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New Yorker, Meet the Sooner State

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Boarding the airplane to Ardmore, my knowledge of Oklahoma was largely provided by Rodgers and Hammerstein, as I think is the case with most upstate New Yorkers. Indeed, mentioning my voyage to this state invariably prompted an off-key, although hearty, rendition of the "Oklahoma!" theme song, which trailed off after the first resounding "Oklahoma, where the ..." Little did I know that I was bound for a land with a lake in nearly every town, where the local inhabitants offer unsolicited waves (it took me a couple of weeks to stop looking over my shoulder searching for the "real" target of the gesture), and the terrain varies almost by the mile.

The list of new experiences here extends well beyond the first taste of chicken-fried steak and hush puppies but thankfully has yet to include a tornado! My unbridled excitement at the first glimpse of an armadillo paled only in comparison to my first live armadillo sighting when we chanced upon three rustling around in the underbrush at Lake Murray.

Entering numerous sporting events which I had never before dabbled in and proceeding to undergo a slew of public embarrassment as a result has turned out to be a stellar way to meet new people. My volleyball team has been exceptionally supportive and encouraging as I fumble about the court thrashing my arms and yelling "I think I've got it!" and the Noble Parkway Series was instrumental in introducing me to Noble team members I might not have met otherwise.

Another first to write home about took place on a trip to one of the Noble ranches where I, at the helm of three steely levers, caught a steer on the scale as it came barreling down the shoot (language exaggerated for dramatic effect, mind you).

medicago truncatula

I have been most warmly welcomed by the Chen lab and am honored to be the mentee of the phenomenal Yuan Wang, who seizes every opportunity to impart new knowledge. As a future plant breeder, I was delighted to learn the art of making Medicago truncatula crosses. This process entails gently opening the mother flower to remove the stamens (male parts), thus preventing self-fertilization, and replacing them with pollen from the selected father plant to facilitate cross fertilization. My elation at discovering the success of the crosses as I returned later to see swelling seed pods cannot be put into words.

However, this is not to downplay the excitement of completing plasmid isolation and colony PCR in the hush of the early morning when I am the first one in the lab. I relish the methodical nature of these bench tasks. The lab quickly comes alive, bustling with the sounds of timers beeping, centrifuges spinning, microwaves alerting their attendants that some media is sufficiently heated, and shakers churning cell cultures. And, just like that, the day whirls into a juggling act as you learn to balance overlapping reactions, each with multiple steps and periods of waiting between steps.

Natalie Kirkwyland is a 2014 Lloyd Noble Scholar in Plant Science from Dryden, New York.