Matt Gullickson Named 2023-2024 Doctoral Dissertation Fellowship Winner

July 31, 2023


Each year, the University's Graduate School awards the highly competitive Doctoral Dissertation Fellowship (DDF) to the most accomplished PhD candidates. This fellowship offers PhD candidates an opportunity to devote full-time effort to an outstanding research project by providing time to finalize and write their dissertation during the fellowship year. A $25,000 stipend, academic year tuition at the general graduate rate for up to 14 credits per semester, subsidized health insurance through the Graduate Assistant Health Plan for up to one calendar year, and a $1,000 conference grant are awarded to those recognized. 

Strawberries growing on the St. Paul Campus
Strawberries grown on the St. Paul Campus.

This year, Matthew Gullickson, a PhD candidate in the Applied Plant Sciences  program received this distinct honor. Matt is in his third year of his PhD program and has been researching the development of alternative non-insecticidal pest management strategies for spotted-wing drosophila (SWD), an invasive fly threatening food and economic security by damaging fruit crops. Matt’s research focuses specifically on improving the identification and assessing amounts of SWD in fruit, evaluating botanical repellents for preventing SWD egg-lay, and measuring the efficacy of these behavior-based controls to more common cultural and insecticidal options. 

Matt’s research is multifaceted, allowing him to conduct experiments both in the laboratory and field. This includes testing various border crops like sweet alyssum, a plant shown to be a repellent of SWD, to assess the impacts of insect biodiversity like detrimental herbivores and beneficial pollinators. Matt’s research also uses a molecular-based approach to find pests in berries without having to use a microscope, which could save time for researchers and improve detection of future invasive species. With the help of an immersion blender and a PCR test, Matt is able to detect pests like SWD by emulsifying fruit and testing for pest DNA. 

Sweet alyssum planted along strawberries as a border crop.
Sweet alyssum planted as a strawberry border crop.

Through his research, Matt has also been able to collaborate with experts from various fields and organizations, including HAFA. Located in Dakota County, HAFA is a 155 acre research and incubator farm. “I’ve really enjoyed working with growers like HAFA. They have so much experience farming and always have interesting research ideas. They ask great questions about how to improve practices and have become a great thought partner for me throughout my research.” says Matt. 

Prior to receiving this distinct honor, Matt was scheduled to defend his thesis in December of 2023, leaving him a few short months to prepare his dissertation and data after the end of the growing season. “Since the DDF includes a full year of funding, I have more time to finish writing my dissertation and have another field season to validate my results.” says Matt. He also hopes to use the conference grant to attend a professional development conference in the spring to continue building towards his future career goals after graduation. It is with great excitement that we congratulate Matt Gullickson on this distinct honor!