Vincent P. Gutschick
Global Change Consulting Consortium, Inc.
New Mexico State University
Las Cruces, NM
Chemistry, University of Notre Dame, 1966
Chemistry, California Institute of Technology, 1971
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."
fields of biology do you work in?
Physiological ecology of plants; global change
When did you know you wanted to become a Biologist?
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.
What was your college experience like?
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.
Did you incorporate work experiences while you were an undergrad?
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.
How did you get your first job?
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
What's the most rewarding thing about being a Biologist?
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.
Is there an example you can provide that shows how something you've
worked on has positively impacted the world?
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.
Do you spend a fair amount of time traveling?
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.
Do you have a mentor? Or did you in your college years?
In my undergraduate years, I had my research
advisor, Dr. Oliver Ludwig, and my freshman chemistry advisor, Dr. Emil
Do you find yourself working more in a team situation, or more alone?
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.
Do you find you are able to balance work with social/family life while
working in your current job?
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
If you had to do it all over again, would you still become a Biologist?
Without a doubt.
Did you think that school prepared you for the way the work gets done in
the real world?
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.
Where do you see jobs for Biologists in the future? What should students
be doing to prepare themselves to take on those roles?
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
What other advice do you have for precollege students?
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.