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!


About me

My Journey into Plant Science

From an early age, I felt drawn towards a career that could measurably benefit others. After briefly considering forensic science and medicine, I realised that a degree in Biology opened a gateway to a vast range of satisfying and stimulating vocations. After completing A Levels in Biology, Chemistry, Maths and Tudor History (the theory being that taking history would stop me forgetting how to write an essay!), I headed north to Durham University to take up a Biology Degree. After my first year, it was clear to me that I wanted to specialise in life at the smaller scale, so took the Cell Biology Degree Route.

Durham Cathedral from Observatory Hill

So how did I end up in Plant Science? In my first year as an undergraduate, a lecture by Doctor Phil Gates on food security made me realise how future peace and prosperity would depend on plant scientists satisfying the needs of a hungry world. Fittingly, I then received an email from the Biology Department inviting me to apply for the 2010 Gatsby Plants Summer School. The Gatsby Plants Foundation works to inspire young people to consider a career as a plant scientist to reverse the current shortage. I was fortunate enough to be awarded a place and was treated to an incredible week in the luxurious surroundings of the York Emergency Planning Centre. From mind-tingling lectures from world-renown experts, practicals using both cutting-edge equipment and the extensive grounds, to challenging team building exercises with a plant theme; the summer school succeeded in showing me that plants were far from an "inferior" option to choose in the life sciences - instead they were equally fascinating (if not more!) as animals, cancer, viruses, etc!

On returning to University for my second year, I immediately began seeking out a summer research placement within a plant science department. Due to my interest, I was encouraged to apply for a Sainsbury Undergraduate Studentship. These prestigious awards can be used to fund a summer project, besides any other activities to develop a career in plant science. After a rigorous interview, I was thrilled to be awarded a studentship, which I used to fund a place on the Undergraduate Summer School at the John Innes Centre (one of the world's leading plant science facilities, located just outside Norwich). Here, I undertook an eight-week project in Dr Phil Wigge's lab, investigating mechanisms of temperature perception in the model plant species, Arabidopsis thaliana (Thale Cress). I also used the studentship to attend two workshops on using computational software to map gene regulatory networks in plants - one held at the Centre of Plant Integrative Biology at Nottingham University, the other held by the Warwick University Systems Biology Centre in Venice. So it was a busy summer!

The following summer, I undertook a second research placement, this time at the National Institute of Agricultural Botany (NIAB) in Cambridge, as part of the Amgen Scholars Scheme. Here, I was investigating a new source of dwarfing genes in wheat. The experience convinced me to pursue a PhD in plant sciences after completing my degree. Shortly after I returned for my final year at Durham, the Biology Department hosted a seminar, with the visiting speaker being a certain Professor Julie Scholes. In simple terms, she demonstrated how her research into the devastating parasitic weed Striga was helping to improve the fortunes of farmers in developing countries. At the end, she happened to mention that she had a PhD opportunity in her lab at the University of Sheffield. I was inspired and didn't hesitate to apply! She seemed to welcome my enthusiasm, invited me for an interview... and here I am!

Meanwhile, as I completed my degree and prepared for the next step in my journey, my interests in Science communication were developing rapidly. I applied to be a volunteer media intern for the 2013 conference of the International Union of Physiological Sciences (IUPS) - it just happened to be located that year in Birmingham, close to my home town in Solihull! No plant science here, but a fascinating breadth of subjects including obesity, cancer, animal survival in extreme conditions... (see Blog archive July 2013). Since then, I have also worked with the Society for Experimental Biology as a Press Intern for their 2014 Annual Meeting in Manchester (see Blog Archive May-June 2014). I hope to be involved with Science Communication for all of my career, whether I move into Academic Research or not. At the moment, however, I will wait to see how I cope with the rigours of a PhD before investigating the next stage!

My interests:

Hillwalking
To my mind, a sunny weekend should mean one thing - a good tramp in the hills! One of the great attractions of Sheffield is its close proximity to the Peak District, a fabulous area to lose yourself in (see  the page "Out and About in Sheffield"). I am also a keen member of the Youth Hostels Association (YHA) and a member of their Base25 network of young people.

Volunteering
I regularly help out at The Sunday Centre in Sheffield - an organisation that provides a social space, tea/coffee bar and a hot, nutritious meal on Sundays to homeless and vulnerable adults in Sheffield City Centre. See https://sites.google.com/site/thesundaycentre/ for more information.

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