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James Kotcon

James Kotcon eating an ice cream cone.

Describe your research

I have several projects related to plant parasitic nematodes and animal parasitic nematodes. I’ve also been actively involved in research at the Organic Farm for much of the last 20 years. 


One current project is attempting to find organic management practices for nematode parasites in sheep. A second project looks at nematode management in peach orchards in West Virginia.  I’m emphasizing biological pest controls and I have a grad student working on various fungi that help to control plant parasitic nematodes. A third project is trying to understand organic farming systems more broadly by working with long-term farming systems trials. We’re trying to evaluate ecological responses of different organic farming practices. We have some long-term trials working with those. And I keep puttering with industrial hemp, especially their nematode, fungal and insect pests.


One of the interesting facets with the long-term farming systems work has been how long it takes for organic farming systems to actually reach a steady state. It’s been over 20 years now and those systems keep evolving and changing. A short-term research project would not have been able to identify all of the changes that organic farmers experience in a longer-term system. The typical two- or three-year research grant simply would not have been enough to understand or predict these longer-term changes. 

What jobs did you have before coming to WVU?

After graduate school, I spent two years as a postdoc working with plant parasitic nematodes in potatoes. I joined the faculty in 1985 and I’ve been here pretty much ever since.

What has been the best or most enjoyable time/class/moment in your job?

I like a lot of different aspects of this job. Research has always been fun. I’ve come to appreciate teaching much more than I had expected and that has really become the majority of my time at this point. Getting students to appreciate and understand many concepts, and watching students learn to apply those concepts, has been probably the most enjoyable thing I do. 


What’s one thing you recently learned?

One of our recent projects has been looking at new methods for isolating nematode trapping fungi. We have been able to identify several types of media and incubation methods that greatly enhance our ability to detect these fungi in soils. That’s been quite rewarding. 

What’s one thing you wish you had known in college?

As a college and graduate student I was very focused on developing a research career. I wish I had spent more time developing teaching skills. That has become a big chunk of my current efforts. I know that there are approaches that would benefit my teaching abilities. I would have learned those much more quickly I think. 

If you won a billion dollars, what would you do with the money?

I think a lot of that would probably go toward travel as well as contributions to various charitable organizations and some of the things that I’m involved with.  I’ve been involved with various environmental organizations: the Sierra Club, West Virginia Environmental Council, Union of Concerned Scientists. Those would probably be my first three. I’d try to do a better job to make the world a better place.

What were you most grateful for in 2020?

Certainly, I’m most grateful that I’ve been able to stay healthy and so have all of my family.

What were you most excited for in 2021?

I [was] really excited to get back in the classroom and see students face-to-face again. Everybody agrees that online teaching has certainly been very important, but I really think both I and the students [get] more from hands-on and face-to-face learning. So I [was] looking forward to the fall semester!


Just for Fun

What are you currently reading? Science fiction books by Orson Scott Card

What’s your favorite meal? Blueberry crepes, bacon, orange juice, coffee  

What’s one thing you can’t live without? A microscope