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Julian Cosner, who begins his PhD studies this fall in entomology and plant pathology, has set his sights on an area that’s just taking root: pest management for the industrial hemp industry in the southeastern United States.

Cosner, from the Fountain City area of Knoxville, is one of five PhD students recently honored as Tennessee Doctoral Fellows. He earned his bachelor’s degree in plant sciences from UT in 2016 and then worked in various horticulture jobs and as a graduate research assistant at UT. He hopes to complete his PhD in the fall of 2022.

Tennessee Doctoral Fellows are chosen every three years; this is only the second group of fellows at UT. The fellowships are funded by the Tennessee Higher Education Commission and UT’s Graduate School.

Recipients are chosen from nominations campus-wide. The three-year awards consist of a $20,000 fellowship, a 25 percent assistantship in their home department, a tuition waiver, and $2,500 for conference travel or other academic expenses. In addition, the fellows enjoy networking and professional development opportunities and are paired with a faculty mentor.

“Being on the cutting edge of agricultural research in a newly emerging market in Tennessee means that I can help lay the foundation to help UT be the premier source of information for industrial hemp in our region,” Cosner said. “I am interested in the biodiversity of potential pests of industrial hemp in the southeastern US, and specifically in Tennessee,” he said.

The 2018 federal farm bill legalized the production of hemp as an agricultural commodity, removed it from the list of controlled substances, and listed it as a covered commodity under crop insurance.

“Since that bill was signed, many Tennessee growers have struggled growing the crop due to a variety of biological and environmental agents. Little is known about the range of pests that affect industrial hemp in Tennessee, and my research aims to develop integrated pest management practices geared for our neck of the woods.”

For Cosner, the choice to stay at UT for his PhD work was clear-cut.

Even as an undergraduate, Cosner said, he felt “a sense of belonging on the agriculture campus unlike anything else.”

“There are a few individuals who made that possible,” he said. He credits Senior Lecturer Andrew Pulte for helping him get started in public horticulture.

“Sue Hamilton (associate professor and director of UT Gardens) is a friend and true treasure to the public garden industry. She taught me the importance of beautifying the world around us. Carl Sams, a master in the complexity of indoor agriculture, has cultivated my passion to feed and teach the next generation.

“And Professor Jerome Grant, my current graduate mentor, whose charisma is unparalleled, has demonstrated the importance of insects in the world and been a fountain of information for my research in entomology.”

Cosner said the fellowship will open doors for him whether he opts to stay in academia or work elsewhere.

“And it has lifted a huge burden from my shoulders monetarily, and allowed me to focus my attention on research and professional development.”