May 5, 2020
Plant scientist Jennifer Schmidt honored for organic soil research
John Stumbos

Jennifer Schmidt, a Ph.D. candidate in plant sciences, has been selected as the 2020 recipient of the Kinsella Memorial Prize for outstanding research on a doctoral dissertation.

Jennifer Schmidt mug
Jennifer Schmidt 

Her research focuses on the microbiome of the soil around plant roots—the rhizosphere—and its functional implications for sustainable agriculture. Specifically, she examines how domestication and breeding have affected the maize rhizosphere and how it adapts to low-synthetic-input and organically managed systems. The title of her thesis is “Traits, trades, and tradeoffs: Impacts of directed selection on the maize rhizobiome and rhizosphere interactions.”

“Complex interactions between plant roots, the rhizosphere microbiome, and the soil environment have a tremendous, often underappreciated influence on agroecosystem productivity and ecosystem services,” Schmidt says.

The committee members who selected Schmidt were clearly impressed with her scholarly output—eight first-author and four co-author articles in quality peer-reviewed journals in less than five years. Schmidt also distinguished herself by contributing to the education and success of others through her leadership in the UC Davis chapter of GOALS, peer mentoring incoming graduate students and participation in graduate admissions.

“The best evidence of meeting the college’s mission to serve agriculture, the environment and human health and development,” wrote one reviewer. “Quantifying the implications of human impact on the genetics of the plant provides strategies for future plant breeding that will enhance productivity and decrease the environmental impact of that plant.”

The Kinsella Memorial Prize was established in 1994 by the College of Agricultural and Environmental Sciences to honor the late John Kinsella, former dean of the college and a professor of food science and technology. Graduate groups can nominate one dissertation each year for the quality and originality of an individual’s work, its multidisciplinary impact, and its importance to the college’s mission. The award recipient receives a plaque and a $3,500 prize.


John Stumbos works for the University of Davis College of Agricultural and Environmental Sciences.

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