Jack Watson: PhD, Soils Scientist
- Undergrad in Education and Math
- Taught High School, in Ohio
- Masters and PhD from University of Arizona in Soils & Water Sciences
- Extra concentration in Agricultural Irrigation Engineering
- Postdoctoral Research Associate – CSIRO Caberra, Australia
- Professor of Soils Science and Graduate Advisor, Penn State University
- Cooperative Extension Water Quality Specialist – Arizona
- Cooperative Extension - Agriculture and Natural Resources – Program Leader and Asst. Director of Extension
- Short term trip to Romania in 1992, to support Food for the Hungry Program there
- Multiple short term trips to Kosova in 2007 – 2010 to support Frontiers Agency couple serving there
I had the amazing privilege of growing up on a farm in eastern Ohio. Many members of my family had a faith heritage that I was made aware of over time. Great, great grandparents on my father’s side of the family had been part of the Underground Railroad prior to and during the Civil War, and on my mother’s side a great, great grandfather had been a pastor. I never doubted that my parents, grandparents (paternal grandparents lived next door on the farm and maternal grandparents lived in a town 3 miles away), aunts and uncles cared for me and for my brothers very much. It was a “wonderful life” (although we didn’t have a lot of material goods).
Nearly every Sunday during church we were presented with the opportunity to respond to the good news of Jesus’ life, death and resurrection for us. Most weeks I felt the need to respond, but didn’t due to pride! A key influence in my life was a man who managed a store where I worked in high school. He was always encouraging me spiritually, whether I responded well or not! One week, during my freshman year in high school, following a church service, it was his encouragement that caused me to take the step of acknowledging that I needed Jesus as my savior. I will always be deeply indebted to him. At that time of commitment, the pastor said to me that there was a passage of scripture that applied to me and that passage was John 1:6, which says “there was a man sent from God whose name was John” (only he inserted Jack in place of John). That statement really stuck with me and has often come to mind, reminding me of Who is guiding my life.
In college I began to grow spiritually through the encouragement and support of friends involved in a campus Christian organization. As I took on some simple leadership roles over time (e.g. leading a Bible discussion) I was able to interact with people who were focused on walking obediently with the Lord and their lives influenced me to keep thinking about what it meant to be “a man sent from God”.
As a result of involvement with that ministry, both during and following college, I was able to get time with some wise men and women of God. As I was teaching high school math after college, but wanting to “do more” I was looking for how could the Lord use me internationally to minister. A guest visiting my roommate talked with me some about what I should be thinking about regarding getting “overseas” to minister. He asked what I really wanted to do, and I said that although I enjoyed math and had considered pursing a graduate degree in computer science, I really missed the enjoyment I had when farming. His response was, “So pursue the heart God has given you!”
That guidance led me to a graduate program in Soil and Water Science, which used my math skills, at the University of Arizona. Following my MS, I pursued a PhD, and had some outstanding mentorship by both my adviser and by my department head, who became my dissertation director. Following the PhD, I had the amazing privilege of working with scientists in Australia at their research organization, CSIRO. There I was supervised and mentored by a wonderful brother in Christ. When my wife I and left Australia he made sure to put me in contact with another brother working in Soil Science who was in Hawaii. He too was a great influence on my life.
After my Postdoctoral experience I landed a position at the University of Arizona with a focus on water quality outreach to agricultural and rural communities. During those years (1984 – 1999) our family faced many challenges; some with much grief such as the loss of my wife’s twin sister, but God kept us engaged with those who had a heard to minister to others, and especially minister to internationals. We were exposed to that ministry through international students and through ongoing connections that friends had with “full time” ministers who worked internationally.
I was interested in seeing how I might participate in a meaningful way to support such ministries, and finally was given the opportunity to work with Food for the Hungry in Romania, through a short term trip used to help the staff develop further contacts with the agricultural community. I didn’t do a lot, I felt – worked on a weather station, made some farm visits, and presented a couple talks. But the time was useful and God apparently used it to strengthen the work there.
A number of years later, while planning to travel to Kosova to participate in a ministry there, war broke out and that opportunity was lost (or so I thought). Amazingly, about 10 years later friends who were in full time ministry in Kosova invited me to join them for a few weeks to see how God might use me to help them build contacts with the scientific community at the University in Pristina. I was delighted, and was impressed with how God could use a scientist to make connections with people that were important for the success of the ministry. I gave a few talks, met with some students and was used by the local staff to gain some entry to new opportunities (all just by being myself!).
My heart is still to be used to minister internationally, but these days I find those opportunities are at my doorstep! I don’t have to travel several thousand miles to be a supporting actor in bringing the Good News to others who have never heard. Now, I can invite visiting scientists and international students to visit my home, or have some conversation (coffee!) time together, and be used right where I am. I count it a real privilege to have traveled to a few distant places during my career, but I also count it a privilege to have a small part in what God is doing in people’s lives right here, right now
- What is one essential thing you would say to a high school or college student first considering a life in science or science-related field? You have to really enjoy it without it becoming “a god”. It will become something that is so attractive that you won’t want to leave it to meet other life demands. Exploration is the best way to find “your calling”. Exploration means talking with others in science, talking with those you trust who know you well – both your strengths and weaknesses, looking for and trying out opportunities to “do some science”. (for example – high school science projects, volunteering to help your science teacher with projects, working with a local organization that does science type work (for example, a local watershed group)
- What is the best career-vocational advice you received? It came from a spiritual counselor who encouraged me that if I had a desire to head into a specific career area to do that, since God was going to use me as He saw fit and wasn’t limited to my idea of what I “should” do (based on preconceived notions of what is spiritual)
- How do you sense God changing you and this world through your work? He has reaffirmed to me that obedience to Him is NOT burdensome, but a joy! Doing what He created me to do is an unbelievable privilege! I have the opportunity to be the “surprise” when students get to know me and find out that a follower of Jesus can also be a scientist! The international volunteer work was a great encouragement to me and a benefit to those working to minister internationally. Because I was a “curiosity” that drew interest new connections were able to be made by those I worked with.
- How do you see your career as a Kingdom calling and what do you hope to achieve through it? I hope to be a representative of Christ, in whatever role He has me play, in such a way that it brings glory to Him. My career has given me opportunities to do that in circumstances into which I was able to gain entry due to my “expertise”.
- How has God shaped your character through this profession? The roles I have played in my profession are those of a repository of information and explanation. This has forced me to be wise about how I frame responses, since words matter a lot! I think I am more thoughtful and considerate than I used to be.
- How does your career in science motivate your faith? Hoes your faith energize and inform your career? I am humbled to be able to understand a little bit of God’s Creation in a way that few others have the privilege to do. It is such an awesome privilege to make sense scientifically out of information that might seem disconnected by others. Since I know that God is a God of order, I know that I can move toward understanding connections between different components of the world I study.
- How did you prepare for and attain your current position? I attended graduate school, worked as a postdoctoral scholar, and then did practical outreach through Cooperative Extension. That forced me to focus on real world questions and helped me understand how what I had “learned” in academia actually was useful to explain phenomena seen in the real world. The leadership role in Cooperative Extension in PA prepared me to frame answers to questions from the classroom that I believe are more useful than they would be if I was simply “answering the question”.
- What can you see in your background that “divine” preparation for your path? Was your path planned or unexpected? My wife and I planned to be used internationally in ministry when I first entered graduate school. We expected to be part of a mission agency of some kind. But God had other plans and we ended up with only about a year as “tentmakers” in Australia with The Navigators. So, in some sense our path was planned in a broad way, but certainly we didn’t expect to stay in the US most of our lives with only brief stints internationally.
- How were your specific research or study topics chosen in school and profession? My graduate research topics were chosen at the MS level based on a funded grant that my adviser had. At the PhD level it was chosen as a result of guidance from my adviser and dissertation director, as well as other committee members. In my recent profession the research topic has primarily focused on transport of Personal Care Products through the environment and subsequent impact on the environment. The emphasis is on water and chemical transport through soil, primarily, with a desire to understand human and environmental impacts. Much of the recent research has been driven by funding opportunities and graduate student interests.
- What are the greatest challenges as a believer in discipline and career? The greatest challenges are finding others of like mind and building relationships. There are a number of other believers who attend national professional meetings, but opportunities for fellowship with others are scattered , infrequent, and seldom at a deep level. Isaiah 58:10, 11 - … if you give yourself to the hungry and satisfy the desire of the afflicted, then your light will rise in darkness and your gloom will become like midday, and the Lord will continually guide you and satisfy your desire in scorched places, and give strength to your bones and you will be like a watered garden and like a spring of water whose waters do not fail.