409 Bradfield Hall
Ithaca, NY 14853
Peter Bradbury is a computational biologist working for the USDA Agricultural Research Service and affiliated with Cornell University. After receiving a Ph.D. in plant breeding from Cornell, he went to work in the seed industry as a corn breeder, responsible for developing improved inbred lines and hybrids. He was hired by a company called Pfizer Genetics, when Pfizer thought they could make money by applying their expertise in pharmaceutical biotechnology to plant breeding. Because that turned out to be a lot more difficult than they had anticipated, they sold their seed business to DeKalb AgResearch. Fifteen years later, Monsanto purchased DeKalb. Monsanto was in turn purchased by a drug company named Pharmacia, which was in turn purchased by Pfizer, which spun off the agricultural business as an independent company named Monsanto. During this process Dr. Bradbury managed corn research stations in North Carolina, Ohio, and Wisconsin. He spent his last five years in the seed industry managing breeding software support and development and advanced corn testing for Monsanto. Dr. Bradbury parted ways with Monsanto after about 5 years and transitioned to public research to work on statistical genetics and software development in maize and small grains.
Why I Became a Scientist
Basically, I became a scientist because for as long as I can remember I wanted to be a scientist. The fact that my father was a geologist and he would occasionally take me to his lab at the Illinois Geological Survey on weekends and show me the rock crushers, microscopes, and rock samples was a major influence, though I never really had an interest in studying rocks myself. In fact, I started college as a physics major. After a couple of years, though, I wanted to move to something more applied that would benefit people more directly. So, I changed my major to Agricultural Science and quickly gravitated to plant breeding. Plant breeding captured my interest because it requires an understanding and use of a wide range of scientific fields from agronomy to plant pathology, plant physiology, and statistics. Today that would include molecular biology as well though that was not really a discipline when I was a college student.
The first stage of my career working as a corn breeder was very applied. I spent equal amounts of time working in the seed lab, analyzing data, and working outside planting, pollinating corn, collecting data, and harvesting. That work included trips to Hawaii in the winter to pollinate corn in winter nurseries. Being able to work in both field and lab, making selections that made measurable improvements in corn lines and hybrids, and seeing my work products being purchased and used by growers gave me a lot of personal satisfaction.
Now, as a computational biologist, I spend most of my time inside sitting in front of a computer. And, for me that is great, because it gives me the opportunity to crunch numbers, do statistics, and write computer software, which I have found challenging and interesting all through my career.