Class of 2021: Two College of Agriculture and Life Sciences graduate students recognized for hard work
Food science and technology Ph.D. candidate Qing Jin smiled when she thought about all the hard work that led up to her being named the College of Agriculture and Life Sciences outstanding Ph.D. student for 2021.
The award is the culmination of nearly five years of work for a graduate student that came to an entirely new part of the world to study. Jin, originally from Baoding, China, has a strong eagerness to learn from the world around her, which led her to the Department of Food Science and Technology in 2016. She faced the hardships and challenges of being far from family and a different culture, but her department’s faculty, staff, and students made the transition easy.
“My peers here are very friendly and I saw firsthand how inclusive Virginia Tech is,” Jin said. “When I first arrived, we had a potluck and other activities where I could ask any questions. People are always willing to help.”
As a researcher, Jin examines food waste, which has economic and energy ramifications across the globe. Jin focuses on the conversion of grape pomace – the pulpy material leftover after grapes are crushed for juices – and she has worked to find ways to reuse this material to make multiple products, including biofuels, grapeseed oil, and polyphenols.
“I found this very meaningful for the development of our society and also the food and agricultural systems, especially regarding the sustainability aspect of this research,” Jin said.
This research, along with her other involvement as the Sigma Xi Virginia Tech Chapter secretary and and the food science department Graduate Committee student representative, earned Jin the outstanding Ph.D. candidate recognition.
“I couldn’t believe it was me,” Jin said. “I received a lot of support from my advisor, Haibo Huang, during my studies at Virginia Tech.”
Following the completion of her program, Jin hopes to stay in academia to continue research on the sustainable development of food and to help future Ph.D. candidates.
For Sterling, Virginia, native Nick Lord, his journey to being named the college’s outstanding master’s student began with a mock job interview during his senior year of undergraduate studies at Virginia Tech.
As part of his senior capstone course, Bo Zhang, an assistant professor in the School of Plant and Environmental Sciences, conducted that interview. Unbeknownst to Lord, Zhang was in search of a graduate student. What started out as a mock interview turned into a real interview and an opportunity to stay at Virginia Tech as a graduate research assistant with Zhang.
Zhang pushed him out of his comfort zone and helped Lord see what he could achieve.
“I remember reading about the outstanding graduate students from the past and was so impressed by all that they were able to accomplish. I never thought I'd be capable of winning the award myself,” said Lord. “In fact, I told myself that if I worked hard enough during my studies, I could have a chance at an award like that during the next stage of my career. When I won the award, I was shocked. Because of Dr. Zhang, I had already closed that perceived distance without even realizing.”
Earlier in 2021, Lord began the transition to a research associate position in the seed industry, where he hopes to utilize the knowledge he gained as a graduate student on soybean research and plant breeding.