This is the first time a protagonist of one of my profiles has told me he doesn’t want to be interviewed, not out of arrogance, but modesty. He prefers to shine the spotlight on the work of his team and on the people he has trained in his role as mentor throughout more than 27 years of work at CIAT.

Madhusudana Idupulapati Rao, or simply Rao, as he is affectionately known to friends and colleagues, has shown many people that the work accomplished as a team is more valuable than what one achieves individually. His passion is science, with which he nourishes his knowledge, sharing it daily at the Center. I became convinced of that the day I contacted him for an interview: his response was short and to the point: “Don’t waste your time on me, Sylvia, your time is valuable for CIAT and for science.”

That, in a nutshell (or a bean pod), is Rao; Doctor of Plant Physiology, professor and scientist with broad experience in plant nutrition; born in India and based in Colombia since 1989. His professional footprint will remain indelible in his more than 160 scientific publications. “Although he may leave CIAT, he will be ‘immortal’ because his methodologies will remain embodied in the books and we will be able to apply them in the bean trials,” said Norma Barbosa, assistant in the bean program, who has worked under the tutelage of Dr. Rao for the past three years.

But now, as 2016 draws to a close, it’s also the end of an era for our affable Dr. Rao. With his retirement, he says goodbye to his plant physiology and nutrition team at CIAT, for whom he will always be an eternal professor, the one who taught them about the importance of discipline, precision, and rigor in the methodical design of scientific trials, processes, and projects. He will join his wife, daughters, and grandchildren in Chicago, in the United States, on December 31, to begin a new path.

Discipline in science

Those I interviewed indicated that he will remembered warmly/fondly by those who know him because of his warm and ready smile. In his career at CIAT, he dedicated a large part of his time to offering his knowledge to many Masters and doctoral students from Colombia and other countries, some of whom continue to receive feedback about the progress of their research, field work, formulation of hypotheses, and structuring of scientific documents.

“I came to the Center 13 years ago, he has been like a father to me and I was able to get my master’s degree and doctorate thanks to the patience and the methods I learned in order for my publications to be successful.”

José Polanía

Doctor of biology and plant biotechnology from CIAT

His ability as a mentor has positively affected the professional life of many young scientists. “He is like my father in the area of tropical forages. Ever since I came to the Center, I have counted on him to resolve questions or concerns,” said Jacobo Arango, environmental molecular biologist, who defined Dr. Rao in a single phrase: discipline in science.

Recognizing the contributions of the team members is another of his characteristics, which has been reflected in the work he led in the forage and bean programs. These include areas such as sustainable intensification of forages in livestock systems to improve production and protect the environment, and tolerance of beans to drought, heat, and low soil fertility.

Beyond science

No matter where he goes, Rao will always be welcome. Colleagues and friends, such as the CIAT geographer, Glenn Hyman, are convinced that this scientist will be remembered for his readiness to support others and recognize their work. Sharing this opinion is CIAT specialist in tropical forages and climate change, Juan Andrés Cardoso. “He is a very good person who has a strong sense of family, and he understands the importance of this for his team members too.”

But Rao’s life is not all science and professional successes. The people closest to him confirm that he is a person who is dedicated to his family, who finds time to devote to his favorite sport (tennis), and who takes a heart-felt interest in his baseball team, the Chicago Cubs, who, for the first time in 108 years, won the World Series this year.

Dr. Rao’s famous sayings

You’re not thinking!
Now what happens next?
Always ready…
A lot of work …
What are we doing?
That’s what life is all about

“Rao’s loyalty is admirable! … to be a fan of a team that was never a champion for so many years shows what kind of person he is and how much we have to learn from him in our lives.”

Glenn Hyman

CIAT Geographer

There will always be many stories to tell about Dr. Rao, but his modesty gets in the way. So this not “goodbye”, rather a “see you later”, Rao — CIAT will always be your home. The wisdom you shared with so many is already bearing fruit, and for this the world of science thanks you.

“Dr. (Prof.) I. Rao has achieved a huge record of research outcomes during his distinguished career at CIAT. We all appreciate his dedication, humility, good humor and friendship. We will certainly miss him as he begins his well-deserved retirement. We hope that he will find time to continue to help CIAT in the future, for instance, mentoring younger generations of researchers as well as guiding the less young at CIAT on how to continue to perform. Star researchers are hard to find, more so if they dedicate their entire professional life to strengthening the mission of a CGIAR Center; but even harder to find is the combination of a star researcher embodied in such a gentle and refined human being! Thanks Prof. you have done a lot for CIAT and we will continue along the path you showed us!”

Ruben Echeverría

Director of CIAT

We invite Twitter users to gather their messages of thanks for Dr. Rao under the hashtag #GraciasDrRao (in Spanish) or #ThankYouDrRao (in English), citing the @MyCIAT account.

Find out more about Dr. Rao’s research at CIAT here

Sylvia Pineda Ramos

Sylvia Pineda Ramos

Internal Communications Analyst of CIAT


José Antonio Arana Salazar

José Antonio Arana Salazar

Knowledge Management and Communications analyst of CIAT


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