Meet Dr. Xiaodan Gao, Assistant Professor of Soil Chemistry at the Shenyang Agricultural University
Updated: Feb 16
An eager poetry-loving soil advocate spreading the value of agriculture one lecture at a time.
Dr. Xiaodan Gao is an Assistant Professor at the Shenyang Agricultural University in Liaoning Province in China. Her specialization involves soil chemistry and she is focused on soil colloid interaction. Soil colloids are considered as the finest size fraction of soil and the most chemically active portion due to their large surface area. Dr. Gao is thrilled to be able to share her passion for soils with her students because she believes that the best way to construct a better tomorrow is by educating, inspiring, and leading younger generations.
The classroom: where her passion and career meet
From an early age, Xiaodan enjoyed being close to nature and since then she wanted to do something to protect the environment. Therefore, she applied for an Environmental Engineering major for her bachelor’s at Shenyang Agricultural University. Because it’s a university focused on agriculture, her major was more inclined towards the soil environment. She became more curious about the relationship between soil and agriculture and learned that soil acts as a boundary zone for the Earth, in which organic and inorganic, life and non-life collide. ‘This colorful world deeply attracted me’ and that’s how she knew that she was in the right field. Later, under the guidance of her master’s and doctoral supervisor, she came into contact with the field of soil colloids and electrochemistry. After finishing her P.hD., she decided she wanted to be a university professor.
‘I found I like this profession very much. On the one hand, I feel that I will never grow old when I am with young people. On the other, sharing the soil knowledge I am interested in, and my new discoveries with my students is a very fulfilling thing.’
Now that she’s in a leadership position as an assistant professor, she’s realized that she can have a greater environmental impact by positively influencing her students by making them appreciate the natural resources surrounding them. Dr. Gao expresses that by teaching she can encourage students to work together to protect their farming soil and improve their vitality ‘because it’s my original intention to contribute to protecting the environment.’ She encourages them to participate in all of the academic and extracurricular activities as they can, advising them on how to do it without jeopardizing their health. It’s important that they learn early on to manage a healthy work-life balance.
However, balancing the responsibilities as a professor and researcher has been very challenging for Dr. Gao. In her research, she finds it most difficult revising papers and finding scientific questions because it’s a time and energy-consuming task. Because Dr. Gao is passionate about collaborative efforts, she confides in her colleagues to find solutions, a fresh set of eyes can see what tired ones cannot.
To distract her mind and to rest from her academic workload, Dr. Gao enjoys sports such as volleyball and badminton. Whenever she has the chance, she goes hiking to reconnect with nature Besides, she also devotes time to painting and to interpreting poems to relieve her stress, specifically the work of Qingzhao Li. She was a famous female poet in the Southern Song Dynasty in China, known as the most talented woman of her time.
Agriculture: equally for everybody
Dr. Gao truly believes that there is great value in agriculture and that no person should be excluded from it because of their gender. Agriculture affects everyone regardless of their gender, ethnicity, religion, or sexual orientation. This is why she would like for everyone to appreciate the agricultural sector because it’s present in every aspect of our lives.
‘Agriculture is related to environmental safety, food safety, and is closely related to our health and life. Doesn't this explain the importance of agriculture?’
Dr. Gao explains that the soil is much like a mother, it’s a pain-tolerant living entity that has the capacity to give life, recover, and give life again. Therefore, she believes that women’s involvement in agriculture is crucial for the sustainable advancement of the industry.
‘There is a lot to do in the agricultural sector, so act on it when you think of it!’
Dr. Gao would like to thank the Chongqing Key Laboratory of Soil Multi-scale Interfacial Process in Southwest University and Northeast Key Laboratory of Conservation and Improvement of Cultivated Land in Shenyang Agricultural University for her training, and the Carbon Management and Sequestration Center (CMASC) of The Ohio State University for enriching her learning experience.
Thank you for this beautiful interview, Dr. Gao. We wish you the best, now and always!