Hello and welcome to my blog! My name is Caroline and I am a PhD student at the University of Sheffield. My research project focuses on Striga - a genus of parasitic plants that devastates harvests by infecting food crops. I am exploring the defence reactions that can make host plants more resistant against Striga. Due to my ongoing battles with anorexia, I haven't made as much progress as I would have liked but I am determined to finish the course.


This blog charts the ups and downs of life in the lab, plus my dreams to become a science communicator and forays into public engagement and science policy....all while trying to keep my mental and physical health intact. Along the way, I'll also be sharing new plant science stories, and profiles of some of the researchers who inspire me on this journey. So whether you have a fascination for plants, are curious about what science research involves, or just wonder what exactly I do all day, read on - I hope you find it entertaining!


Friday, 12 January 2018

2018 - A challenging year ahead...

"Your project has ended up being rather....challenging". 
So said my second supervisor during our progress meeting this week. We were surrounded by graphs, tables and scribbled on pieces of paper. I had come with high hopes that we work out a meticulous strategy for the rest of my PhD. Instead, I was despairing that I would ever be able to make sense of the data I already had, let alone make a plan for going forward.

The clock is rapidly counting down the remainder of my PhD. I have 9 months of funding left, then it will be time to leave the lab and somehow work everything I have done into an acceptable thesis. This ought to be a compelling body of work where my experiments elegantly prove or disprove the chosen hypotheses. But it currently feels like I am trying to assemble a jigsaw puzzle without the picture, and not even being certain that all the pieces are in the box. 
Striga gesnerioides - a very effective parasite...

Mr project is a tricky system to get your head around. Basically, I am trying to work out why the parasitic weed Striga gesnerioides is so capable of infecting the model  plant, Arabidopsis thaliana, when other parasites, including the close relative, Striga hermonthica, are  barred entry. Is the parasite producing effector molecules that actively suppress the host immune system? Does the host lack a receptor for recognising the foreign organism? Does the parasite produce plant hormones that mimic those of the host, and thus hijack defence signalling pathways?

I still have no idea and the experiments I have done so far - including testing genetic mutant Arabidopsis plants and analysing changes in gene expression - haven't really shed any light on the problem. I'm beginning to panic. I can't see how this will ever impress a viva examiner. Do I really have enough time to turn it around? I'm not afraid of hard work - long, unsocial hours are par for the course in a PhD. What I worry about is getting enough data in the remaining time - and that will require careful experimental planning and no mistakes. Talk about pressure!
Filling my growth cabinet with plants...

I know what they say: Most PhD students get 90% of their data in their final year. I'd say it to anyone else in the same situation, but can't convince myself that it will apply to me. Especially when I am so good at sabotaging myself by a) not prioritising rest when I need to b) getting distracted and taking on too many other commitments and c) not giving myself adequate nutrition - a relic from the 'bad old days' of anorexia. 

In short, this year will need a really focused strategy. I have cut down on my extra writing projects and try to delete all of those emails starting with 'We are looking for volunteers...' without reading them. And in my growth cabinet are 120+ plates of germinated Arabidopsis seed on agar, for my next big assay. If it works, it could give me a shed load of data to occupy myself with for at least a month or two. If not....well let's not think that far.

So from me to you, here's hoping for a highly successful and productive 2018!


1 comment:

  1. Hello Caroline. Good to read this. Hoping and praying that your research gives you some useful data in the coming weeks and months.

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