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PRL Perspectives: Undergraduate student Drew Mitchell

Drew Mitchell
Drew Mitchell
By Michael Cagney

Drew Mitchell is a former undergraduate student in the Benning lab and Department of Microbiology and Molecular Genetics. Drew is interested in using modern molecular tools for the improvement of crop species and is specifically fascinated by the opportunities afforded by molecular technologies to assist and improve conventional crop breeding methods. He was a graduating senior in the Genomics and Molecular Genetics program and started as a graduate student in the Plant, Breeding, Genetics and Biotechnology program in the Department of Crop, Soil and Microbial Science at MSU in June 2022. He once spent three years living in a tent, and now wears a collared shirt every day.

What do you do here in the PRL?

I was a research assistant in Christoph Benning’s lab working within a team focused on the development and introduction of bacterial protein nanotechnologies into plants. Prior to this position, I worked in the Arabidopsis Service Center (ASC) at MSU, where I performed and assisted with routine plant transformations in Arabidopsis and Sorghum.

Why did you choose the PRL and the Benning lab?

I was referred to the PRL by a former professor of mine at Jackson College. She received her Ph.D. in plant virology from MSU in a lab here at the PRL, and when she learned I was transferring and looking for research experience, she connected me with the Benning lab. I interviewed a few weeks later and was offered the position from there.

Tray of plants
Arabidopsis plants are commonly used in the Benning lab for research.
By Kara Headley, MSU-DOE Plant Research Laboratory 2022

What resources at the PRL have you found beneficial?

I think the most valuable resource within the PRL is the diversity of expertise present here. The variety of backgrounds represented, and the fact that everyone has been extremely open and generous with their time has made it incredibly easy to connect with and learn from a lot of talented scientists. As an undergraduate, this has been beyond helpful, as I haven’t felt like I’ve needed to re-invent the wheel. If there is something I’m struggling to find, or a problem that’s giving me trouble, there’s always someone in the building who is willing to chat about it and help if they can. 

What has your time at time at the PRL taught you thus far?

Aside from all the technical skills and knowledge I’ve been able to acquire during my time here, I think the most valuable lesson I’ve come away with relates to how critically important collaboration is to the scientific process. Simply being in the room, surrounded by highly accomplished researchers of various backgrounds, and listening to them riff off one another to synthesize new ideas and approaches has really had an impact on me. I still have much to learn, of course, but my general understanding of how professional science is carried out, how setbacks are handled and progress made, have all been tremendously valuable lessons for me as an aspiring scientist.

Why would you recommend incoming undergraduate students to consider coming to the PRL?

The list is long. The projects are fascinating and important, the facilities are robust and varied, the people are excellent and the research opportunities available to undergraduates are truly exceptional. As far as I can tell, there aren’t too many places that offer undergraduate experiences quite like those found at the PRL. I’m eternally grateful to have ended up here, and I really cannot recommend the PRL enough to any undergrads out there looking to get into plant science.

This story is one of a five-part series highlighting postdoc, graduate student and undergraduate student voices within the PRL.

By Kara Headley and Drew Mitchell