A Note from the Chairs

Headshot of Chair Sheng Luan

As we welcome another academic year, we take a moment for reflection and celebration. It is a moment to recognize the achievements we have made—both individually and as a community—and to express gratitude to all those who have been an integral part of our department’s success. 

One defining event that marked this year was the ratification of new contracts for all University of California graduate students, postdocs, and research staff. Our campuses were shaken by a historic labor strike last fall, and we are proud that PMB emerged from the strike as a community united by mutual respect and empathy. The advocacy of our students, faculty, and staff has been invaluable in making PMB a place where everyone can thrive. 

At PMB, we hold steadfast to our core values of pursuing excellence in research and education while fostering a climate of diversity, equity, inclusion, and belonging. Throughout the year, our community has organized various events to promote a sense of togetherness. From the student-organized PMB coffee hours known as “Cafe Kiki,” to our student-postdoc seminar series, social events, and the directed conversations led by our diversity committee, we have provided platforms for community-centered discussions that have been instrumental in building a supportive and inclusive environment within our department.

Head shot of Britt Glaunsinger

Credit Elena Zhukova

This year, we also witnessed exciting developments in Koshland Hall, which is home to the majority of PMB labs. With the unveiling of our newly redecorated conference room, adorned with beautiful art created by our own PMB community, we have cultivated a space that reflects our shared spirit of creativity and collaboration. Additionally, we commemorated the contributions of former PMB laboratory manager Harry Y. Tsujimoto and his wife Grace Kase by installing a plaque at Koshland Hall in honor of their ongoing commitment to and support of PMB. This year we saw the retirement of Steve Ruzin, the longstanding director of the Biological Imaging Facility, and are thrilled that the facility remains in outstanding hands with Denise Schichnes serving as its new director.

We take great pride in the accomplishments of our trainees, both during their time at Berkeley and as they embark on their future endeavors. Indeed, the achievements of our alumni reflect the quality of education we provide. Once again, Berkeley's graduate programs have received top rankings, with PMB’s microbiology achieving an impressive second place nationally. Furthermore, our plant biology program—spanning areas such as genetics and genomics, cell biology, and biochemistry—has contributed to Berkeley ranking third-highest in biological sciences. We are excited to have successfully completed our first year in the new PhD student rotation program, enabling students to join thesis labs at the beginning of the spring semester after completing three research rotations in the fall.

We have set ambitious goals for the upcoming year. We aim to finalize the recruitment of a new plant biology professor who will serve as the director of the Plant Gene Expression Center (PGEC), ensuring the continuation of a long-standing, synergistic relationship between PMB and the PGEC. Additionally, we will be launching a search for a fungal biologist so that we retain our strength in this field following the recent retirements of our eminent fungal biology Professors John Taylor, Tom Bruns, and Louise Glass—as well as plant biology Professors Michael Freeling and Brian Staskawicz.  As part of our commitment to the success of our junior faculty members, we have implemented a junior faculty mentoring network to help them receive the support they need to thrive as they launch their careers in PMB. 

Our department is also participating in a 10-year departmental review. We are eager to incorporate your feedback into our plans to update our academic programs and create a more inclusive and supportive department culture. In the upcoming weeks, current students, postdocs, staff, and faculty will receive an email link to a brief Climate Survey, and current and former undergraduates will receive a link to a brief Academic Survey. The surveys are anonymous, and no identifying information will be connected to the responses. The information will help us to prioritize actions and initiatives to improve the undergraduate educational experience and promote a healthy climate for our entire community. Look out for the surveys, and thank you for your engagement in this very important endeavor.

As we move forward, the future of PMB shines brightly. Our research and teaching activities are aligned with the pressing needs of our society, focusing on sustainable agriculture, food security, a clean environment, renewable energy, and human health. Our faculty are at the very top of their respective fields, as evidenced by the remarkable number of honors, citations, and grants they are awarded each year. It is through our collective efforts that we can carry forward Berkeley’s legacy of excellence in plant and microbial biology.

In closing, we want to express our deepest gratitude to each one of you. It is your ongoing support, engagement, and dedication to PMB that have made our achievements possible. We encourage you to stay connected with PMB and each other, as your continued involvement is vital to our collective growth. May you continue to excel, inspire, and make a positive impact wherever you go.

With warm regards,
Sheng Luan, PMB Chair
Britt Glaunsinger, PMB Associate Chair