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University of Missouri

Nurturing Collaboration

Working together at Mizzou goes way back.

Doug Randall

Doug Randall put Mizzou on the plant science map by starting to think collaboratively decades ago. He stands near the entrance to Schlundt Annex and Schlundt Hall, just south of Schweitzer Hall on White Campus. Photo by Nicholas Benner.

During my junior year in college, Thursday nights were spent working on the copy desk at the Columbia Missourian. At the start of fall semester, we were clueless, thankful for the experienced faculty member who worked alongside us. With time, we jelled as a team, and by semester’s end, we were confidently designing pages, writing headlines and cutlines, and putting the paper to bed on time by midnight.

Working together at Mizzou goes way back. The interdisciplinary get-along culture was formalized some 30 years ago in research by people such as Doug Randall in the plant sciences. With Roger Mitchell as the dean of agriculture, faculty members proposed a cross-disciplinary group from biochemistry to agronomy in basic plant biology. They called it the Interdisciplinary Plant Group — IPG for short. The concept was, and is, that more would be accomplished working together than working alone. The group is now recognized worldwide for its productivity and influence.

Randall describes the collaborative research effort as “no walls, lots of bridges, lots of interaction.” The fact that IPG existed led to hiring better faculty, including the likes of James Birchler, a Harvard professor who relocated to Columbia with wife Kathy Newton in 1991. Birchler was elected into the National Academy of Sciences in 2011.

Graduate students thrive in the environment because they know they can find help, be it in expertise, methodology or instrumentation. Scientists also flourish. Their questions get answered from multiple perspectives; for instance, a physiologist or geologist will ask a different question about a problem than a biochemist does, Randall says. That’s exactly what’s happening in the study of drought. Learn more in Erik Potter’s report, “Growing, Together.”“As the world’s problems push hard on us — water, food, shrinking land mass for agriculture — we have to be more efficient,” Randall says. “We need a new green revolution. We need every tool in the toolkit to solve our water problems. You can’t grow plants without water.”