RESEARCH TRIANGPLE PARK, N.C. – Most people hate stress in the workplace. David Hubert, Ph.D., thrives on it.
But Hubert is neither a therapist nor a masochist. He’s a passionate crop physiologist working with a team at BASF Plant Science in Research Triangle Park. They’re looking for new and better ways to help plants deal with stresses such as drought and infections.
The significance of the work is underscored by recent news accounts of drought-plagued farms across the Corn Belt. Prices of the grain are pushing record highs as farmers plow their parched fields and hope for more rain next year – and more drought-resistant seed options.
Hubert first got his foot in the BASF door in 2008 through the Industrial Fellowship Program, funded jointly by participating companies and the North Carolina Biotechnology Center. Since then his career has blossomed like the plants in his lab.
A native of Tell City, Indiana, Hubert came to North Carolina in 2000 after receiving his undergraduate degree at Indiana University in Bloomington. He completed graduate work at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill in 2007 and starting a postdoctoral residency there. That’s when he became intrigued with the new fellowship program being developed by NCBiotech.
“I received an email about it from one of the student offices on campus,” he recalled. “I had already decided I really liked this area and wanted to find a position here in industry. But I kept running into the same problem everyone seems to have when leaving school: you need experience as a requirement for most positions, but right out of school you don’t have that experience.
“This post-doctoral Industrial Fellowship Program is great for that. A company gets a discount on a fellow’s salary for two years while a local student gets an opportunity for experience. It’s a win-win for everybody. I don’t know of any other programs that exist like that.”
Hubert applied for a fellowship, and was accepted into the program’s inaugural class. Within 18 months he became a full-time BASF scientist, and has since been promoted to lab manager of his research group, specializing in yield enhancements for corn, soybeans, cotton, canola, and wheat.
It was great timing. Earlier this year BASF decided to move its global Plant Science headquarters to the Triangle, putting the young scientist square in the middle of a growing operation.
Collaborations “one of the big selling points”
“When I first started looking at grad schools I wanted to keep as many opportunities open as possible,” said Hubert. “One of the big selling points for universities in this area is that we have such strong biotech collaborations. That was definitely appealing to me as a new grad student, to be able to make those kinds of connections – to come out of school and then to possibly move into an industry position here. North Carolina offers those kinds of opportunities.”
He said he’s impressed by collaborations among university and industrial researchers across the state, often fed by NCBiotech activities such as the Plant Molecular Biology Consortium and other exchange groups.
Hubert, who lives in Durham, said the Triangle’s rich academic and economic diversity has contributed to other important parts of life, too.
“My long-time girlfriend is a microbiologist in grad school at UNC,” he said. “I think a lot of scientists are married to each other. Two scientists finding jobs in one place can be difficult, but having a concentration of universities here is going to make our lives a lot easier.”
Hubert said he recognizes that some people are uncomfortable with biotechnology. “Education is important to understanding,” he said. “And it’s also important that those of us not just in industry, but in academia as well, remain open to public dialogue.”
Hubert said he and his girlfriend consider their biotech careers “a calling.”
“I think everyone who works in biotech wants to use what we learn to help society in general — to use whatever skills we have to help feed the world and make it a better place. And I really appreciate the Biotech Center and the people of the State of North Carolina for providing such great opportunities to me and helping to advance my career. It’s something I really don’t’ think you’ll find anywhere else in the country.”