Q&A with Jonathan Rosset
Currently, there are approximately 30,000 students enrolled at the University of Manitoba including the roughly 4,000 students in graduate programs. Each student offers a unique perspective and has varying academic experiences, passions, and pursuits. Over the upcoming weeks, the Faculty of Agricultural and Food Sciences will be doing a short Q&A series with students pursuing graduate studies within the Faculty.
M.Sc. student in Plant Science
Advisor: Dr. Rob Gulden
Where are you from?
I’ve lived in Winnipeg all my life. I grew up French-Canadian with French being my first language. My father was born in St-Claude, MB to a farming family while my mother moved from Quebec to Manitoba to learn English and practice psychology. I developed an interest and enthusiasm for agriculture and food production after spending copious amounts of time on my uncles’ dairy-mixed farms.
Where did you do your undergrad degree and what was it in?
In 2011, I completed a Diploma in Agriculture at the University of Manitoba before taking a job in Alberta as a sales agronomist. I decided to come back to the U of M after speaking with Gary Martens, then advisor to the Agroecology program but now retired. Gary convinced me to do a B.Sc. in Agroecology by explaining to me the differences between Agroecology and Agronomy. I felt the Agroecology program and my moral views on the state of agriculture were an ideal match. I completed my Bachelor of Science in Agroecology, with Honours in the spring of 2016.
Tell us about your current research
As soon as I finished my undergraduate degree, I immediately started a M.Sc. in Plant Science under the tutelage of Dr. Rob Gulden whose research program examines all aspects of weed science and ecology. My research project is applying the concept of the Critical Weed Free Period – the length of time a crop must be kept weed-free in order to minimize yield loss – to determine how non-chemical weed management practices in soybean impact productivity. The goal of this project is to determine how the choice of row spacing, soybean density, and cultivar can be applied to improve soybean competitiveness against weeds. Practically, the results of this project will produce recommendations for Manitoba soybean producers to reduce their reliance on herbicides.
What was your initial interest in weed science?
During my time working as a sales agronomist I noticed that most producers were talking about herbicide choices for weed management. The amount of herbicides being used in the system had me thinking about the agro-ecological repercussions of heavy pesticide usage. From my previous degrees, I understood there were other ways to manage weeds and wanted to do what I could to change the weed management conversation towards a more holistic approach, known as Integrated Weed Management. My interest in weed science grew and I am now more interested in how weeds can benefit our ecosystems and what functions they can provide.
What are you hoping your research will achieve?
Apart from producing practical recommendations for Manitoba and Saskatchewan soybean producers, I hope that the results from my research will convince growers and the industry that holistic weed management practices are more important than ever. Occurrences of herbicide-resistant weeds are increasing, while few new herbicide active ingredients are being developed and released to counter the spread. Soybean is a weak competitor against many of Manitoba’s common field weeds, meaning producers commonly apply herbicides multiple times during a season to control weeds. However, soybeans are responsive to other weed control management practices rather than relying only on herbicide use to control weeds. I hope that the results from my research will lead to reduced herbicide applications, while at the same time reducing the overall cost of production and reducing the herbicide load on the environment.
What’s the coolest thing you’ve gotten to do or the coolest thing you’ve learned?
That’s a tough question to answer as I consider everything new to be the coolest thing! But to narrow it to one thing, I would say it was my undergraduate research project. For that project, I designed and executed an experiment that examined the effects of commercial herbicide formulations on the soil bacterial and fungal communities at the phylum level. To complete that project, I taught myself lab skills for extracting DNA from soil samples and purifying the sub-samples for processing with real time qPCR. Learning that process was really cool, yet it paled in comparison to learning how to apply both univariate and multivariate statistical methods to analyze the data. That experience made me wish I took more statistics courses!
When you were a kid what did you see yourself doing as a career?
When I was in high school, I wanted to be a virologist or an infectious disease researcher. Before the Health Canada microbiology laboratory on Arlington Avenue became operational, they held an open house that I convinced my father to tour with me. I was so amazed at the various labs, especially the level 4 containment, and the types of research projects done there. I had made up my mind that I was going to work there someday. I wanted to work on diseases caused by the Ebola virus or the prion causing Creutzfeldt-Jakob disease. While that never came to pass, I am still fascinated by the microbiological world and take every chance to keep learning about it.
What’s the best advice you’ve been given?
My parents were both educators. They always told me that if you don’t like your socio-economic status, the only way that you’ll change it is through education. That advice has given me the courage to go back to university as a mature student and whenever someone asks, I give them the same piece of advice. It takes courage to step out of our comfort zones, but once we do, the world opens up and we realize how small our perspective was. I’ve tried to live up to that advice my entire life, and I believe that everyone should always try to improve themselves. I hope that one day we learn to stop comparing ourselves to others and work on being better human beings to each other and the world around us.