family background/Bernadette is pursuing her doctorate in horticulture, specializing in alternative strategies for nematode management in wine grape systems in Washington state. She is the daughter of Jeanette and Rick Gagnier.
business/graduate student, Washington State University
My first class, introduction to wines and vines, I knew immediately that I was going into viticulture.
Even though I didn’t have an agricultural background, I had some exposure to plants when I was young, taking care of our garden. When it came time to find a career, whether it was on the wine side or the vine side, of course I leaned toward the vineyard.
What have you learned?
When I was in my internship during my undergrad, I found it was extremely hands-on and included lots of manual labor. Before I went into grad school, I thought it would be laboratories, lab coats, goggles and books — and I learned it was so different than that.
I’m outside so much. It’s great, I love being outside, but we’re sweating so much or we’re freezing cold depending on the season. I also weed-whack a lot — something I didn’t know would be part of grad school training — to manage the weeds in the research plots.
Not only that, but I’ve learned how to maintain and service the weed-whacker and rototiller. I didn’t see these jobs as a part of grad school, and yet they are a huge part.
I also stare through a microscope looking for microscopic worms. That’s not something you’re thinking of doing when you’re 7 years old and running around in a princess dress: When I’m older, I’ll go through a bunch of soil and find these microscopic worms and then look at them through a microscope until I get motion sickness.
There are different aspects of ag school that are so different from a traditional view of what grad school is. There are days when you spend time writing, or when you’re wearing goggles and a lab coat, but the majority of my time studying viticulture is spent outside, working really hard, sweating —yeah, a lot more blood, sweat and tears than I thought would go into it.
What would you advise young growers looking at grad school?
From my experience, I’d say trust your gut. It worked out for me, and I’m very grateful for where I’m at. I don’t think everything we do should fit into the little boxes we see them in. For instance, I didn’t know that agriculture had this whole research side to it.
I didn’t think that I could become a farmer who’s getting their Ph.D. If you have an interest in a particular area, make sure to explore it beyond the expectations that are given to you.
If you go to a job fair and someone says, “You can do sales, business, etc.,” know there’s more than the traditional jobs presented to younger people. Do your own research, ask questions and keep looking for that something that sparks your interest. I mean, I’m where I am because of a Google search, a gut instinct and hard work.
– TJ Mullinax