The Road I Traveled Series

The Road I Traveled: Meet Michael

“Somewhere ages and ages hence: Two roads diverged in a wood, and I – I took the one less traveled by, And that has made all the difference.” – Robert Frost

This new series highlights young professionals and their stories, because no matter our path we all have a little to share and a lot to learn. Read and learn from past feature posts HERE.

Everyone, meet Michael. Featuring someone in grad school has been on my list of priorities for this series from the beginning and Michael is a great example of someone who spent a little bit of time in the industry after his undergrad, before returning to academia for grad school. I also want to make sure that he gets a proper shout out… generally student schedules are a bit more hectic and all over place, especially near the end of a semester. Well this kid still went ahead and returned his questionnaire back to me well-before the deadline. That’s impressive! Anyway, Michael is one of my fellow AFA Student Advisory Team alums. A few years younger than me, I first remember meeting Michael in Track 2 at AFA Leaders Conference when I was on the team and leading that track. Since then, I’ve always been able to count on him for a witty tweet and a good laugh. I think Michael is a great (and somewhat rare) example of someone who pursued a degree in production agriculture, without really having a true background it. His passion and curiosity is genuine an contagious. Plus, he’s just an all-around fun,  great guy to be around.
– Amanda

The RoadI Traveled- Michael

Name: Michael Carlson
Age: 23
Hometown: Johnston, IA
College: South Dakota State University
Degree(s): Bachelors of Science in Agriculture: Agronomy
Current Location: Brookings, SD
Current Job: Graduate Research Assistant


How did you choose your college and your major?

Having grown up in Des Moines, I didn’t even know until my senior year of high school that SDSU existed. I grew up right next to Dupont Pioneer’s corporate headquarters, so I had quite a few neighbors and family friends involved in agronomy and plant sciences. I didn’t really know what all was involved, but thinking that it might be interesting I decided that I should major in agronomy and figure it out as I go! That narrowed down my choice of schools to primarily land grant institutions. I really enjoyed my visit to SDSU, but what sealed the deal was going to a program called “A Day in the Life,” which was put on by the College of Agriculture and Biological Sciences. This program allowed me to interact with professors, sit in on a class and network with agriculture students. After that visit I was counting down the days until I could head up north!

What were you involved with outside of class? Organizations? Internships?

I was heavily involved in the College of Agriculture and Biological Sciences Ambassadors, where we went out to schools in South Dakota, Minnesota, Iowa and Nebraska to talk about why students should study agriculture and why they should consider attending SDSU for their post-secondary career. I was also involved with the Agronomy and Conservation Club, serving as the club president for a year. I was also able to serve as the Honors College Student Organization Secretary for a year, along with being a mentor as a Teaching Assistant for the Honors 100 class. The last organization that I was involved with was Agriculture Future of America where I served on the Student Advisory Team in 2013. I had an internship every summer between semesters. After my freshman year I worked as a crop scout in SE South Dakota. The following summer I worked as a field research intern for Dow AgroSciences in South Dakota, and during my last summer as a college student I was the seed treatment intern for Winfield, a Land O’Lakes company.

With 4 of my closest friends, and past Student Advisory Team members at the AFA Alliance Forum

What were your biggest challenges or obstacles in college? Anything you would change?

Time management was by far my biggest obstacle! Getting to know and understand how to manage time between classes, work, social life and different activities. Another obstacle I personally had was my very limited knowledge of production agriculture, but I soon found that all I had to do was ask and someone would willingly answer my questions! Personally I think the only thing that I would have changed were maybe to have taken another year of college to finish out some different minors or an undergraduate research project.

What one piece of advice would you give a student during their senior year?

As cliche as this sounds I would say to enjoy all of the experiences from your last year of college. And when looking for a career, don’t worry about if it doesn’t work out like you think it is supposed to, as life likes to take different twists and turns, most of which you never see coming.

Post Grad

Tell us about your career so far?

After I graduated from SDSU I started as a sales trainee for Dow AgroSciences in Minnesota and Wisconsin. I was able to learn about the sales process and to begin to call on customers for different reps while working on different projects. I then made the jump back to graduate school this past April to work on an organic weed control system.

How have your experiences and involvement in college set you up for success in your career and life post grad?

Working in the corporate world has definitely given me another view which I think has helped me succeed now that I am back in graduate school. The idea of bringing added value to tasks performed isn’t emphasized as heavily in graduate school as it is in the world of sales but the idea of bringing more to the table than what is expected is still a big deal.

On the flip side, what are the biggest challenges or differences you’ve experienced post grad that you didn’t expect or didn’t feel prepared for?

The biggest challenges that I have would be getting used to different managers. I’ve found that it’s best to ask more questions than you think you should because it’s better to ask to much than come back at the end of the year and not have done enough.

2015-10-11 14.52.28 HDR
My mother and I at our first Green Bay Packers game back in October!

What apps, technology and resources do you use regularly to stay organized and do your job?

I use my MacBook Pro every day, but the calendar is my biggest life saver! Putting down any appointments, classes or due dates definitely helps keep my cluttered brain back in order!

At this stage, what are a few of your strengths and weaknesses?

I would say my biggest strength would be drive and a strong sense of responsibility. I would say a weakness would be sometimes jumping the gun on things without asking all the questions I should.

How do you stay motivated when work gets really busy or difficult?

I take a lot of breaks! I don’t worry about whether or not I will get the project done in a timely manner as I tend to not put tasks off to the last second. Sometimes this means I may work wild hours, especially with my field work I have to do the work when Mother Nature allows me to.

Work-life balance? How do you stay afloat and refreshed?

In grad school it sometimes seems as if there is not much of a balance, but as I found from working in the “real” world it’s all up to yourself for creating that balance. I have a good group of friends here in town which helps me to detach from the constant questions I have about my project.

What in your #PostGradLife are you most proud of so far?

I am most proud about making the jump back to graduate school. It was a nerve wracking decision but I am glad that I chose to continue my education and contribute to new ideas and information.

What does life look like right now? Hobbies and interests? What outside of work are you passionate about?.

Life looks hectic! Running my samples and finishing up my classes this semester are taking a lot of my time lately! But I make time to go out with friends and read a few books when I’m not reading some scholarly articles!

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Me and my close friend Whitney touring hiking around Spearfish canyon in the Black Hills of South Dakota.

Just For Fun

What is essential to your morning routine to start the day off right?

Coffee! And looking over a simple plan of what I have in store for the day! As this has been important when trying to get my field or lab work complete when everything is a rush!

Do you have a must-have vice like caffeine or item you can’t live without in your workspace?

Definitely caffeine — coffee makes my world go round. Also, my music. When doing doing lab work, field work or office work,  it seems about impossible without excellent music to get me motivated.

If you were to have another career, all limitations aside, what would it be?

I would be a ski bum! Just relaxing on the slopes living in the mountains sounds like the perfect life to me!

2015-03-13 14.51.49
Me on top of Lone Peak at the Big Sky Ski Resort in Montana.  Turns out I still have work to do on my technique to ski from an alpine like peak!

Moment of truth, what do you really miss about college?

As a graduate student, I miss not having to worry about my project and any lab work that is looming over my head at all times! Haha!


Michael, thank you so much for taking some time out your hectic schedule to participate and share a peek into life in grad school. Good luck on your research and projects!

As always, thanks for reading friends!


Linking up on this Monday with these bloggers.

hello monday country fair button

2 thoughts on “The Road I Traveled: Meet Michael”

  1. I love how you bring someone’s dreams and adventrues to life for us! Thanks for sharing at Country Fair Blog Party! Come back next month, I want to see more!

    1. Thanks Jan! I really enjoy prepping them each time and think there is just so much that young professionals can learn from hearing each other’s experiences, even if its just a bit of encouragement that they need.

      Sure thing! I will definitely be back.

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