Meet Auburn University’s soil testing lab manager and chemist, Dr. Jessica Davis. Before Auburn, Dr. Davis worked at Imaging Systems Technology working on plasma display panels and single-touch displays technology in its infancy. She went back to school and received her Ph.D. in chemistry from Wayne’s State University in Detroit, MI.
When first hired by Auburn, Dr. Davis served as the laboratory director and lecturer for general chemistry. She conceded, “The students were fun and interesting, but I realized I missed working hands-on in the lab.” When offered the position of lab manager, Dr. Davis seized the opportunity enthusiastically. She elaborated, “The opportunity was unique because it was an agricultural lab [so] I was able to be in the lab and get my hands dirty.”
Since agriculture encompasses chemistry, it was practical for Dr. Davis to implement her skills and knowledge as a chemist while working in the soil lab. She explained the relationship in her own words: “The soil has so many chemistry components; from soil digestion, pH, buffer pH and all the nutrients in the soil required to assist with optimal plant growth…it is all chemistry.”
Her role now is to conduct day-to-day operations of the lab. Additionally, she is working to grow and expand the lab’s services. “We are currently working to get Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) certified for drinking water, as well as adding additional testing options such as equine specific packages and potting media testing for raised beds.”
In her place of work, she has encountered firsthand the attentiveness of Auburn lab users. She shared a memorable moment with a fellow female chemist and gardener testing her soil. “She was growing a garden. She would bring me coffee and stop in to talk about her garden and what she was growing, she would even bring me vegetables that she grew. [Through this] I realized there are Auburn users who love connecting and sharing their life with you in the process of conducting a soil test.”
Outside of work, Dr. Davis enjoys spending time with her soon-to-be 13-year-old son and five-year-old daughter. Her son plays travel soccer and her daughter loves unicorns (and believes magic is real). In addition to spending quality time with family, Dr. Davis loves spending time outdoors running and hiking.
Dr. Davis has always had an affinity for a deep and thorough understanding of the world. She explained that this urge is what drew her to the field of chemistry. “If I invest myself in a role or subject, I want to know everything about that topic. Never casually, but all the way to the atomic level. Chemistry allows me to do that.”
If you are hoping to pursue a career similar to Dr. Davis, she advises, “Don’t fall victim to imposter syndrome. You know more than you give yourself credit for, the longer you do your job, the more you learn and the better you will get.” This advice can be generalized to any endeavor.