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Student peanut research competition offers valuable experience

Student posters and papers cover what it means to be in peanut research — "from food science to genomics to genetics to aflatoxin to pest management, from the dirt to the laboratory."

Ron Smith, Editor

August 30, 2023

10 Slides

Bob Kemerait, University of Georgia Extension plant pathologist and newly installed president of the American Peanut Research and Education Society, praises the annual Joe Sugg student paper competition as an opportunity for students to present their research work and to learn about other research.

He also says the competition offers valuable training as they move into the industry.

“I remember my first meeting in 1999, right here in Savannah,” Kemerait said during a break in the 55th annual APRES meeting. “I competed as a graduate student, and I can't remember the exact number but I believe we probably had about 10 students presenting maybe a little less, maybe a little bit more. That was 10 MS and Ph.D. students combined.

“Jump ahead to 2023; we've broken the sessions apart. We have a master's student program and a Ph.D. student competition. We had 14 papers included in the Ph.D. competition, and we had 25 in the masters, so we're close to 40.”

He said they added a poster competition because of the growing number of oral presentations. “We probably have an additional 20 students competing in the poster competition. So, we're at approximately 60 graduate students competing, but more than competing, they are presenting their research to our organization.

“It's a tremendous testament to this organization and the students who are presenting their research.”

Valuable experience

He says it’s a valuable experience. “The first thing, we have six times as many participants over the past 20 plus years; that shows the vibrancy of the organization and the vibrancy of the students and their willingness to participate. That’s the value to the students and to APRES.

“I tell the students in an email every time, that it is a competition, but the most important thing is not who gets first, second, or third. Of course, everybody wants to win, but the opportunity to present research, to correlate research to practice, to present research to a friendly audience, to present to someone who wants to understand, these are the most important factors. The most important thing they get is that experience, and, in a sense, they all ‘win.’

“I think the Joe Sugg sessions helps them succeed. Look at the diversity of their topics. They cover the waterfront of what it means to be in peanut research — from food science to genomics to genetics to aflatoxin to pest management, from the dirt to the laboratory. It's all there.”

Impressive work

He said the graduate student research represented in the papers and posters is impressive work.

“When you look at what's being done, these students are building upon what's been done before. We can take a breath of relief that those who will follow us are probably better than we ever were.”

Kemerait says competition goes beyond the U.S. peanut-producing regions. “This year we had students participating virtually from Uganda and Senegal. As APRES reaches out to countries around the world, we're allowing those students to experience science, to experience peanut work in ways that were never possible before. I'm very proud of that.”

Training ground

Kemerait recalls that he did not win in the 1999 competition but insists that the experience made a difference.

He says students have two good reasons to attend a professional conference. “The first reason is to present the work and to learn about others' work. The other equally important half is learning to communicate effectively outside of a session, to introduce yourself. For the students, it's not just the presentations, it's becoming a professional. This is a training ground.”

He says the presentations and posters this year represent a lot of hard work and dedication to the science of peanut production.

This year’s winners include:

Joe Sugg Ph.D. category

  • 1st place – Jessica Bell, University of Georgia

  • 2nd place – Annabelle McEachin, University of Georgia

  • 3rd place – Jennifer Dudak, Oklahoma State University

Joe Sugg Master's category

  • 1st place - Sydney Webb, University of Georgia

  • 2nd place – Nicholas Garrity, North Carolina State University

  • 3rd place – Megan Mills, Texas Tech University

National Graduate Student Poster Competition Ph.D. category

  • 1st place – Nicholas Shay, University of Georgia

  • 2nd place – Kelvin Awori, University of Georgia

National Graduate Student Poster Competition Master's category:

  • 1st place – Morgan Sysskind, University of Georgia

  • 2nd place – Matthew Tucker, University of Georgia

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About the Author(s)

Ron Smith

Editor, Farm Progress

Ron Smith has spent more than 30 years covering Sunbelt agriculture. Ron began his career in agricultural journalism as an Experiment Station and Extension editor at Clemson University, where he earned a Masters Degree in English in 1975. He served as associate editor for Southeast Farm Press from 1978 through 1989. In 1990, Smith helped launch Southern Turf Management Magazine and served as editor. He also helped launch two other regional Turf and Landscape publications and launched and edited Florida Grove and Vegetable Management for the Farm Press Group. Within two years of launch, the turf magazines were well-respected, award-winning publications. Ron has received numerous awards for writing and photography in both agriculture and landscape journalism. He is past president of The Turf and Ornamental Communicators Association and was chosen as the first media representative to the University of Georgia College of Agriculture Advisory Board. He was named Communicator of the Year for the Metropolitan Atlanta Agricultural Communicators Association. Smith also worked in public relations, specializing in media relations for agricultural companies. Ron lives with his wife Pat in Denton, Texas. They have two grown children, Stacey and Nick, and two grandsons, Aaron and Hunter.

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