Theodore (Ted) Tibbitts
Emeritus Professor of
Crop Physiology and
University of Wisconsin, Madison
MS, and PhD from the University of Wisconsin, Madison
taught and conducted research on the environmental physiology of
vegetable crops for 40 years.
summers in jobs that will give you interesting experiences."
fields of biology do you work in?
When did you know you wanted to become a Biologist?
When I was a sophomore at the University.
What was your college experience like?
Enjoyed it. I lived in a cooperative agriculture
house helping with the maintenance of the house except for the week day
cooking. Enjoyed the camaraderie of the 25 other members, intramural
sports, card games and social activities at the house. Studied often
with other members of the house, for usually there were some in the same
class. Studied in the library as needed. I joined two College of
Agriculture clubs, 4H and Blue Shield. Was on the College Student
Council. Served on the University Life and Interests Committee. Deacon
in the University Presbyterian Church.
Did you incorporate work experiences while you were an undergrad?
Yes. I basically earned all of my expenses for
college. I delivered the campus paper in early morning before classes,
hourly work during weekends helping with professor's research in the
Agronomy Department. Summers, between all but my freshman and sophomore
year, I stayed at the University and worked full time for a professor
helping with his field experiments.
How did you get your first job?
I obtained my research/teaching job in the
Horticulture Department at the University of Wisconsin-Madison through
recommendation from my PhD advisor.
What's the most rewarding thing about being a Biologist?
Understanding and unlocking the mysteries of how
plants respond to their environment in which they are growing.
Is there an example you can provide that shows how something you've
worked on has positively impacted the world?
A. Developed a plant study with potatoes that was
flown on NASA's space flights to demonstrate that plants can
photosynthesize and accumulate starch in tubers under weightlessness.
This was the first experiment to demonstrate that a plant can produce
food in space.
B. Determined the impact of the interacting environmental factors that
caused the internal injury in head lettuce called ‘tipburn' and how to
control these factors to minimize injury.
Do you spend a fair amount of time traveling?
Yes, several trips each year to national and
international meetings of plant science societies and serving on
advisory or review panels for EPA and NASA. Also had several national
and international trips supported by NASA to interact with other
scientists concerned with developing life support systems for permanent
bases on the Moon and/or Mars.
Do you have a mentor? Or did you in your college years?
No, but many people I leaned on for advice. I
regret I did not have a mentor during the first 5 years of my University
Do you find yourself working more in a team situation, or more alone?
I worked alone at the University in my teaching
and research responsibilities however I worked in a team situation with
scientists at other United States institutions for much of my research
Do you find you are able to balance work with social/family life while
working in your current job?
Yes, one of the significant ways I balanced family
life was that when going to meetings I drove and took my wife and
children with me and then usually took a few days of vacation to do some
interesting sight seeing. After the children were raised I continued to
take my wife with me on trips, especially foreign trips, and again added
on a few days of vacation.
I also made certain that weekend nights and most weekend days,
especially Sunday, were family time. (Early in my career, Saturday
morning was considered a regular University work time.)
If you had to do it all over again, would you still become a Biologist?
Yes, it was a great career.
Did you think that school prepared you for the way the work gets done in
the real world?
Only partially, much of this is learned as I begin
working and watched other professionals do their job. I do not think
school can do this for you. Internships can help.
Where do you see jobs for Biologists in the future? What should students
be doing to prepare themselves to take on those roles?
There is no end of jobs for Biologists in
improving and increasing food for our expanding populations and insuring
a healthy environment.
Take a broad range of courses in all Biological and Physical sciences
along with a reasonable amount of Humanity courses. Ask Professors if
you can help them with their research or teaching activities on a
volunteer basis. Take summer jobs in an area of interest to them with
less concern for what they will be paid then obtaining varied
What other advice do you have for precollege students?
Work summers in jobs that will give you
Do not be overly concerned over the College or University you attend.
Most any institution can provide you a good education if you are willing
to work at it. Having the best paying job after graduation is not as
important as being happy in the job you accept.
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