Informational Interview with an Innovative Associate Professor
Kent D. Kobayashi, PhD discusses how students can become pioneers in the plant sciences
This article was originally published as part of the ASPB Conviron Scholars program
Kent D. Kobayashi, PhD is an Associate Professor in the Department of Tropical Plant and Soil Sciences and the University of Hawaiʻi at Mānoa. He joined UH Mānoa in 1982 and has a three-way split in responsibilities between research, teaching, and extension. His most significant extension project is the Farmer’s Bookshelf, co-created with H.C. Bittenbender and I. Scott Campbell. It started as a floppy disc program in 1987 and has evolved into an internet resource for farmers and researchers growing crops in Hawaiʻi. He is also an American Society of Horticultural Science (ASHS) Fellow.
To stand out as a plant scientist, Kobayashi emphasized, you need to be “unique and pioneering.” More specifically, he believes that early career plant scientists should choose research in a field that is original and novel. Kobayashi gave his own research as an example. While the primary focus of climate change research has been on slowing down the impacts, his approach is to identify best management practices for possible (and perhaps inevitable) future climates. As such, part of Kobayashi’s research includes studying the effects of light on plants, also known as photobiology, in environments that may be a reality in thirty to fifty years. Similarly, his lab utilizes LEDs and photoselective shade cloths for use in hydroponics, ornamentals, and space farming.
Kobayashi finds inspiration outside of plant science, particularly in the fields of medicine, engineering, physics, and astronomy. From his perspective, cutting-edge technologies “trickle down” from these fields into the plant sciences. It is imperative to keep current with these fields and find creative applications within your own research. To be a pioneer, you must not only recognize new possible fields of research, but also be flexible and creative in how you approach a new field. Kobayashi began in entomology, then agronomy, and later in horticulture studying fruits. Today his focus is broad and includes photobiology, hydroponics, mobile technology, and space farming. When I asked why he chose plant science, he said he “got tired” of entomology- he eventually “got tired” of fruits, too. His candid and lighthearted answer reflects on his adaptiveness. Passion is required to be successful, to paraphrase Kobayashi. It’s easier to work hard on a project that you are passionate about.
Though research is typically the highest priority for graduate students, Kobayashi encourages his students to gain broad experiences outside of the lab. A CV is often the first introduction to a potential primary investigator or employer. When crafting your CV as a graduate student, Kobayashi suggests highlighting diverse experiences. The section pertaining to your research is only a small fraction of the whole CV: it’s important to dedicate time to other aspects of your professional and academic development. Kobayashi’s own CV reflects a career full of pioneering research and a willingness to help students find their own unique path as scientists.