Dear Friends, Alumni, Students, and Faculty:
The following letter is entitled “Plant Doctors: An Innovative Solution for Complex Systems” and was originally published in the summer 2014 edition of DPM News. As the UF, DPM Program continues to receive questions about the Plant Doctor Profession, I am providing a slightly modified version of this information to you as a letter from the DPM Director on the website homepage. Thank you for your interest in the DPM Program and your feedback or comments are always welcome!
Agricultural and plant health issues in the 21st century require a novel educational approach, and the University of Florida, College of Agricultural and Life Sciences (UF, CALS) answered the need for agricultural education innovation in 1999. Traditional doctoral (PhD) programs in plant pathology, entomology, nematology, agronomy, horticulture, and soil science focus on one disciplinary component of plant health problem-solving. Furthermore, many PhD graduate programs provide detailed study for only a subset of the discipline or an individual species. The traditional PhD has primarily trained graduates for placement in academic faculty positions. The question remains-why do higher education institutions continue to produce large numbers of highly specialized PhD candidates trained for only a few academic positions? Today, both the University of Florida and the University of Nebraska offer the only worldwide interdisciplinary professional Plant Doctor educational programs.
As the UF, DPM Program Director, I am interested in 1) continually raising our already high programmatic standards 2) soliciting additional premier applicants for the DPM Program 3) efforts to fund the majority of full-time DPM students on graduate assistantships and 4) increasing Plant Doctor educational enrollment. Our enthusiastic alumni and students prove the DPM Program’s success and future potential. Our graduation rates for the Plant Doctor profession do not meet our increasing employer needs. Each edition of DPM News highlights accomplishments of our outstanding alumni and faculty. Our UF DPM Faculty are PhD discipline-trained scientists who understand the value of the Plant Doctor Profession. Although expanded student enrollment and program offerings would benefit the Plant Doctor Profession, student enrollment limits should occur once graduation rates approach demand for employment opportunity. During 2013-2014, the UF DPM Program began intensively following the achievements of alumni. Statistics relating to our alumni will be periodically updated on our website and in DPM News.
Profile statistic information for our UF Graduate School PhD programs is available at:
The following is a combined 2008-2013 summary of the UF discipline department data for Plant Pathology, Entomology and Nematology, Forest Resource and Conservation, Agronomy, Horticultural Sciences, and Soil and Water Science.
A total of 228 graduates occurred from the collective disciplines. Each department averaged 38 graduates, and the total number of graduates per department ranged from 19 to 63. The overall average job placement per department following graduation is:
Post-doctoral associate: 41%
Non-Academic Appointment: 27%
No Data: 15%
Within a similar time-frame, the DPM Program graduated 28 students. The data below provides the information as of July 2014 regarding DPM employment data for 2008-2013 graduates, accordingly to DPM Program collected data from alumni. It should be noted that the PhD profile data as presented above only provide automatically generated data from the UF Graduate School immediately following graduation. As noted from our online DPM information related to the job placement of all alumni, the DPM degree prepares students for jobs. Many of our graduates are in high-demand and may choose to change jobs 2 or 3 years following initial employment. Other graduates choose to remain with their initial employer as his/her job satisfaction is so high. High quality, motivated DPM graduates have unlimited job potential for employment as professional Plant Doctors.
Most PhD graduates interested in academia will spend an extended career as either a post-doctoral associate or a non-tenure track faculty member. The historical model for PhD education focuses on student job placement in tenure-track, academic positions. Within Florida and throughout the U.S., the job opportunities do not relate to the number of current PhD students.
The professional Plant Doctor (DPM/H) programs prepare students for real-world, interdisciplinary agricultural and plant health jobs. Students entering the Plant Doctor Profession need a strong scientific background (BS) in the biological or agricultural sciences. Intensive agricultural production knowledge is not necessary prior to entering the DPM program, but a passion for learning is an essential ingredient to success.
Although Florida is often associated with tourism and urban sprawl, agriculture continues to be a vital component of our economy.
The following information is a direct quote from the Florida Department of Agriculture and Consumer Services (FDACS) website
“Florida has 47,500 commercial farms, using a total of 9.25 million acres; Florida ranks second in the value of vegetable production; first in production value for oranges, grapefruit, fresh snap beans, sweet corn, watermelons, fresh cucumbers, fresh market tomatoes, squash and sugarcane; second in the production of greenhouse and nursery products, bell peppers, strawberries, and tangerines; 12th in beef cows; and accounts for 65 percent of total U.S. citrus production. Florida ranks seventh in agricultural exports with $4 billion.”
Students enrolled within the University of Florida, DPM program benefit from the expertise of faculty from 7 primary discipline departments, 10 Research and Education Centers, and the Gainesville, Florida campus. The University of Florida also houses the Southern Plant Diagnostic Network (SPDN) Regional Center. The majority of DPM students complete their Plant Diagnostic Internship in the SPDN Regional Center Hub Laboratory. The SPDN has also coordinated and housed many of the National Plant Diagnostic Network (NPDN) First Detector educational programmatic materials since 2002. Continued efforts to educate highly trained Plant Doctors may assist in the development of novel approaches for education, prevention, pest management, and issue prioritization.
Our DPM students also have opportunities to learn from outstanding regulatory, diagnostic, and applied research expertise within FDACS, Division of Plant Industry (FDACS-DPI) and the USDA-APHIS-PPQ. Our fall 2014 edition of DPM News also specifically highlights an official Memorandum of Understanding (MOU) between the UF, DPM Program and FDACS-DPI for student training purposes. FDACS-DPI has one of the most substantial state-based diagnostic facilities in the country, and houses one of the larger arthropod reference collections in North America, the Florida State Collection of Arthropods (FSCA). The combination of expertise throughout the state of Florida provides an ideal environment for optimal student learning. USDA-APHIS-PPQ has a significant cohort of professionals employed in Florida. Furthermore, potential USDA-APHIS-PPQ internship opportunities for students may occur throughout the U.S.
Finally, the DPM Program’s foundational relationship with industry remains vital to our success. During the fall of 2014, the DPM Program officially transitioned to a new substantial internship requirement. All DPM students are currently required to complete at least two, 3-credit substantial internships. At least one of the internships completed by a student must be in industry. Furthermore, one of the internships completed by a student must occur away from Gainesville, Florida. Prior to the substantial internship requirement, students completed internships in a phased multi-component internship requirement. Students must propose his/her substantial internship both to their supervisory committee, and the DPM Director. The new substantial internship requirement provides an additional uniform quality control metric for DPM Program students. The intensive substantial internship requirement only further serves to raise the already high standards set forth by our 1) rigorous and uniformly administered written competency area exams (Plant, Soil, and Weed Science; Plant Pathology; and Entomology and Nematology) 2) final oral comprehensive exam 3) hands-on courses and 4) required core internships. Additionally, the implementation of the substantial internship requirement and curriculum revision (as discussed in the spring 2014 edition of DPM News) allowed us to reduce the overall credit hours required from 120 to 100. The credit hour reduction and curriculum revision launched during the fall of 2014 occurred concurrently with a credit hour reduction (-to 100 credits) for the University of Nebraska-Lincoln DPH Program. Our credit hour reduction and curriculum revision allows for a more uniform and higher standard of accountability for DPM students while providing a cost reduction.
Prospective students interested in the Plant Doctor Profession should consider the UF, DPM or the University of Nebraska-Lincoln, DPH degree. The doctoral-level breadth of knowledge and experiences gained by program graduates simply cannot currently be obtained elsewhere. Feel free to contact either the DPM/H program with program-specific questions.
Amanda C. Hodges, Ph.D.