Alum of the Month: Anna Underhill, Graduate Research Assistant, Department of Horticultural Science, University of Minnesota

Anna Underhill graduated in Horticulture and Agronomy in May 2016.  Anna is from Eagan, Minnesota.

Anna’s major job responsibilities involves collecting and analyzing data relating to cold-hardy wine grape breeding efforts; specifically, working on high-throughput phenotyping methods for cluster compactness and the genetic basis of phenology in our populations.  During planting in the spring, pollination in the summer and harvest in the fall, she helps out at their research vineyard and winery.  She also works in the greenhouses doing things like tissue collection and plant propagation.  Additionally, Anna occasionally spends time in the lab where she usually is extracting DNA from leaves for genotyping.  When she is in the office, she spends most of her time working in programs like R and MATLAB to perform data and image analysis.

We asked Anna what she likes most about her position.  First, my favorite part:  I get to work with grapes!  How cool is that?  I love that I get to be very independent – weather it’s spending the day reading articles, sifting through data I’ve collected, or transplanting vines for a new study, I have the freedom to get things done without a rigid schedule.  I also enjoy the mix of work that I get to do; some of my more interesting tasks include taste-testing grapes in the field, helping teach our viticulture and wine class, and hosting judges from around the country at the International Cold Climate Wine Competition.  Being at a university is great since there’s always new things going on all around you, and I like being able to hear about them all at our weekly seminars.

Following is the advice Anna offers to current students:  For students interested in research, I’d tell them to get involved now – research experience in undergrad, however small, stands out to future graduate school advisers and employers alike.  Take advantage of opportunities you have on campus now:  if you’re interested in something someone does, ask them about it!  Lastly, don’t be too worried about knowing exactly what you’re going to do after graduation (I still don’t).  Horticulture is a diverse field, and it seems like everyone I know has worked in a variety of different plants and industries – it’s never too late to change.