Rosalind Franklin: The Dark Lady of DNA by Brenda Maddox

Want a real life ‘Lessons in Chemistry’? Then this is the book for you!

I’m going to be honest; I completely judged this book by its cover. A Rosalind Franklin biography written in 2002 with a classy sepia photograph on the cover did not seem like an exciting read to me. I began reading expecting a dry but informative account of Franklin’s scientific career that would do me good but would probably feel like a bit of a chore. Well, the famous idiom was right yet again, because from the first chapter of this book I was hooked. What this book actually is, is an incredibly moving and motivating account of an exceptional scientist’s battle to do her ground-breaking research in the face of sexism, antisemitism and the aftermath of WWII.

Read moreRosalind Franklin: The Dark Lady of DNA by Brenda Maddox

White Rose DTP students attend the Synthetic Biology Grand Challenge

Jack Stenning (University of York) and Andrew Cowan (University of Leeds) took part in the Grand Challenges in Synthetic Biology skills school this summer. This was a four-day residential event hosted by South West Biosciences DTP and funded by the BBSRC, held in Bristol.  We interviewed them about their experience…

Read moreWhite Rose DTP students attend the Synthetic Biology Grand Challenge

Science Book Spotlight

‘The Immortal Life of Henrietta Lacks’ by Rachel Skloot

If you’ve studied biosciences, chances are you’ve heard of HeLa cells. They were the first human cells to be successfully cultured in vitro and the Hela cell line has been instrumental in countless ground-breaking discoveries from the development of the polio vaccine to genome mapping. The benefits of an immortal human cell line to science are huge, but what are the costs?

Read moreScience Book Spotlight

YES20: Team Mycrobio’s journey

You may have heard about the YES competition before – but what does it actually entail and why should you consider joining? We caught up with our DTP-funded team Mycrobio, made up of 5 White Rose DTP PhD students, who took part in the YES20 edition of the competition and won a prize at the final! Read our interview with the team below to find out all about their experience.

Read moreYES20: Team Mycrobio’s journey

Virtual conferences: how to make your research more accessible.

Image from

Remote conferences and seminars bypass the logistical, financial and environmental burdens of travelling. They can also encourage a greater diversity of participants, readily bringing together expertise and perspective from various career stages and backgrounds. However, virtual meetings are not without their drawbacks, especially when it comes to accessibility. Indeed, many of these problems have been highlighted as people turn away from the face-to-face format in response to the COVID-19 pandemic. Perhaps with the current momentum of online platforms, now is the ideal time to address these issues and improve the accessibility of our online meetings for now and in the future. Here, we highlight some accessibility barriers that are often overlooked in online meetings and offer advice to organisers and presenters on how to mitigate these. 

Read moreVirtual conferences: how to make your research more accessible.

Exploring the science behind everyday plants- Stinging nettles

What with the advent of better weather you are more likely to be coming into contact with Urtica dioica a.k.a. stinging nettles! Renowned for their painful sting, they are actually really cool plants that play an important role in local ecology. They are a larval food source for several species of butterflies and moths including the Peacock butterfly. They often grow in shady, wet wasteland with heavy metal content and have shown potential to be used in bioremediation strategies, removing the heavy metals from contaminated areas.

A botanical illustration of Stinging Nettle from Flora von Deustchland, 1885

Read moreExploring the science behind everyday plants- Stinging nettles

Exploring the science behind everyday plants- Artemisia

The 25th of April is World Malaria Day so this month we’re going to look at a plant that has become famous for helping to combat this devastating disease. It’s possible that you had not heard of Artemisia annua (sweet wormwood) until 2015 when Tu Youyou, who first discovered the compounds artemisinin and dihydroartemisinin, was awarded the Nobel Prize in Physiology or Medicine for her work on these antimalarial drugs.

Sweet wormwood– not a spectacular looking plant but certainly very useful!

Read moreExploring the science behind everyday plants- Artemisia

The Space Chile Grow a Pepper Plant Challenge: your chance to contribute to growing plants in space!

Space chile logo

My name is Luke and I’m about to undertake my PIPS placement with the Space Chile Grow a Pepper Plant Challenge. This is a citizen science project designed and run by Jacob Torres, a contracted engineering plant scientist at NASA’s Kennedy Space Center (although this placement is not affiliated with NASA!). While the placement will be based in Sheffield due to COVID restrictions, it’s sure to be an ‘out of this world’ experience!

Read moreThe Space Chile Grow a Pepper Plant Challenge: your chance to contribute to growing plants in space!

Twitter for academics: Why should scientists start tweeting?

Have you ever considered that social media could actually prove useful in your research?          In this blog, Dr Daisy Shu, postdoctoral research fellow at the Harvard Medical School, reflects on how sharing her scientific research journey through social media has benefited her career. If you are keen to find out what academic Twitter is all about from a fellow scientist, have a read!

Read moreTwitter for academics: Why should scientists start tweeting?

Lost in Translation: Being a Mathematician in a Biologist’s World

Are you an interdisciplinary scientist working in biology? We want to hear from you! More details after this article.

When I first walked into my new lab, what bewildered me wasn’t the sheer amount of nondescript bottles and expensive machinery. It was the ability of my labmates to move between the -70 freezers, the centrifuges, the thermocyclers, and the gel stations and know exactly how to use each of them. As a mathematician who hadn’t ever ventured out of the library to apply my formulae to the real world, how was I supposed to keep up with everyone else?

A collage of lab-related photos. Top left, shelves stacked with chemicals. Bottom left, adult plants in rows. Top right, seedlings in soil. Bottom right, four thermocyclers in a line.
Plants, chemicals, and thermocyclers. These photos show the strange new world of plant biology.

Read moreLost in Translation: Being a Mathematician in a Biologist’s World

Exploring the science behind everyday plants- Daffodils

Somehow it’s March again and, with the unseasonably warm weather, many flowers are already making an appearance. One of my personal favourites are daffodils, with their bright flowers bringing some colour to early spring.

A field of daffodils growing in Cornwall

The Latin name for this genus is Narcissus and it’s often linked to the Greek myth of the youth falling in love with his own reflection. It’s said that the nodding flowers represent him staring into the pool. However, there is no evidence that this was the original intention of the name, with Pliny writing that it was in fact derived from “narkao”- I grow numb, in reference to the intoxicating fragrance of some of the Greek species. In the modern world these plants are mostly used for decorative purposes, but they have a few chemical surprises up their sleeves!

Read moreExploring the science behind everyday plants- Daffodils

Exploring the science behind everyday plants- Chocolate!

In 2017 it was estimated that the global chocolate market was worth approximately 103 billion USD and it is expected to continue growing! Certainly, I suspect many of us have been consuming more of it than we normally would over the past year so let’s have a closer look at the science of Theobroma cacao, the plant from which chocolate is derived.

Cacao pods at different stages of ripeness

Read moreExploring the science behind everyday plants- Chocolate!

Top tips for designing a research poster

While 2020 was an unprecedented year for conferences, 2021 looks to be no different. With conferences going virtual, such as the WRDTP symposium in December, many of you may have had the opportunity to present a poster in this unique style but there are a whole host of upcoming opportunities to show off your research this year.

But how do you design and present a great poster?

In this blog we give a run-down of our top tips for your poster presentation and, in case you missed it, a summary of the ‘Research poster workshop’ hosted by Dr Emily Goodall, part of the monthly online skills sessions for WRDTP students back in November.

Read moreTop tips for designing a research poster

Popular science books to get you through 2021

With another lockdown underway many of us have much less time in our labs than we would wish and it looks as though this could continue for some time! So, to help take people’s minds off of all the doom and gloom we’ve put together this list of popular science books for some escapism (or not, topic dependent, we take no responsibility if the escapism isn’t sufficient!). Whether you’re looking to read more in your own field or something totally new, I’m sure there’s something for everyone here. Please try and support your local bookstore where you can!

Read morePopular science books to get you through 2021

#thescienceofcooking – How to make the best roast potatoes!

It’s time to hang up your lab coats and don the festive jumpers! Christmas is just around the corner and for many of you, it will be a very different, smaller occasion this year. Whether it is now your responsibility to cook a big roast dinner, you’d like to try something new in the kitchen or you simply want to find out why  roast potatoes are so great – this blog post will be for you!

This week our guest writer, festive foodie Scientist and 1st year WRDTP student, Emma White is ready to give you the low down on some of the science behind cooking those delicious crispy Roasties.

Crispy roast potatoes are among the UK’s favourite traditional foods.

Read more#thescienceofcooking – How to make the best roast potatoes!

Exploring the science behind everyday plants- Norway Pine

It’s that time of year again! Many of you are probably putting up Christmas trees this weekend- some real, some fake. If you’re using a real tree there’s a good chance it could be an immature Norway spruce, Picea abies. This is the same species of tree used for the Rockefeller Christmas tree each year but yours probably isn’t 75 ft tall!

The less than amused owl found in the 2020 Rockfeller Christmas tree

Read moreExploring the science behind everyday plants- Norway Pine

Life after the thesis! An interview with WRDTP alumni Dr. Naomi Cox

This year, Naomi completed her PhD at the University of Sheffield. Her project focused on rice leaf development, looking in to when the leaf pattern is set, and how the final mature leaf develops from undifferentiated cells. After being awarded her PhD in August, Naomi is now working as a trainee clinical bioinformatician at Sheffield Children’s NHS Foundation Trust.

Dr. Naomi Cox

Read moreLife after the thesis! An interview with WRDTP alumni Dr. Naomi Cox

Are you a writing snacker or a binger?

The second virtual DTP skills session was aimed at helping students cultivate writing habits to make writing enjoyable and more productive. In this interactive writing workshop under the guidance of Dr Jenny Rivas Perez, students reflected on writing goals and exchanged advice on overcoming writing barriers.

Research in the 1990s categorised academics as snackers or bingers, based on those who were writing often and those who only wrote when there was an impending deadline, cramming all writing in a couple of days. Exploring this concept further, students in the DTP skills session discussed the benefits and drawbacks of writing and not writing. Highlights from this discussion included “a better understanding of the topic” and “helping pick out knowledge gaps” as benefits of writing. Surprisingly, there are benefits to not writing, such as “having a moment of reflection” or “stepping away from writing to be in the lab or going about your daily activities”. However, prolonged writing inactivity can have drawbacks too since “it can be really hard to fill the gap(s) of not writing”. For instance, having to refer to potentially five lab books when writing your thesis can be a big time-sink. Conversely, allocating time to write a summary of your daily endeavours is essentially writing to yourself in the future, making information readily available.

“Until you start writing about what you think you know, you don’t realise the gaps in your logic” suggested Dr Jenny Rivas Perez

Read moreAre you a writing snacker or a binger?

Exploring the science behind everyday plants- Nutmeg

What do the classic european winter dishes of cauliflower cheese and mince pies have in common with traditional indonesian semur? The answer- nutmeg.

Nutmeg is the seed of the tree Myristica fragrans, with its close relative, Mace, being the seed covering. These days it is cultivated around the world in tropical regions but it originates from the Banda Islands of Maluku. In the Middle Ages it was traded across to Europe by the Arabs but, in 1511, the Portuguese annexed the islands. This was the start of the enslavement and murder of the Bandanese and over 100 years of bloody battles with the Dutch and English.

Map of the Banda islands and their location in Indonesia.

Read moreExploring the science behind everyday plants- Nutmeg

Exploring the science behind everyday plants – Maple

It’s spooky season! Whether you call it Autumn or Fall one of the most spectacular plants at this time of year is the Sugar Maple (Acer saccharum). It’s native to Canada and the far north of the United States but is sometimes cultivated abroad.

Maple forest in Minnesota in autumn.

Read moreExploring the science behind everyday plants – Maple

Get to know.. your WRDTP student reps – Molly Patterson

Our next WRDTP student rep profile is here… This week we are introducing you to Molly Patterson, a freshly minted DTP rep with a passion for the very relevant as of recent topic of virology!

Molly joined the DTP in 2018 at the University of Leeds after her integrated masters at Leeds. Remaining at the Mcdonald lab, she resumes addressing central questions in the field of virology and cancer. Read about her recent publication here:

Check out our Q&A session in full!

Read moreGet to know.. your WRDTP student reps – Molly Patterson

Well-being during COVID-19 lockdown

Earlier last month we released a Twitter thread listing various tips on how to keep sane during the COVID-19 pandemic lock-down! You can catch it again here in the form of a blog post.

Maintaining the work-life balance at the office from home

Follow some of our tips to avoid this ‘charged’ state!

It’s easy to get trapped in the mentality of working more than usual even at home, because now you are literally at work all the time! However, setting time aside for picking up old hobbies previously pushed aside and working towards something can be scheduled for. That piano piece you thought was too difficult, that yoga pose you could not hold, or that video game that has been gathering dust are all great starting places.

Read moreWell-being during COVID-19 lockdown

Exploring the science behind everyday plants- Heather

If you’ve been to the moors recently (or been lucky enough to take a holiday to Scotland) you’ve probably noticed that the heather is in full bloom!

Once considered an indicator of the harshest type of rural poverty, Calluna vulgaris was made popular by Queen Victoria’s love of the Scottish Highlands. In Scotland, white heather is considered to bring good luck (rather like four leaf clovers for the Irish) so several white flowering cultivators have been developed, although wild heather is most commonly a light purple.

Heather plants on the North York Moors exhibiting their characteristic colouring

Queen Victoria on a pony in Scotland
Queen Victoria on a pony in Scotland.

Growth conditions:

It is the only species in the genus Calluna and generally considered one of the toughest plants going, surviving severe exposure, temperatures below -20 °C and burning. However it requires acidic soils (pH 4.5-6.0) to grow and so often doesn’t do well in cultivation. The pH of the soil a plant grows in is important because it affects a wide range of factors, including which bacteria are present and the availability of certain nutrients such as nitrogen. Some soils can also change their structure in different pH’s; a classic example is clay, which is granular and perfectly suited to many crops in the pH range of 5.5-7.0 but at either extreme becomes very sticky and tends to suffocate roots.

The curious properties of heather honey:

As well as being beautiful, heather is a fantastic source of nectar for honey bees. The honey produced by them was once dismissed as unwholesome by the Greek physician, Dioscurides but today it is very popular. It shares an interesting characteristic with tomato ketchup- both are thixotropic fluids. This means that they decrease in viscosity with time for a constant applied shear stress and then gradually return to the original state when the stress is removed. The honey is jelly like until it is stirred and will return to a jelly when the stirring stops, as you can imagine, this makes it very difficult to extract from the honeycomb!

The structure of callunene
The structure of callunene- a potent inhibitor of the C. bombi parasite in wild bumblebees.

The heather has another surprise in its nectar, one that could be vital in helping to save wild bee colonies. It has recently been found that a chemical called callunene (present in the nectar) can help to treat a common gut parasite, Crithidia bombi, and help protect the bees from catching it in the first place, by preventing flagellar anchoring to the ileum epithelium. Boosting heathland conservation would increase bees’ access to heather, hopefully improving the health of wild colonies. It is also possible that this might be the compound which is responsible for heather’s use in herbal medicine to treat urinary tract infections, although this has yet to be investigated.

Can I make alcohol from it? The important questions in life:

Something you may not have associated this plant with immediately is beer. However heather has been used as a bittering herb (alongside myrtle and broom) in Scottish beer since at least 1769 when Thomas Pennet wrote in A tour in Scotland that on the island of Islay “ale is frequently mixed with the young tops of heath…” Brewing history in Scotland dates back 5,000 yrs so it’s safe to assume this tradition is likely a lot older than Pennet’s book. Beer produced with this mix of herbs is called gruit beer and it can still be found today, although hop beers have largely replaced it because hops tend to be cheaper and do a better job of preserving the beer.  February 1st is the official International Gruit Day in case you can find some to try!

3-Minute Thesis – Alex Setchfield and Katie West

Two of our DTP students – Katie West and Alex Setchfield – took part in the University of York 2020 3-Minute Thesis (3MT) competition and presented their work in the final round on Wednesday 10th June 2020. We talked to Katie and Alex about the whole process – from their motivation to take part, through the preparation they did, to their reflections on the process! We would like to say a very big ‘well done’ to Katie and Alex on making it to the final of the competition, especially with the challenges presented by the coronavirus pandemic! Read their full interview to find out more about their experience and the invaluable advice they have for anyone who wants to try taking part in 3MT in the future, as well as a link where you can watch the event in full.

3-Minute Thesis logo

Read more3-Minute Thesis – Alex Setchfield and Katie West

Exploring the science behind everyday plants: Roses

For the first in my blog series: Exploring the science behind everyday plants, it seems appropriate to cover Roses. 

The name “Rose” refers to over 300 species of plant in the genus Rosa. They can range from miniature garden roses to climbers that can reach well over 7 M height but one thing they all have in common is the showy flowers they produce. 

Rose colours:

The  colour of these flowers was used as a sort of language in Victorian England, each symbolising something different. White was for innocence and young love (hence why white roses are common in bridal bouquets), red was for romantic love, yellow was for jealousy and pink was for friendship. Of course, there are thousands of cultivators with mixed colours these days so, in theory, you could send a very nuanced message if you wanted to! 

White rose from York Museum Gardens
A white rose from York Museum Gardens.

Read moreExploring the science behind everyday plants: Roses

Tips on giving a conference talk from Oli Herd

Oli Herd is a final year PhD student at the University of York characterising haematopoietic and immunological changes using a mouse model of chronic immune thrombocytopenia (ITP) under the supervision of Ian Hitchcock and Paul Genever. In December 2019 he presented a talk at the American Society of Hematology Annual Meeting in Orlando, Florida (USA) on his research in defining changes in haematopoietic stem cell populations and the bone marrow microenvironment during ITP progression. We asked Oli for his top tips for preparing to give a talk at a conference, read below for a first-hand account of his experience!

Oli Herd at ASH
Here is a picture of Oli presenting his talk!

Read moreTips on giving a conference talk from Oli Herd

Luke Fountain – Growing skills during lockdown

This week’s blog post comes from Luke Fountain, a second year WRDTP PhD student (and a UK student space ambassador!) at the University of Sheffield.

Over the past few months of lockdown, like many of us, Luke has been trying to find new ways to stay productive while access to university sites has been restricted. Here Luke shares with you what he has been up to, from building hydroponics set ups from home to attending live Q&As with Astronauts!

Hopefully Luke’s experiences will inspire you to get creative as we slowly find our way back into a new normality.

Read moreLuke Fountain – Growing skills during lockdown

How will protein structures help us in the fight against COVID-19?

Mpro with inhibitor

Alex Holmes is a second-year White Rose DTP student at the University of Leeds and volunteers as a Pint of Science team leader for the ‘Our Body’ strand. She works at the interface of structural, computational and chemical biology, using these techniques to study a family of membrane proteins and their potential druggability.

Read moreHow will protein structures help us in the fight against COVID-19?

Dr Patricija van Oosten-Hawle – Staff Showcase

Patricia van O and Sarah Good
Sarah Good and Patricija van Oosten-Hawle


I always wanted to become a scientist, from observing microorganisms under the microscope to understanding molecular structures and how the cell works. This is why I studied Chemistry and Biochemistry at the University of Vienna, Austria before finishing my MSc degree work at the University of Bonn, Germany. This was followed by PhD studies at the VU University in Amsterdam in the laboratory of Prof. Saskia van der Vies and Dr. Marco Siderius, where I focussed on the interplay of the Hsp90 chaperone machinery in stress-responsive MAP kinase signalling pathways in yeast.

Read moreDr Patricija van Oosten-Hawle – Staff Showcase

Shauni McGregor – International Poster Prize

Shauni McGregor is a plant biologist based at the University of Sheffield. Her PhD, which she began as part of the 2017 cohort, is entitled The Mechanics of Stomatal Function and focuses on plant gas exchange and water use, specifically in grasses and cereals.

Recently, Shauni has gained recognition at an international level. At the Society of Experimental Biology’s Annual Meeting in Seville, Spain, Shauni received an award for the best poster in the Stomatal and Photosynthetic Regulation of Water Use Efficiency session. Generously sponsored by ADC Scientific, the award was judged not only on the poster itself but also on a two-minute ‘flash talk’ delivered during the session to a sizeable audience.

Read moreShauni McGregor – International Poster Prize

Enterprising Year 2s!

Check out the pics of our Year 2s putting enterprise learning into action – creating translational pathways from product idea to market – and presenting innovative solutions at our two-day Enterprise Training.

Read moreEnterprising Year 2s!

Rebecca Hall prize winner!

Rebecca Hall began her PhD as part of the DTP 2015/16 cohort at the University of York. Her project title is: The microbiome of the tsetse.

She has presented her work at numerous local and national events to universal acclaim. Within the department at York she has won KM Stott Prizes for both her 1st year poster presentation and her final year talk as well as a Science Faculty Prize for PhD Spotlight competition at YorkTalks. She also won a White Rose BBSRC DTP prize for the best final year talk.

Read moreRebecca Hall prize winner!

Women of Achievement 2018: Dr Katie Field

Highlighting the accomplishments of Dr Katie Field

Dr Katie Field is a supervisor at the University of Leeds – an example of the high calibre staff supporting our PhD students within the White Rose BBSRC Doctoral Training Partnership. 

Dr Field, an Associate Professor in the School of Biology, is a superb scientist with extraordinary capacity for interdisciplinary innovation and has internationally-recognised expertise in symbioses between plants and fungi.

Katie was awarded the Philip Leverhulme Prize in Biological Sciences in 2017 for her research on the diversity and evolution of plant-fungal symbioses. These prestigious prizes recognise the achievement of outstanding researchers, whose work has already attracted international recognition and whose future career is exceptionally promising.

Read moreWomen of Achievement 2018: Dr Katie Field

Advice on how to transition from PhD to Senior Lecturer

See the following link for advice from Helen Coleman, who is a senior lecturer in cancer epidemiology at the Centre for Public Health at Queen’s University Belfast.

Career advice for students considering a career in academia

While you are on the Times Higher Education website, it is worth browsing as you will find plenty of advice, blogs etc of relevance.  You will need to register before you can read any articles.

Job advice from Sarah Blackford

See Sarah’s post on the importance of your personal network when looking for a job:

More info

She regularly adds new posts here:

More info

All our third year DTP students have the opportunity to attend a career planning session with Sarah Blackford at the Fera Training Day on 20th Nov 2017.  Sarah is an academic career consultant with a background in bioscience research and scientific publishing. Qualified with a master’s degree in career education and guidance, Sarah has over 15 years’ experience of delivering  specialised career support to PhD students and early career researchers in the form of career development workshops and one-to-one coaching. Her workshops, which are based on her book, “Career planning for research bioscientists”, include career issues such as self-awareness, how to make informed career choices, the job market and finding opportunities outside of academia, networking and communication, CV writing and successful interview technique.  Sarah believes that effective personal career development lies at the heart of a successful and fulfilling career. 

White Rose Brussels Office launched

The White Rose University Consortium is delighted to announce the launch of the White Rose Brussels Office. The office will work with key stakeholders on areas of research excellence supported by EU funding and which align with current EU research priorities. The office will also spot areas of strategic importance as well as strengthening name recognition of the three universities.

The launch events, attended by key members of the European Commission as well as international business and research agencies, have focussed on key areas of global research that Leeds, Sheffield and York excel in – sustainability, food security and health and wellbeing.

Speaking about the launch, Professor Koen Lamberts, the University of York’s Vice Chancellor and President, said:

“The Brussels Office will do a great job for the University of York – and its partners in Leeds and Sheffield – in positioning us for research funding and opportunities for our students in Europe. The office will work hard to promote the tremendous knowledge economy of Yorkshire.”

Professor Sir Keith Burnett CBE FRA, Vice-Chancellor of the University of Sheffield, commented:

“The University of Sheffield’s world-class research has pioneered new approaches in areas such as advanced manufacturing, food sustainability and security, and integrated health and social care. Much of this is being achieved with our international partners, particularly in Europe.

“The White Rose University Consortium’s new Brussels office will support our long-term strategic goals to undertake internationally-leading scholarship which delivers genuine benefits to society, including improved health, economic growth and a deeper understanding of our world.”

Sir Alan Langlands, Vice-Chancellor of the University of Leeds, said:

“Ensuring we align our world-leading research with current EU priorities is vital. This office will not only raise the profile of the White Rose university consortium, but also enable us to demonstrate the exceptional breadth of our research, its real-world impact, and how we are investing in cutting-edge facilities to help tackle some of the world’s greatest challenges.”