschick: Intense; I took an overload, graduating in 3 years, and I did undergraduate research from the start, on molecular quantum mechanics; the math still serves me very, very well. I also enjoyed the breadth of the humanities at Notre Dame. The absolute highlight of my education was graduate school – Caltech was an intellectual candy store, and I enjoyed colleagues and seminars in all the sciences and engineering. I also had the temerity – and great good fortune – to take Advanced Quantum Mechanics from Richard Feynman. I have treasured and followed his approach ever since, including the advice to start working out any avenue of research yourself and only then go to the literature to see what others have done; you won't go up the same blind alleys where they may have ended up. 

Q: Did you incorporate work experiences while you were an undergrad?
Gutschick: Yes, I did supported research from my first year onward, including the summers, on NSF Undergraduate Research funding. I could work at what I truly loved.

Q: How did you get your first job?
Gutschick: I had a competitive NSF postdoctoral fellowship at Berkeley, which may or may not count as a job. I then was a J. W. Gibbs Instructor at Yale for two years, which I applied for from a national ad.

Q: What's the most rewarding thing about being a Biologist?
Gutschick: I can look at the world – the leaves of a tree, the running of a lizard – and appreciate the fantastic variety of processes in each organism, and I can appreciate the long and winding evolutionary road to all of this.

Q: Is there an example you can provide that shows how something you've worked on has positively impacted the world?
Gutschick: Crop breeders in China did a translation of my book, A Functional Ecology of Crop Plants, for their use. One of them is now at Pioneer Hybrid, improving crops. Of course, corn is as much a problem these days as it is a benefit, so let's also count how my research helped form the careers of several students and postdocs, in particular, who have gone on to do environmental work "on the ground" and in teaching on a grand scale.

Q: Do you spend a fair amount of time traveling?
Gutschick: Yes, both for work and pleasure. I've been in 36 countries and have done research, short- and long-term, in 7 states (CA, IN, MA, KS, WI, NV, NM), 4 countries outside the US (Australia, France, Germany, Mexico), and I have attended meetings or given presentations in many more venues (WA, OR, CA, NV, AZ, UT, CO, NM, LA, MO, IA, NE, MN, WI, IL, IN, MI, OH, NH, NY, CT, RI, NJ, WV, TN, HI; the four nations noted earlier, plus Canada, India, England, and the Netherlands). The worldwide sense of community among scientists makes us welcome, and welcoming, to all.

Q: Do you have a mentor? Or did you in your college years?
Gutschick: In my undergraduate years, I had my research advisor, Dr. Oliver Ludwig, and my freshman chemistry advisor, Dr. Emil T. Hofman.

Q: Do you find yourself working more in a team situation, or more alone?
Gutschick: I have done both, extensively, with teamwork more common now. The teams have almost always been multidisciplinary – I might be the physiologist and modeller, others are agronomists, physicists, or whatever.

Q: Do you find you are able to balance work with social/family life while working in your current job?
Gutschick: Yes, and it helps that I'm married to a biologist who also loves to travel. I work a lot more than 40 h/wk, but often in the company of my wife and my son, either at home or on overseas postings.

Q: If you had to do it all over again, would you still become a Biologist?
Gutschick: Without a doubt.

Q: Did you think that school prepared you for the way the work gets done in the real world?
Gutschick: It taught me a worldview, but not that much of the "mechanics." I found myself doing teaching, personnel management, fundraising, and financial management, none of which I learned in school. Programs nowadays are better at introducing these realities.

Q: Where do you see jobs for Biologists in the future? What should students be doing to prepare themselves to take on those roles?
Gutschick: Biotech and biomedicine are obvious choices, but commonly overlooked are exploding opportunities in green technologies, resource management construed broadly (water = the next oil, energy, biodiversity), climate action (the biosphere's role in climate and vice versa), policy work and related work with NGOs (state and federal agencies, foundations…) and work with corporate allianaces on large environmental issues.

Q: What other advice do you have for precollege students?
Gutschick: Get a broad education, not training. Get all the math and language you can grasp, and then some more; the ability to take a quantitative approach is increasingly important, and the ability to express yourself is at least as important as native talent in biology.

 


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