Young Alum of the Month – July 2014

Lex Flagel

Title and Company:
Computational Geneticist, Monsanto Company

Fargo, North Dakota

Major and Graduation Date:
’09 PhD genetics

Main Job Responsibilities:
I work in the technology branch of Monsanto doing scientific research.  I’m involved in developing new transgenic traits for insect control and also in understanding and monitoring insect resistance to these traits.

What do you like most about your position?
I like working in agriculture. You can quickly see the results of your work because new crops go out every year.  I’m from the Midwest and have many family members who farm, so agriculture is important to me.  I also feel Monsanto is on the cutting edge of our field, and it’s exciting to be a part of that.  The work environment inspires me to push myself.

How did Iowa State University prepare you for a career in agriculture and life sciences?
At Iowa State I had excellent training in fields like genetics and statistics.  I use these skills daily.  I also learned a lot about how to address tough scientific challenges from many great ISU faculty, especially from my PhD adviser Jonathan Wendel and from many other faculty members as well.

What was your favorite class at Iowa State and why?
I took a series of three graduate courses including evolutionary genetics, population genetics and molecular genetics.  I kept the textbooks and my notes from these courses and I still use them as reference material nearly 10 years later.

Do you have any role models who impacted you at Iowa State?
I mentioned my PhD adviser, Jonathan Wendel.  He was and still is a role model.  He is a fantastic researcher and also a successful department chair of ecology, evolution and organismal biology. He has a lot on his plate and still makes time to train his students and let them know they are important to him.

What advice would you give to current students?
Two things.  Find a field you love.  It’s easier to work hard and stay engaged when you love what you do.  Second, find something you are really good at in that field and master it. This doesn’t have to be the only thing you do, but in terms of getting a job it helps to be viewed as an expert at something.  It separates you from the pack.