Digging In and Branching Out

Close up of Ryan Murphy's hands touchng goji berry plant

Ryan Murphy

“What are you working on?” It’s not an easy question for Master of Professional Studies in Horticulture alumnus Ryan Murphy to answer. The researcher in the U of M’s Department of Forest Resources touches a number of projects simultaneously. And he wouldn’t want it any other way.

Carving a Path

Murphy’s journey to the field horticulture was not a straight line. After starting at the Carlson School of Management, he transferred to the College of Liberal Arts to study experimental media, only to find that “the job market for mediocre experimental musicians was pretty bad.”

Ryan Murphy on St Paul campus

He had taken a plant propagation class and remembered how much he liked the experience of being in the greenhouse. He chose the MPS in Horticulture in part, he says, because the flexibility of the requirements meant he had to take only one prerequisite to be admitted.

Through the MPS, he met some of the professors and scholars he still works with today. During an internship with Cornercopia, the student-run organic farm, Murphy met Chad Giblin, Research Fellow and instructor in the Department of Forest Resources. He connected with Changbin Chen, who runs the plant cytogenetics and tomato breeding lab, through a medicinal plants course.

“Because of the number of projects going on, you get to work with a lot of different people and get different perspectives,” he says. “The atmosphere and community around the Saint Paul campus is great.”

Sowing Knowledge

Currently, through Minnesota Department of Agriculture grants, Murphy is looking into developing novel tomato varieties that have a shorter growth cycle, create a higher yield, or grow to a predetermined size. Another study focuses on whether or not the smelly ginkgo seed can be harvested and used as medicine or food. This could “reduce the negative impact on the public and possibly generate revenue.”

The ginkgo research allowed him to collaborate with Stephen Brockman and Adrian Hegeman (both from the Department of Horticulture), and “see firsthand how that high-level science is done, which was amazing.”

“The atmosphere and community around the Saint Paul campus is great.”

Close up of Ryan Murphy's hands with plant

Murphy also shares his expertise beyond the lab, engaging in urban forestry outreach and education across the state. “Outreach is a different mode of work,” he says, one that he thoroughly enjoys. The personal interaction with workshop attendees and diverse communities is a “truly rewarding experience.”

In addition, he helps mentor members of GreenCorp, the Minnesota Pollution Control Agency’s program that trains the next generation of environmentally focused professionals, as well as runs the Department of Natural Resources Minnesota Certified Tree Inspector program. He admits that it’s tricky to wrap his head around the disparate projects at times, but he welcomes the challenge.

Pro Tip for Students

“Take the opportunity to network. Don’t be just focused on getting the degree; meet people around the U and in the industry. Leverage your time here to create a network. Growing those relationships will make for an easier transition and good next step in your career.”