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PD/A CRSP Aquanews-Winter 2001
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Graduate Student Profile: Taworn Thunjai

by Anu Gupta

Auburn University graduate student Taworn Thunjai

Diverse may be the best word to describe Taworn Thunjai’s interests and accomplishments. He has a diverse background, having lived in both Thailand and the US, a diverse education, with two bachelor's degrees and two master’s degrees, and diverse experience, with past work in both the scientific and extension realms. He is currently a Ph.D. candidate working with PD/A CRSP researcher Claude Boyd at Auburn University, Alabama, on characteristics of pond soils.

Thunjai first became involved with CRSP work in 1997, when he met Boyd during one of his visits to Thailand. At the time Thunjai was working with the Thai Ministry of Agricultures and Cooperatives, Department of Fisheries. The two were interested in working together, and in June of 1997 Thunjai moved to Auburn University for eleven months. During that time he conducted research on pond soil samples form CRSP sites and developed an interest in the environmental aspects of aquaculture. He is particularly concerned with sustainable practices and aquaculture development and has thus focused on pond soil quality and water quality. In June 1998 Thunjai returned to Auburn University to pursue a second master's degree.

The focus of his master’s thesis was on soil pH measurements. There are a variety of methods used to measure soil pH, and Thunjai found that the methods had never been compared. One of the goals of his project was to determine the best methods for measuring pH. He has done most of his research using samples from CRSP sites. His results show that the most accurate method for measuring pH is to insert a dual or combination electrode into a stirred slurry consisting of a 1:1 ratio of pulverized, dried soil and distilled water. Thunjai, who finished his master’s degree in November 2000, will continue working on characteristics of pond soils as he further pursues a Ph.D.

The road to Auburn has been long, with many turns and twists. Growing up in Chiang Mai, a small village in northern Thailand nestled in a setting of abundant natural resources, may have been the spark that ignited Thunjai’s interest in the life sciences. He began his studies in fisheries, attending Kasetsart University, at the time the only university in Thailand with a Fisheries Department. He graduated in 1987 with a major in fisheries biology and a minor in aquaculture and then began to work at the Ministry of Agricultures and Cooperatives as a fisheries biologist and extension officer.

It was while at the Ministry that he noticed that scientists and farmers often had different approaches for solving the same problems. This dichotomy between methods led Thunjai to want to know how to link fisheries sciences with the social sciences. He went back to school in 1994 to get his first master’s degree in Social Development and Management from the National Institute of Development Administration.

Simultaneously, Thunjai worked on his second bachelor’s degree, a B.A. in Public Administration from Sukhothai Thammathiraj University, an “open” university that allowed students to study at home. He finished the degrees in 1996 and 1997, respectively. As if working on two degrees simultaneously did not keep him busy enough, he continued working with the Ministry while he was in school.

Thunjai notes that both the natural sciences and the social sciences must be integrated with each other before advances in environmental quality and productivity can occur. He hopes that his training in both the natural and social sciences will enable him to address some of the aquaculture problems in Thailand and around the world. A blend of natural and social science—combining flexibility and open communication— can often lead to more productive results when working with traditional aquaculturists, who may initially be resistant to changing long-practiced methods.

Leaving Thailand in 1997 was quite a change for Thunjai, as it was his first time abroad. However, he was excited to work with Boyd and wanted to learn about different cultures. Given that the US and Thailand are quite different, he had to adapt to the different culture and weather patterns. He still misses home, especially the food and his family.

Thunjai spends a lot of time in the lab, but he loves to travel and collect field samples. When he is not working he likes to garden, swim, or visit the nearby Appalachian mountains. Before he returns to Thailand he hopes to visit Alaska in order to see some of the diversity of the US and to see real snow. This diversity that Thunjai thrives on, in both his interests and his experiences, is sure to make quite a difference when this CRSP student enters the

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