Cultivating a career in horticultural research

Darcy Bonds sitting in a brown wicker chair with various pots of flowers behind her.
Darcy Bonds, senior in horticulture, has explored both her creative and scientific passions as a student at Iowa State University. She has gained hands-on experience conducting plant research and working in greenhouses.

By Amber Friedrichsen

Darcy Bonds has always had a green thumb, which led her to major in horticulture at Iowa State University. She also has a mind for science and an eye for creativity that have bolstered her expertise in plant biology, computer skills and landscape design.

Bonds, a senior in horticulture, wanted to enhance her artistic abilities upon coming to college, so she centered her coursework around landscape design. As a sophomore, she declared a minor in design studies to supplement her horticulture curriculum. It wasn’t until she was accepted into the Research Experiences for Undergraduates Program through the National Science Foundation and interned at the Donald Danforth Plant Science Center that she gained an appreciation for computational biology, too.

After this internship, Bonds’ desire to explore plant research began to bloom. The following summer, she was hired as the computational biology intern for Ball Horticultural Company, a global leader in ornamental crop research, breeding, production and marketing. There, she learned how to use various biotechnologies, contributed to a crop genetics diversity study, and wrote code for support tools used by the company’s plant pathology team.

“At Ball, I had a lot of responsibility,” Bonds said. “My supervisor really pushed me to try new things and find solutions, and that was a huge confidence boost.”

Bonds declared a second minor in bioinformatics and computational biology after her experience at Ball to continue building a background in plant research. This semester, she is working in a lab under Marna Yandeau-Nelson, associate professor of genetics, biology and cell biology, to identify orphan genes in maize and study a specific enzyme in plant leaf cuticles.

In addition to computational tasks, Bonds will be assisting in the greenhouse and conducting wet lab analyses. She said this combination of work is where her interests come to a crossroads.

“I like computers, but the biological piece is what makes it meaningful to me,” Bonds said. “I really enjoy looking at things on the cellular and molecular level, so getting to merge plant science with computer skills is really where my niche is.”

Outside of classrooms and laboratories, Bonds has been an active member of the Horticulture Club and recently rounded out a year of serving as the club’s president. She has also been a peer mentor for incoming freshmen and transfer students in horticulture, and a teaching assistant for classes within the department.

Barbara Clawson, student services specialist in horticulture, has helped Bonds define her academic ambitions and home in on her career goals over the past few years.  

“She has so many interests and talents and has rolled them all into a major that makes her employable with various types of jobs,” Clawson said. “Darcy is a well-rounded student that has used internships, academics and leadership opportunities to set herself up for her perfect career path in the future.”

Set to graduate in fall 2023, Bonds plans on pursuing a doctorate in plant biology and becoming a professor or doing research within the horticulture industry. Between graduation from Iowa State and the start of graduate school, she wants to complete a botanical artist certificate to get back in touch with her creative side.