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Former Student Profile: Marianne Powell

Marianne Powell

Employer: Seed Health Testing Services, CSP Labs, Inc.
Degree/Program: MS, Vegetable Pathology (2012)
Thesis/Dissertation: Biodegradable Mulches for Specialty Crops Produced Under Protective Covers.

What you do in your current work?

The Seed Health Lab tests vegetable seed for various pathogens using liquid plating, blotter, grow out and seedling PCR assays. Diagnostic techniques include traditional plant pathology (dilution plating, inoculation, microscopy), molecular analysis (PCR, qPCR, rtPCR) and serological methods (ELISA). Time devoted to processing samples is 80% while the remaining 20% is split between research and participation in work groups and industry meetings.

What was it like being a graduate student at WSU Mount Vernon NWREC?

I spent three years between WSU Mount Vernon NWREC and Pullman but I was primarily at NWREC. There are benefits to being at a research center and main campus but I enjoyed my time at the NWREC because I worked close with other students from different sciences and they offered unique perspectives on research. I also had assistance from other departments, such as identifying insects and troubleshooting potential nutrient stress issues. I did not develop this same relationship while on the main campus, mostly due to the size and distribution of lab/office space between departments. Moving between the research center and main campus can be challenging. I took advantage of some online courses and on-site housing offered at the NWREC to make the transition smoother. In addition, Pullman campus offers lab space for continuing research while taking classes and NWREC offers assistance managing trials while in Pullman.

How did being a graduate student at an R&E Center prepare you for your current employment?

I had no experience working on a farm or greenhouses prior to starting my graduate studies. However, understanding crop production, including environmental and pest control challenges, is important when discussing growers concerns and industry standards. WSU Mount Vernon NWREC gave me insight to many facets of crop production and I was able to weave this knowledge into my main focus of Plant Pathology. I was also exposed to many sectors within the field of Plant Pathology such as seed testing and basic epidemiology. In addition, NWREC offers numerous platforms (brown bag lunches, field day etc.) to discuss ongoing research, including your own, face-to-face with both academic and general audiences. This exposure helped build my confidence as a scientist and improved the way I communicated data with others.

What Advice do you have for prospective graduate students at WSU Mount Vernon?

Visit if you can to see how lab and field/greenhouse space is coordinated and compare layouts with campus facilities. Ask as many questions as you can and express specific concerns you might have. Be aware that some people do not recommend extension centers for graduate studies but don’t let that deter you if you feel the extension center would be a good fit. If you are good fit then congratulations, you are going to have a unique experience that combines academia with industry and growers.