My Research Journey

Ever since I was a kid I was amazed by science and discovering something new, doing things that no one had done before. I like when I can practically apply things that I learn in class. This is one of the main reasons that I chose to study agriculture, or to be specific, plant protection. I found it to be applied biology. I also realized that it is a rapidly developing field of science and that it will continue to develop even faster in the future considering the food supply challenges that are waiting for us. It was a perfect opportunity to combine my interest in plants with my love of research. The Global UGRAD Program provided me with an opportunity to make those dreams come true.

Milan in the plant pathology lab at the University of Minnesota – Twin Cities

When I came to the U.S., I was looking to get some practical research experience in my field, knowing that it’s easier to do this in the States rather than in Serbia. It took me only a few meetings with my advisor and professors at the  University of Minnesota – Twin Cities to become a part of the soybean pathology laboratory led by Dr. Kurle. It was more than just a team of scientists and students: it was really one small family united by research. My professor, Dr. James Kurle, and a research scientist, Grace Anderson, are doing an amazing job keeping the research going and holding the “family” together!

I was working with scientists there the whole first semester on my own part of the extensive project concerning soybean resistance to Sudden Death Syndrome disease. We were also looking for a possible correlation between foliar and root symptoms which allowed us to suggest better resistance screening methods for this disease. I have spent over 200 hours in the lab, doing things that I like, things that inspire me. This research will provide farmers with the necessary knowledge to help them assess the disease more precisely and provide breeders with valuable information on how to breed for resistance to this disease. During my work in the lab, we conducted many side-experiments, which created many opportunities for future research.

National Conference on Undergraduate Research 1- Lexington, KY
Milan (front) with his University of Minnesota colleagues at the NCUR conference

When the research was complete, I was honored to present that work at the biggest national undergraduate research conference, the National Conference on Undergraduate Research 2014 (NCUR) that took place at the University of Kentucky. I flew all the way to Lexington with other undergraduates to talk about the work we had done, not only promoting my research, but promoting undergraduate research in general. My presentation went smoothly. It was very well accepted by people from my field of study. It was very exciting to be with several thousand undergrad students who are doing research and development in all different fields of study across America and to hear about their work and experiences. I learned about many different research approaches, which definitely improved my own skills.  I think that undergraduate research is very important in all fields of study and that conferences such as NCUR are a good opportunity for making new professional connections and improving presentation skills.

The University of Minnesota delegation on the University of Kentucky campus

However, this trip was also an opportunity to experience the American south. Even though I spent only three days in Lexington, I got a good feel for that part of the country. We had time to go to the horse race and see why Lexington is the horse capital of the world. On my last day in Lexington, the NCAA final four game between Kentucky and Wisconsin was about to start. The game was scheduled to start at 8pm, and all the bars were full of people dressed in blue beginning at 5pm! Basketball is another very important thing in Lexington. People were so excited about the game that it was unbelievable! They were so confident that they were going to win the championship that they made limited edition blue-labeled bottles of Bourbon in advance. Unfortunately, our plane took off just before the game started so we were unable to watch. I was surprised when I heard the pilot’s voice giving us updates about the game from time to time. When I got back to Minneapolis, I heard that Kentucky won by just one point! I heard that people were celebrating all around Kentucky the whole night; some of them were burning the couches on the street, which has basically become a tradition there when they win an important game.

Summarizing my trip to the NCUR conference, I have to say that it was beneficial both from the academic and cultural standpoint. It has definitely improved my professional skills and gave me the extra motivation and confidence to move forward! On the other hand, I saw a part of the country that I wouldn’t have seen otherwise and met so many people from my field of study and beyond!

– Milan Milenovic, University of Minnesota – Twin Cities

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