Meet Dr. Christine Sprunger, Soil Science Assistant Professor
Updated: Sep 14, 2020
In Soil Science, a field traditionally dominated by men, Dr. Sprunger excels as a committed rhizosphere ecologist, an accessible mentor and an advocate for inclusion in ag science and beyond.
In my role as an assistant professor, I am the principal investigator of the Rhizosphere Dynamics Lab at The Ohio State University, I teach primarily graduate student courses, though I am involved with developing undergraduate courses, I advise, and mentor graduate and undergraduate students, and I serve on multiple department committees.
I am a soil scientist, and rhizosphere ecologist and my work spans four distinct areas of research i) plant roots and their impacts on soil biota and soil C stabilization ii) investigating how climate change impacts rhizosphere processes iii) management impacts on soil health iv) Socio-ecological systems and understanding farmer perceptions of soil health and climate change.
· What made you choose this discipline?
I was born in Haiti, and although I grew up in the United States, Haiti’s environmental issues and food insecurity motivated me to study environmental science in college. However, it wasn’t until taking my first soils class during my sophomore year that I realized that I could address environmental problems and food insecurity by studying soil science. My soils professor helped me design a senior thesis that addressed organic farming impacts on soil carbon. I was particularly interested in this research because soil carbon is essential for soil health and crop production, but can also be used as a tool to mitigate climate change.
After graduating from college, I went directly into a doctoral program at Michigan State University where I assessed how annual, perennial, and diverse cropping systems influence root dynamic and soil carbon. Because my doctoral work took place in the upper midwest, I was determined to gain international research experience during my post-doc.
I was awarded a National Science Foundation Post-doctoral fellowship in Biology to study soil carbon in small-holder farming systems in Kenya and Tanzania. Conducting independent research prepared me for my current position as an assistant professor.
·Have you experienced any difficulties or issues in the workspace? How did you overcome this?
My first few years in grad school were difficult because I was in a lab that wasn’t a strong fit for me or my research interests and it caused me quite a bit of stress and anxiety. Luckily, I had a supportive advisory committee, and I was encouraged to switch labs halfway through my program. I likely wouldn’t have finished my doctoral program had I not transitioned into a different lab and had a strong support network.
·Are there any outstanding experiences that have positively impacted you?
Science and academia can often be isolating, so I am genuinely grateful for the memories that I made with labmates in the field and lab during my doctoral program. My friends taught me that science is fun and collaborative.
·Do you have a piece of advice you wish you had when you started your journey?
I think it’s critical to have a mentor aside from your advisor. Participate in your respective societies early in your career, and build a scientific network outside of your lab. Opportunities within the agricultural field include participating in the ‘Future Leaders in Science through Tri-Societies' and attending annual conferences. These events will connect you to scholars across the country.
·What else are you passionate about?
Work is a significant part of my life, and I often work long hours to complete all of my tasks at hand. Given the high-stress nature of my job, in my spare time, I enjoy focusing on my physical and mental health, whether it be doing cardio at the gym, practicing yoga, or facetiming with my best friends from elementary school.
It took me a long time to recognize the importance of work-life balance, and while I am still working on finding the perfect balance, I have improved since my grad school years.
· What are your future goals?
Career-wise my goal is to become a full professor at an R1 University. I also aim to start a family of my own.
·What would you like to say to young female students out there?
The fields of soil science and agriculture often don’t appear welcoming to females and minorities. However, there is a reliable and active group of scholars that work daily to make this field accessible to all.
My piece of advice is not to let anyone hold you back from achieving your dreams. When you are determined, you can accomplish anything you set your mind to. There are times when it won’t be easy, which is why finding a network that builds you up is so crucial.
·Why do you think is important to highlight minority women in agricultural sciences?
Today, if you go into an elementary school classroom and ask students to draw a scientist, they still draw an old white male in a lab coat (Although I hear this trend is changing!). It’s important for the next generation and society as a whole to understand how diverse science is. Furthermore, if young minority female students see scientists that look like them, they will be much more likely to go into a STEM field themselves.
·Do you have any female role models?
Asmeret Asefaw Berhe (@aaberhe); Katherine Johnson; Michelle Obama
· Where can people find you?
I enjoy engaging with young scientists, so please don’t hesitate to reach out to me.
Social Media: @Sprunger_PhD Website: Sprungerlab.com (coming soon)