A Note from the Chair

I became Chair of PMB after serving as Associate Chair for three years. Together with Associate Chair Britt Glaunsinger and PMB Manager Joanne Straley, our team is working hard on two priority areas: to support our faculty in their career success by ensuring the best possible services and to enhance the student experience by helping them in their academic and career development. In the context of prioritizing student career development, we established the new committee on “Student Experience and Alumni Engagement” to connect the current students and alumni into a “family network.” This newsletter is the voice of the new committee to share the success stories of our faculty, students, and alumni.

“Pursuing excellence in research and education while fostering a climate of diversity, equity, inclusion, and belonging” is the PMB motto. Working in PMB for 27 years, I learnt what these values mean: while we often come from different backgrounds and have distinct life experiences, our passion for pursuing science brought us together. This community provides a place for all of us to interact with and learn from each other, understand and respect each other, and truly help and support each other so that we can all thrive together. This is the very foundation for PMB’s excellence in research and education. Visiting many other universities through the years, I’ve found PMB/UC Berkeley the best place to call home for research, teaching, and community belonging. Not only do we have a rich history of excellence in research and education, we also have exceptionally friendly and supportive colleagues.

The current outlook for PMB remains strong. Over the last four years, we have recruited seven new faculty members while seeing a slightly larger number of retirements. This is a historical faculty turnover in our department, and our new faculty have brought state-of-art platforms and expertise into PMB to ensure the renewal of knowledge and a vibrant future. In the same period, our graduate program remained steady and undergraduate majors doubled. This year we have remodeled our PhD program to enable students to begin their thesis research earlier, at the start of the spring semester, after completing three laboratory rotations in the fall. In addition to providing students additional time in their thesis lab without extending the length of the PhD, this change is enabling us to sustainably maintain our status as a top-ranked graduate program for the foreseeable future. As a department we have grown and developed stronger bonds as we work together to cope with local and global challenges (e.g., the COVID pandemic, social and structural injustices, wildfires, and power shutdowns). I believe we have truly become a community with a strong common goal of pursuing excellence in research and education while fostering a diverse and inclusive culture.

While our research excellence is evaluated by the discoveries and innovation happening here on campus, the quality of our education is reflected by our students on campus and beyond after they graduate and become alumni. PMB is ranked as a world-leading program, meaning that we have trained world leaders in our fields. We are so proud to see many alumni become world leaders and pleased to highlight in this Newsletter some outstanding accomplishments of our alumni. I am also very excited to report to you that we recently received the historically largest gifts from our alumni and friends to establish endowed faculty chairs and graduate fellowships.

As we emerge from the pandemic, the future looks bright for PMB because our research and teaching activities are closely geared toward a sustainable society in the context of green agriculture, food security, a clean environment, renewable energy, and human health. Let’s work together to continue and renew the Berkeley legacy of excellence in plant and microbial biology to contribute to our societal wellbeing.

Sheng Luan
Chair, Department of Plant & Microbial Biology

Back to Spring 2022 issue