My name is Zack Brym and I am working to finish up my Ph.D. at Utah State University. I have been a member of the Society for three years and was honored to chair the Graduate Student Working Group (GRAD) this last year. Throughout my short experience with ASHS, I have felt very welcomed by the Society, especially for an 'outsider' coming from a background in ecology. Many other graduate students seem to feel welcomed also and continue to fill the ranks of the membership.
I am inspired by the energy building among the graduate students and dream of a long career in the presence of such motivating peers. To be sure, much of the energy from the graduate students is in response to the selfless and genuine mentorship offered to us by members of the society. A special thanks goes to Dr. Kent Kobayashi, Dr. Sandra Wilson and the ASHS Staff. These folks and many others have ensured that resources and encouragement are available to grad students. As a result, participation by the graduate students is up in many regards.
Every year, more students are applying for travel scholarships, getting support to attend the conference and joining the conversation at the GRAD annual business meeting. Every year that I've attended the conference, the Society president has also been in attendance at the GRAD business meeting to answer questions and show support for the students. It has been a pleasure to get to know these individuals and I applaud their ambition and vision for the future of the Society. ASHS Past-President Dr. Mary Meyer is continuing involvement in her efforts to determine the public perception of horticulture through the Seed Your Future! program. In her update on the program this year, she said "We need to give horticulture a young face, a new face". Her position is obvious through her actions, but it's great to hear this is part of the dialog at ASHS. ASHS President Dr. Curt Rom is spear-heading a strategic planning process this year that aims to be inclusive of all levels of the membership as he most recently outlined in the September 2015 ASHS Newsletter. His focus is to ensure the Society remains sustainable by focusing on the "organization’s strengths and its vision for achievement in the future". We've been working hard this year to communicate better within GRAD and the strategic planning activity was a great way to generate some lively discussion about the vision we have for the Society's future.
So what did we hear from the graduate students this year at the meeting? We are very excited to support the open source publication efforts of ASHS journals. We appreciate the free year of membership and the access to travel grants, but we want to hear more about why membership in the society is important and how it is more broadly beneficial to students. We want more mentorship opportunities with faculty and industry representatives throughout the year. We believe we can do a better job orienting newcomers to the Society and at conferences. From what I hear, this is something that has been around in the past, but now has greater potential with electronic communication and resources at ashs.org. We would like to see members interacting in more events out of the conference, both on-line and in person. Overall, it seems like grad students just want to be more involved at ASHS: to facilitate collaborative research, to develop programs at the conference, and to be a strong voice for planning the future of the Society.
In response to the growing voice of the grad students, we've adopted an inclusive leadership structure with a set of co-chairs at the helm and an open committee system for anyone to take charge of aspects of the working group that they are passionate about. If you are a grad student reading this and want to get involved, send a note to the 2016 GRAD Co-chairs Jessica Chitwood and Alex Rajewski!
So as I begin my exit from the grad student ranks to enter horticulture as an aspiring early career scientist, my biggest question remains: How many grad student members are still going to be members in five years? I want to still be around and I hope you do, too!