âIn my home country of Bangladesh, the goal of every student is to become a doctor or engineer,â said Md Mahfuz Islam, a PhD student in crop and soil science from the state of North Carolina. “But I discovered that my strength was in environmental research.”
Islam is one of six out of 101 classmates who chose to pursue higher education abroad. He arrived in the United States in January 2021 after months of delays related to the pandemic in the United States and Bangladesh that threatened his academic goals. But Islam took advantage of the break time by immersing himself in any online course he could find. He learned to navigate ArcGIS mapping software, speak French and took several LinkedIn courses on business and data science.
We spoke with Islam about his journey to the state of North Carolina and the impact his work will have on soil science.
What was your college education in the state of North Carolina?
I obtained BSc in Soils, Water and Environment and MSc in Environmental Science from Dhaka University, Bangladesh. One of my oldest, who is pursuing his doctorate at Texas A&M University, told me about the state of North Carolina’s exceptional reputation for soil science research. I visited the CSSC website and saw that Dr. McLaughlin’s lab was looking for a graduate student to support his research on the management of degraded urban soils. Their research idea sounded very intriguing and matched my research interests.
What are you studying?
I am working with Professors Dr Rich McLaughlin and Dr Josh Heitman on a research funded by the North Carolina Department of Transportation, studying the impact of compost on the management of degraded or compacted construction sites and urban soils bordering. road. The construction of roads and buildings causes soil compaction which can lead to stormwater runoff of heavy metals, sediments, pathogens and other contaminants that pollute waterways. Urban construction compacts surface and underground soils to a density that makes them impervious to rainwater. Urban stormwater runoff is a problem in North Carolina due to rapid land development and environmentally threatened species like freshwater mussels.
My research will assess the type of compost, the method of application, and the rate for different soil textures. I will also be evaluating wildflowers as an alternative to roadside sod. Wildflowers have a deeper rooting system than grass. This extensive network of fibrous roots can improve roadside water infiltration and sediment filtration, control soil erosion, and improve the soil microclimate. Eco-friendly compost and wildflowers can be a solution to the growing environmental challenges of urbanization.
How is technology improving your soil research?
For my field research, we are growing experimental comparison plots of herbs and wildflowers individually and a combination of the two at different road sites in North Carolina. We capture drone images of the plots to determine the percentage of vegetation cover and their effectiveness in controlling soil erosion and soil microclimate, especially soil temperature and humidity. Using drones allows us to capture and analyze data from a large area in a single image. This makes our work more precise and more efficient.
Why is this field of study important?
The construction of roads, highways and buildings is increasing day by day, not only in the United States but around the world. There is a huge opportunity to better manage active soils in construction sites to mitigate soil compaction and pollution of watersheds.
What sparked your interest in soil science?
Bangladesh is an agricultural country where people generally learn skills, such as farming, through family tradition. There is no agricultural education or training among the farmers. They often use inappropriate amounts of fertilizers, pesticides, herbicides and water, both too high and too low. These inconsistencies impact the farmers’ harvest and the environment, especially the fish and animals in the surrounding waters.
In 2008, I remember a year when we had heavy rains. Local farmers had just sprayed pesticides in their fields, and the rain washed it all down to a local pond. He turned white with dead fish. I, too, thought I wanted to be an engineer until I found out I was good at research and could help out that way.
What is your career goal?
I want to finish my doctorate, but I also want to stay involved in research. It’s hard to be over 13,000 miles from home and family. But I know I have to sacrifice something to gain something.
Finally, I would like to pursue a postdoctoral degree based on the results of my doctoral research and stay in an academic setting. I like research. When you love something, it’s easy to achieve it.
Tell us about the scholarship you just received.
the Compost Research and Education Foundation (CREF) offers two scholarships per year to college students compost research projects in the United States They are interested in improving the composting process and using finished compost to improve soil function and increase soil carbon storage to combat climate change .
When I arrived at NC State in January 2021, classes were online only. At a Zoom meeting, Dr McLaughlin suggested that I apply for the foundation scholarship. At first I was nervous because this was my first scholarship research proposal. But I realized that the opportunity was at my doorstep, and I must seize it. My two supervisors were very helpful in preparing the proposal. Fortunately, the foundation reviewer appreciated my research idea. I am grateful to receive the scholarship.
Based on the results of my research, I will submit results in one year and have the opportunity to be published in a professional journal and present at an annual US Composting Council conference at a basic research session. It is a great honor.
What advice would you give to a student interested in soil science?
NC State is a great resource for soil science. It is a leading school in soil science, and the teachers are very supportive. When I arrived here, my family feared that I was alone. But I found a community here at NC State. I would tell other students that you too will find family here who will help you achieve your goals.
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