Norsworthy, nationally-recognized U of A weed scientist, shepherds next generation to the fore
By Ryan McGeeney
U of A System Division of Agriculture
May 11, 2018
- Norsworthy working with more than a dozen graduate and post-docs within weed science program
- Program attracts graduate students from around country, globe
FAYETTEVILLE, Ark. — For many staff and faculty within the University of Arkansas System Division of Agriculture, most work days begin at 8 a.m. But when you’re riding herd over more than a dozen graduate and post-doctoral students at one of the country’s most sought-after weed science programs, you’re going to want to go ahead and give yourself a two-hour head start.
Jason Norsworthy, Professor of Weed Science within the Dale Bumpers College of Agricultural, Food and Life Science, said he comes in most days at 6 a.m.
“There’s a lot of fundraising and networking inherent in managing a program like this, and I can get more of that done — returning phone calls, sending emails — in those first two hours than I can the rest of the day, once the phone starts ringing and students start coming by,” Norsworthy said.
Norsworthy, who was earlier this year named a fellow of the Weed Science Society of America — an unusual honorific accomplishment for anyone not rapidly approaching retirement — currently leads one of the most sought-after weed science programs in the country, attracting graduate students from across the United States and beyond.
Robert Bacon, head of the Crop, Soil and Environmental Sciences Department, said that while some research programs prefer to simply hire full-time employees and technicians to assist in university research, Norsworthy has incorporated the inherent mentorship aspect of deploying graduate and post-doctoral students to pursuing the Division of Agriculture’s weed science research.
“With this approach, not only do you get the work done, the resulting product is bigger than the research itself,” Bacon said. “It’s the development of people.”
“One reason people sometimes choose to do it the other way is because working with graduate students just takes so much more time. But Jason thinks it’s worth it, and so do I,” he said.
Naturally, an understanding of how to control weeds in row crops and other agricultural ventures is key to farming anywhere in the world. Part of the appeal of Norsworthy’s program is that it gives graduate students the opportunity to develop their own scientific research skills to a level that can then land them sought-after positions throughout the world, he said.
“They’re going to become proficient in all aspects of the wide array of crops we grow in Arkansas,” Norsworthy said. “They’re going to get a good understanding of applied aspects of weed science as it applies to cotton, corn, soybeans, rice and grain sorghum production. But in addition to that, they’re going to take part of the state of the art research on pressing issues and develop an understanding of general aspects of weed science. It’s a skill set that is sought for by employers and they can apply these skills anywhere in the United States, and be an effective weed scientist.”
The efficacy of Norsworthy’s approach can be measured, in part, by his former students’ achievements and affects on the larger scientific and agricultural community.
“For me, seeing the students succeed while in the program and following completion is the most rewarding part of this,” Norsworthy said. “I get up every morning and get excited when I see the honors these current and former students receive.”
Prashant Jha, an Associate Professor of Weed Science at Montana State University, was one of Norsworthy’s first PhD students, when he was teaching at Clemson University in 2004. He later worked for Norsworthy at the Division of Agriculture as a postdoctoral researcher. In 2016, Jha was named Outstanding Weed Scientist, Early Career, by the Western Society of Weed Science and most recently was named Outstanding Young Weed Scientist by the Weed Science Society of America, a national honor.
“I still remember those days from Clemson when Dr. Norsworthy used to spend endless hours with me and other fellow graduate students in fields during the summer, and working with us on data analysis and presentations until late night in preparation for the professional weed science meetings,” Jha said.
“Dr. Norsworthy shaped my career as an effective writer, thinker, and a successful weed scientist,” Jha said. “His graduate students excel in weed science discipline, academia or industry — I’m not aware of any other weed scientist in the United States who has achieved such a high level of national and international reputation for graduate education and research in such a short period of time.”
Mason Young, a technical sales specialist with the SePRO Corporation, credited Norsworthy’s program with helping him to become a more well-rounded weed scientist, after having already completed several internships in the field of crop science.
“In his program the graduate students work as a team,” Young said. “We worked together to get the large amount of research he has completed. I was not only able to gain experience in weed science, but the agronomics and the integrated pest management components of all of these crops. We were responsible for the research trials from cultivation and planting through harvest.
“As a masters student, that brought on a large work load and responsibility, but it was awesome to be the first one seeing and doing the hands-on field work,” he said. “We also had ample opportunities to attend scientific conferences gaining writing, speaking and poster experience, networking with industry professionals throughout our time as graduate students. I also was able to publish all four data chapters of my thesis to scholarly journals.”
“I simply don’t believe there are any programs where a student can be exposed to as much as we were in two years I spent with Dr. Norsworthy,” he said.
“You have to have a high degree of organizational skill and, bluntly, have to be willing to work long hours just to do it that way — which Norsworthy does,” Bacon said. “Not many people reach that level of success without an awful lot of work.”
“For the graduate students, the benefit of his program, and the benefit to the state of Arkansas and the benefit to the larger research community, is that you get great finished products, and as you build a program of that stature, you start attracting some really talented people.”
To learn about weed science research in Arkansas, contact your local Cooperative Extension Service agent or visit www.uaex.edu.
About the Division of Agriculture
The University of Arkansas System Division of Agriculture’s mission is to strengthen agriculture, communities, and families by connecting trusted research to the adoption of best practices. Through the Agricultural Experiment Station and the Cooperative Extension Service, the Division of Agriculture conducts research and extension work within the nation’s historic land grant education system.
The Division of Agriculture is one of 20 entities within the University of Arkansas System. It has offices in all 75 counties in Arkansas and faculty on five system campuses.
The University of Arkansas System Division of Agriculture offers all its Extension and Research programs to all eligible persons without regard to race, color, sex, gender identity, sexual orientation, national origin, religion, age, disability, marital or veteran status, genetic information, or any other legally protected status, and is an Affirmative Action/Equal Opportunity Employer.
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Media Contact: Ryan McGeeney
Dir. of Communication Services
U of A System Division of Agriculture
Cooperative Extension Service