In celebration of Women’s History Month, USDA’s National Institute of Food and Agriculture (NIFA) is featuring Dr. Susan Moser. Dr. Moser serves as Division Director for Plant Systems – Production in the Institute of Food Production and Sustainability.
Tell us a little about your path into your current field.
I don’t recall a time in which my interest was not science and math focused, and selecting a specific field has always been a challenge. As an undergraduate, my bachelor’s degree was in ecology, but an entomology course inspired me to pursue a different path for graduate school. Although I am an entomologist by training, the focus of my work has changed as my career has grown and evolved. My work has moved from entomology to other fields such as biotechnology, advanced imaging, data science, digital transformation, precision agriculture, and at NIFA - plant breeding.
What is your role in NIFA? What is a typical workday for you?
I am the Division Director for Plant Systems – Production, and my role is to provide leadership and support to the division. My typical workday moves quickly and I move between many different topics throughout the day. I typically spend most of my time focused on the various programs within my division and/or supervisory responsibilities. NIFA is full of tremendous talent, and I am fortunate to partner with the team members throughout NIFA on their activities.
What personal challenges have you encountered and how did you overcome them?
Like most people, personal challenges have occurred throughout my life, and each has been approached a bit differently. A different philosophical approach to this question is that I don’t think I overcame any of my personal challenges as much as I accepted what they are and allow for coexistence. I have had to strongly advocate for and support others with special needs/disabilities within my family. In those situations, active engagement with related communities has helped us tremendously. The best advice I have for when facing challenges is to be thoughtful and actively manage your energy. To recenter my focus, I enjoy nature and spending time my family, both of which help me be present and align to the current challenges of the day.
What advice do you have for current students who may be interested in pursuing a similar career path?
During my Ph.D., I was told that I enjoyed too many subjects and that I needed to focus on one thing: to be the expert of one area. In general, that advice may makes sense for many people pursuing an academic career, but I benefited from being naturally enthusiastic about multiple scientific fields. As a person who considers themselves a lifelong learner, being asked to take on a new area has been a happy challenge but rapid immersion into different fields is not for everyone. My best advice is to take time to really know yourself and what brings you happiness or fulfillment. Focus on what you enjoy and do not make predetermined notions about your career.
Anything else you would like to add or share?
I feel fortunate to have worked in academia, industry and government; each group has its own ways of working and general methods of operation. What excites me about NIFA is the mission and that this mission is clearly the thread that connects all of us at the agency. No one accomplishes the work alone, and the support system of the NIFA staff is outstanding. Over this past year, I have reached out to many people throughout the agency that I had never met with previously, and the responses have been friendly, helpful and patient. We work for a wonderful agency, and what makes it a wonderful agency is the staff.