Sundar Sapkota had an eventful final semester as a biology graduate student at Eastern New Mexico University: he received second place at the New Mexico Academy of Science (NMAS) Research Symposium and successfully defended his thesis.
Sundar, who received a bachelor's degree in agriculture from Agriculture and Forestry University in Nepal in 2018, discusses his experience at ENMU and his plans for the future.
Why did you choose your field of study?
I grew up in a rural part of Nepal, where family earnings were mostly dependent on agriculture. It made me in close contact with the farming community since my childhood. I remember going to our farm on the weekends with my parents and helping them cultivate vegetables and fruits. This increased my curiosity for plant research and motivated me to pursue a bachelor's education in agricultural sciences. My purpose is to extend my knowledge and research by exploring different environmental factors and molecular mechanisms involved in plant growth and development. This desire caused me to enroll at ENMU for my graduate level in the Biology Department under the supervision of Dr. Zhiming Liu.
Discuss your research. What inspired your interest in this research?
For my master's research, I engaged in research activities related to jujube (fruit tree) propagation, improvement and orchard establishment. The project focuses on studying the water-fertilizer coupling effects on growth performance of young jujube trees and identification of phenological growth stages of jujubes in Portales, New Mexico. I was responsible for both greenhouse and field-based activities, data collection and analysis. I have communicated my research findings to several audiences via presentations at professional conferences and publications in scientific journals.
My concern is sustainable food production and supplement. I am interested in establishing my career in agricultural sciences focusing on growth regulation, plant protection and soil health.
Tell us about your experience at the NMAS Research Symposium.
This year, due to COVID-19, the New Mexico Academy of Science Research Symposium was organized virtually. I presented two research posters at the conference. It was an exciting opportunity for me to share the findings of my research project. Overall, it went very well. Also, I had a chance to observe and learn about other research projects addressing a variety of issues, and that was very informative and fun as well.
What did it mean to you to receive second place at the Symposium?
Our poster entitled "Prospects of Jujube (Ziziphus jujuba) as a Future Crop in New Mexico" took second place in the Graduate Category of this year's New Mexico Academy of Science Research Symposium Poster Award Competition. I am pleased and honored to receive the award. It means a lot to me. The award has motivated me to explore more about agricultural research. I am thankful to my major supervisor, Dr. Zhiming Liu, for his support and mentorship. Without Dr. Liu, it wouldn't be possible.
What does it mean to you to have successfully defended your thesis?
I successfully defended my thesis on Nov. 4, 2020. I can't express my happiness for this accomplishment. At my master's level, I had a chance to do some original research in the field of horticultural science. My master's thesis title was "Effects of water and fertilizer on jujube (Ziziphus jujuba) growth and identification of phenological growth stages of jujube in Portales, New Mexico." It was a great experience for me to share what I have done for my master's research project. I strongly believe that my master's project has opened up new lines in the academic field, and I want to use this as a foundation for a fruitful research career.
Tell us about your background and family.
I was born and grew up in the western part of Nepal. I have one elder brother and one younger sister. My brother, Sanjib Sapkota, also graduated from ENMU, majoring in biology in 2019. Currently, he is doing his Ph.D. at Simon Fraser University, Canada, majoring in molecular plant pathology. My sister recently completed her senior year of high school in Nepal. My parents are in Nepal, and they are involved in agricultural activities for livelihood.
Discuss your work experience at Eastern.
I have served as a graduate teaching assistant at ENMU since January 2019. I taught biology lab courses such as Biology for General Education and Principles of Cellular and Molecular Biology for lower-level undergraduates. Furthermore, as a TA for Molecular Biology Laboratory, I helped upper-undergraduate students to conduct molecular experiments.
What are your post-graduation plans and career goals?
I will continue to pursue doctorate study after graduating with a master's degree. I've enjoyed my academic work, and I really feel that I have to take further challenges as an independent researcher.
My future goal is to be a research scientist in the field of agriculture sciences. This position will provide me the opportunity to conduct research and to teach. I believe that I have the qualities to be a productive researcher. I am highly interested in learning different mechanisms engaged in agricultural crop production, but I have to learn and master agricultural techniques to achieve my career goal. I intend to conduct several soil and plant research projects and share the findings with farmers and people in the academic world in order to reduce the challenges of plant production. I will use my knowledge and experience to make a difference in farmers' lives.
Which professors have served as mentors to you at ENMU?
Dr. Zhiming Liu served as my major supervisor for my graduate study at ENMU. In addition, Dr. Kenwyn Cradock and Dr. Youngkoo Cho served as my advisory committee members.
Which class at Eastern was your favorite?
My favorite class at ENMU is Molecular Biology. The course was designed to help understand the basics of molecular biology (for example., about DNA, its quantification, purity, DNA replication, molecule separation, some cloning techniques (PCR), DNA fingerprinting, etc.) and challenges students to critically think. It's amazing to learn how living things work at the molecular level. It's also interesting to read research articles about molecular mechanisms of plant growth as well as the mechanisms underlying human hereditary diseases and being able to correlate the fundamental knowledge of molecular biology learned from this course with practical applications. Another reason I loved this class is that the tests and exams are very relevant to course objectives. Furthermore, I served as a teaching assistant in the Molecular Biology lab, where I have learned the key concepts of molecular biology. This also increased my interest in molecular science. Dr. Zhiming Liu was the instructor for that course. Dr. Liu helps us when we need it; he comes and explains what we are having difficulty with (both in class and lab). I remember I came to molecular biology class with very little knowledge and experience, Dr. Liu helped me develop my passion for molecular sciences, and now I have learned so much about molecular biology. Overall, I found the class was very comprehensive, useful and practical.
Why did you choose to attend ENMU?
I chose ENMU for several reasons. First, my brother (Sanjib Sapkota) attended this University, and he suggested it to me. Second, I got accepted by the professor with research interests similar to mine. The third reason is that the University offered a graduate assistantship. Furthermore, I found the cost of living in Portales is low.
What advice would you give to students who are interested in your field of study?
I want to say there is a great scope of plant biology/agriculture. We need to produce and feed the world's growing populations using limited resources (land). Although agriculture may not sound fancy, it is a day-to-day science. There are many research questions in agriculture sciences to be addressed.
I suggest that upcoming students try to cooperate with farmers with the help of supervisors. I believe that working in integrated farmer-based projects will provide a great first-hand experience. Hard work, commitment and dedication will certainly yield better results. Lastly, I think we should try to make our resumes better (through presenting in conferences, publications, community services, etc.).
What is your favorite thing about being a Greyhound?
First, it is diverse. ENMU has students from different countries. It's amazing to interact and learn about other countries, their lifestyle and culture. Furthermore, I love ENMU for its friendly environment.
What are your hobbies?
Hiking, traveling, reading, community services and soccer.
Any additional information you would like to share?
I am thankful to the graduate dean, faculty and staff of ENMU. I am also thankful to be a part of ENMU International Club and Wesley House. Special thanks and love to Scott and Debbie Reeves, who always supported and encouraged me to achieve my goal. Big thanks to Jane Liu, Jim Davis and Deanna Davis for their support, help and encouragement.