What was supposed to be a temporary stay in the United States during his father’s visiting professor stint, has turned into an academic odyssey that has taken Dr. Grzegorz ‘Grzesiek’ Buczkowski to some of the most respected entomology research institutions in the country.
The journey began in 1989 when the Buczkowski family departed their native Poland for what was to be a two-year stint at North Carolina State University in Raleigh, N.C. But plans changed.
“I was so sure we were headed back to Poland that I travelled to the Polish embassy in Washington, D.C. every weekend to stay on top of my school studies from back home,” recalls Buczkowski.
At the time travel between Soviet bloc countries and the West was not easy and even though his father had visited the U.S. prior it was the first trip to the States for Buczkowski and his two siblings.
“We arrived in summer and I did not speak English so my first day of school was a shock to say the least,” says Buczkowski. “But we liked it and acclimated pretty quickly.”
Following graduation, Buczkowski enrolled at NC State studying zoology with the hopes of becoming a doctor or veterinarian. He discovered that path wasn’t one he wanted to take and after earning his degree he set out to find a job where he could pursue his interests in chemistry and toxicology.
Buczkowski landed a lab assistant position at Rhône-Poulenc in Research Triangle Park, N.C., working on early trials for fipronil and fire ants. After two years and with a newfound interest in entomology, he enrolled in graduate school at NC State and asked the company to sponsor him. His bosses told him to go talk with Dr. Coby Schal, one of the country’s most respected entomologists, to see if he had a graduate assistant position open.
“I did not know Dr. Schal previously but knew where his office was in Gardner Hall and we hit it off immediately,” recalls Buczkowski. “I discovered we were both born in Poland and had similar interests, and the lab was literally in my backyard.”
In a 2008 interview with Pest Control Technology Schal said while he was impressed with Buczkowski’s interest in entomology, he wasn’t convinced the young scientist had what it took to succeed academically.
“I am rather embarrassed to admit that I had some early trepidation about Grzesiek as ‘graduate-student material’ based on his undergraduate grades and performance on standardized graduate school tests,” Schal said at the time.
Buczkowski quickly put Schal’s initial hesitation to rest with a strong work ethic, energy and curiosity. Initially his work continued with fipronil but this time studying its impact on controlling German cockroaches.
A Thirst for Knowledge
After earning his master’s degree, he took the advice of his peers and pursued his Ph.D. under newly hired Dr. Jules Silverman. His dissertation combined the study of behavioral ecology, population genetics and chemical ecology directed at understanding colony organization in Argentine ants.
“Looking back, pursuing my Ph.D. was one of the best decisions I’ve made,” says Buczkowski. “I was able to learn from an outstanding mentor and really dive into subject areas that I enjoyed.”
Upon his third ‘graduation’ from NC State, Buczkowski weighed what path to pursue. Was it going back to work for a manufacturer or continue in academia? He chose the latter and ended up with a post-doctoral position at The Ohio State University. A year into the position an opening came up with Purdue University’s Industrial Affiliates program.
Recognized as an innovative researcher who relishes the chance to test new chemistries and be on the cutting edge of technology, Buczkowski found a home in West Lafayette, Ind., where he could pursue both.
The Industrial Affiliates program is 100 percent research focused and is self-funded through grants and conducting valuable research projects for manufacturers looking to have their new active ingredients put through the paces by Buczkowski and his team. The program’s structure is unique and serves as a valuable bridge between manufacturers and the industry.
“We are always working with new chemistries or application tools to see what they can and can’t do,” says Buczkowski. “It’s the most exciting and rewarding part of the job – taking on the challenge of discovering what’s new and how it can be advanced for the betterment of the industry.”
Purdue’s Dr. Gary Bennett says Buczkowski’s background in urban entomology and working relationships with both the structural pest management and chemical manufacturing communities made him the perfect candidate to lead the Industrial Affiliates program.
“Grzesiek is an internationally recognized authority in urban entomology specializing in ant biology and management,” says Bennett. “His abilities have allowed him to rise through the ranks throughout his career and he continues to lead the program in outstanding fashion.”
His curious nature and energy extend beyond the research lab and into his free time. Buczkowski enjoys traveling for work and pleasure with his family including wife, Erin, who he met at NC State, and children, Adrian and Andrew.
“I enjoy seeing new places and learning about what makes people and places tick,” says Buczkowski.
When asked if his children plan on following in his footsteps Buczkowski says their interest in insects has waned since their visits to his lab to see ants and cockroaches as youngsters. “As for my wife, she appreciates the work as long as I leave my subjects in the lab and don’t bring them into the house,” says Buczkowski.
A Respected Industry Colleague
Clay Scherer, global technical manager and RNAi program lead for Syngenta, worked with Buczkowski on research trials for Advion® Cockroach Gel Bait showing how the insecticide transferred between different life cycles and generations of roaches.
“Grzesiek’s can-do attitude and practical approach has made him a well-respected voice in the research community,” says Scherer. “He always looks for new ways to attack a problem and reach a positive solution.”
Dr. Ron Harrison, technical director of international franchising at Orkin, agrees. “Dr. Buczkowski is one of the leading ant researchers in the United States,” he says. “I look to him for thought leadership on ant control,” as well as other structural pests. “In a period of specialization, Dr. Buczkowski is able to maintain research projects in all areas of concern to pest control professionals.”
Scherer says Buczkowski is not only respected by his peers and pest management professionals for his knowledge and experience, but for his energy and engaging personality.
“The positive attitude and constant energy he brings to a project influences and inspires those around him,” adds Scherer. “His leadership skills shine in these situations.”
What leadership role does Buczkowski see research playing as the industry moves forward?
“Continued and expanded collaboration with the industry as they develop new chemistries is where the academic research community can display its leadership,’ says Buczkowski. “Being engaged with manufacturers and listening to pest management professionals to prioritize the needs and how to solve them will be critical.”
Buczkowski adds that it all ties back to the need for pest control services by consumers to protect people, food and property. A need that is growing.
Attracting a new generation of entomologists and training them well will also be a challenge for leaders in the research and academic communities. Buczkowski points to the shrinking numbers of professors and researchers in entomology departments across the country due to retirements and budget reductions. He says many of today’s graduates are pursuing careers in industry vs. the academia path.
“The challenge is to attract new students, but many don’t know what entomology is in high school or when they start college,” says Buczkowski. “They also ask, ‘Can I make a career of this?’ I was the same way when I started and that is why we need to do a better job of selling it to them. I don’t see what I do as a job. It is a great and rewarding career, and I wouldn’t change a thing.”