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Washington State University plans to interview candidates this fall for a plant pathology research position in Wenatchee that has been open for two years since Dr. Chang-Lin Xiao left to work for the U.S. Department of Agriculture in California.

Jake Gutzwiler, quality control supervisor with Stemilt Growers in Wenatchee and a member of the search committee, said it is critical to fill the position because of all the disease-related issues that the Washington tree fruit industry is facing.

For example, Washington apple shippers have been shut out of China for two seasons because of decay found in exported fruit. Research is needed to help the industry manage the postharvest diseases that China and other countries are concerned about.

WSU currently has no plant pathologist working with apples or pears, and two Oregon State University tree fruit pathologists, Dr. David Sugar and Dr. Robert Spotts, retired last year, leaving no one in either state to do the work.

Gutzwiler said WSU advertised Xiao’s position last year, but none of the candidates interviewed was considered a perfect fit.

Dr. Scot Hulbert, interim chair of WSU’s plant pathology department, said the university launched a second the search for candidates this year, but with a different approach. The position was changed from associate professor to the lower level of assistant professor, in order to attract more early-career scientists, and the job advertisement doesn’t ask for tree fruit experience, in order to cast a wider net.  He said a talented pathologist who has worked on other crops should be able to adapt to tree fruits quite quickly once he or she is working with other tree fruit scientists in Wenatchee.

“We’re just looking for a person with the right talent and the right personality to work with the industry,” he said.

The position was posted during the American Phytopathological Society’s annual meeting in Minnesota in August, which was attended by about a thousand plant pathologists. Hulbert said several scientists there expressed interest and applications are coming in.

WSU will begin screening candidates in October with the hope of conducting interviews after this year’s harvest. Hulbert said it is possible that the successful candidate could begin work on January 1, though that would be an optimistic timeline.

The position is a huge priority for the pathology department and one of few positions that will be filled in the coming year, he said. “This was a top priority last year so it’s still our top priority.”