Alumni update: Heidi Peterson Ph.D.'11

July 31, 2018

alumna heidi peterson poses in front of a corn field

Heidi Peterson Ph.D.‘11 was an alumna featured in a 2014 issue of the BioBriEf. At the time, she was a research scientist with the Minnesota Department of Agriculture in the Pesticides and Fertilizer Management Division where she provided oversight to the Clean Water Fund projects and was involved in Minnesota’s Water Restoration and Protection strategy. Today, she is the new director of the Phosphorus Program at the International Plant Nutrition Institute (IPNI).

Tell us about the Phosphorus Program at IPNI and what you do as its director.

The IPNI is a non-profit, science-based organization dedicated to the responsible management of plant nutrition for the benefit of the human family. Our member companies are the basic producers of one or more of the major plant nutrients for agricultural purposes. We are a small organization with approximately 25 scientists located in offices around the world. IPNI has initiatives addressing the world’s growing need for food, fuel, fiber, and feed. As the Phosphorus Program Director, I am the point person to lead the institute’s ongoing efforts in ensuring phosphorus is used effectively and efficiently. Balanced crop nutrition is critical to sustainable crop productivity, so although I am the phosphorus director, I certainly engage in discussions and activities surrounding all nutrients. When there are questions specifically regarding P management, I become the direct contact. A primary component of the program is to promote the use of 4R Nutrient Stewardship practices: applying the Right Source of nutrients, at the Right Rate, at the Right Time, and in the Right Place. Much of my time is focused on communicating the current science to stakeholders, including our member companies, other researchers, agricultural service providers, environmental organizations, and government agencies. I participate on a number of technical advisory committees focused on providing evidence-based nutrient recommendations, improving tools for site-specific decision support and developing metrics on sustainability reporting.

How did you get to where you are today?

I love to learn! Each day, I try to do something new and continue to push myself out of my comfort zone. At the same time, I have always worked very hard – something instilled in me as a child by my parents. When life gets easy, perhaps that is a sign that we are not doing enough to challenge ourselves? Communicating effectively with the public is an important aspect of my job, and I have always had mentors that encouraged me to present out in front of an audience. I am always looking for ways to make improvements, so I continue to watch and learn from others who I admire in my profession. Most importantly, I try to keep a balanced life so that I do not get burned out. I enjoy working with people who share the same values and emphasize the importance of family. It is my family that certainly keeps me motivated!

What advice do you have for students pursuing a degree or career in bioproducts and biosystems engineering?

Get out into the field – see your future profession outside of the classroom! Make sure that you are making contacts and reaching out to others for internships and summer employment opportunities. Positions may not always be posted publicly, so it is a good habit to pick up the phone and make the first introduction. You will get out of your degree what you put into it, so take the time to get involved on campus. Get to know your professors. The department has some amazing faculty members, and you never know who may be looking to hire a undergraduate researcher. Some of the best experience and resume material came from working in the lab.

What do you do as adjunct assistant professor in our dept?

I am a resource for students and graduate students who have questions regarding courses, employment opportunities, and research. I have also had the opportunity to provide guest
lectures.

Besides being an adjunct faculty member, do you get involved with the department in other ways (e.g. participating in or attending department events)? If so, in what ways and why?

I enjoy attending the annual scholarship banquet to meet some of the new and graduating students. I was elected last year to serve as a BBE advisory board member. In the past I served as a mentor for the College of Food, Agricultural and Natural Resources Sciences (CFANS). I also participate in the Minnesota section of the American Society of Agricultural and Biological Engineers (ASABE), which allows me to stay connected to the students in the department and hear about their internships and studies. My adjunct position allows me to maintain student engagement, something I truly enjoy. The students are the next generation of scientists!

Do you recommend other alumni to do the same?

I encourage other alumni to get on the mailing list to hear about events and to see how they could become a mentor or provide a guest lecture or even a company tour. I remember how many questions I had as a student about employment and course selection. I appreciate that I could be a resource for students, and they really appreciate my feedback and suggestions.