The airy, light-filled research center on the second floor of the Monsanto Center is a quiet place. At workstations along one side, graduate students peer into microscopes, pore over botanical reference books and confer with colleagues. At a work table in the center of the room, others examine newly received plant specimens awaiting classification. In a nearby office, Mick Richardson, manager of graduate studies, confers with students and attends to the myriad details and arrangements of overseeing more than 30 young botanists from a dozen different countries.
Richardson helps select the candidates and arranges the financial support graduate students need for classroom, lab and field studies. He also serves as academic mentor, colleague and, often, one-man support group. Mostly, though, Richardson sees his role as a player in a much larger mission - to educate the next generation of botanists and to develop botanical expertise in countries where biodiversity is threatened.
"Most people don't realize that the scientific community is at risk of losing parts of the botanical knowledge base established by previous generation." says Richardson. "Many experts around the world worked alone or didn't publish extensively. They didn't pass along their expertise on a person-to-person level. And when they are gone, their years of observational judgment may go with them. Our graduate program aims at preventing that from happening in the future."
So Richardson is on a continuing quest to identify and support talented students with the potential to become exceptional scientists. More often, though, they find him, knowing that the Garden offers a unique combination of superb academics, research facilities, and opportunities for field work almost anywhere in the world.
"There's a thrill in seeing our graduate students grow," say Richardson. "You see them catch fire. You see their inner drive, their willingness to work long hours in the field and in the herbarium, just for the sake of learning. I take great satisfaction in knowing that the opportunities we provide will help students - and their countries - make contributions that will not only sustain knowledge, but also push new frontiers."