Cobb set to represent OSU at regional 3MT® contest
Some students come to Oklahoma State University’s College of Agricultural Sciences and Natural Resources with legacies and generations of agriculturalists before them. As for Adam Cobb, he found his passion for the agricultural industry in a nontraditional way when he spent three months hiking and volunteering on farms in New Zealand in exchange for food and lodging.
Cobb grew up in Seattle, Washington, but when he was 11 years old, his parents moved the family to the Philippines, which is where his interests in international studies began.
“While in the Philippines, I was keenly interested in helping to reduce poverty, and agriculture seemed like a critical part of doing so,” he said.
Upon completion of high school, Cobb returned to the U.S. to attend college at Mount Vernon Nazarene University in Mount Vernon, Ohio, and received his bachelor’s degree in international business in 2005.
Cobb stepped away from school, which is when he made the trip to New Zealand. He said his time there struck a passion for agriculture.
“I caught a vision for small-scale sustainable farming,” Cobb said. “Later, during my studies, I realized all kinds of agriculture appeal to me. Through soil, I feel as if I am touching the soul of the food system.”
Cobb decided to return to school to receive his master’s degree, and landed on OSU and CASNR easily.
“I wanted to study agriculture because of my wonderful experiences while volunteering,” he said. “Then, I found the Master of International Agriculture Program, and was excited at how well it fit my interests.
“MIAP is flexible and filled with wonderful people,” Cobb said. “I have made amazing, life-long friends during my time here and was afforded the freedom to take classes on diverse subjects, which also was a good transition into my Ph.D.
Being eight years since taking any science courses, Cobb was intimidated to conduct research for both his master’s and Ph.D. programs in a science-related field. He took a class in the fall of 2010 taught by Gail Wilson, natural resource ecology and management professor and Cobb’s Ph.D. advisor, Cobb said he is glad he took the risk.
Wilson said the first thing that stood out to her about Cobb was his passion. It also was the reason she encouraged him to stay at OSU and work in her research program.
“Once he becomes passionate about something, there is no stopping him,” Wilson said.
While working in Wilson’s lab throughout the years, Cobb realized “we all bring something unique to the table. I am not a traditional ecologist, but my perspectives can still help the team and I can rely on their help in return.”
Wilson sold Cobb on the idea of practicing his communication skills by entering the Three-Minute Thesis competition at OSU.
“We both feel scientists need to take on the challenge of communicating with the public,” he said. “Otherwise, how will people understand the value of what we are doing?”
Thanks to Wilson’s class in the fall of 2010, Cobb discovered what his research topic would be, which just so happened to need a student to conduct the research.
“I learned about beneficial soil fungi and found them so neat,” he said. “I could not pass up the opportunity. I think it worked out well for me.”
While preparing for the 3MT competition, Cobb learned how to formulate and share his research in 30-second, 60-second, 90-second, 120-second, 3-minute, 5-minute, 15-minute and 30-minute blocks.
“Whatever the situation demands, I have now practiced each time frame,” he said. “It’s so important to understand how to leave the jargon behind and tell the story. When I have more time, say 15-30 minutes, I think about the structure of my 3MT and just add details to expand the presentation.”
Cobb’s advice to students competing in their first 3MT competition, is to give the talk at least a dozen times in front of other students.
“While drafting the slide and script, a student should get as many opinions as they can, especially those of nonspecialists,” he said. “Practice while you walk, shower and cook dinner. Finally, use the countdown to your advantage – I knew what the clock should read during each paragraph of my 3MT, so rather than make me nervous, it helped confirm I was on the right track.”
Cobb must have taken his own advice, since he successfully worked his way to win the fourth annual 3MT competition in March 2016 with his presentation about sustainability in farming systems; linking soil ecology to improved food nutritional quality.
Wilson is a strong advocate of the program and encourages all of her graduate students to participate in the 3MT competition.
“In a world where it is increasingly important for scientists to reach out to the nonscientific community and gain their trust, a well-practiced, condensed, yet compelling description of the research students are passionate about may make a difference beyond student success,” Wilson said.
As for life after receiving his Ph.D., Cobb is currently teaching an international agriculture course at OSU.
“I am not ready to leave Stillwater or the wonderful people of CASNR,” he said. “I love it here.
Right now, I am working to fund a post-doctoral position for two to four more years. If I can continue publishing and teaching, it will help me to have credibility no matter where I go after this.”
His ambition is to become part of the Brown Revolution, where living soil is unleashed to help sustainability meet humanity’s food and nutritional needs.
“It might work out in several ways, but I love teaching and research. I also love to travel,” Cobb said. “Perhaps I need to spend some time with an international nongovernmental organization before I settle down to a faculty position. Perhaps my dream job does not even exist yet.”
Cobb will represent OSU and CASNR March 2-5 in the regional 3MT competition at the Conference of Southern Graduate Schools in Annapolis, Maryland.