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!
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!
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?
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.
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!
The restrictions on social contacts have brought about an abrupt halt to in-person public engagement events for almost a year now. How can you do science outreach online? We spoke to White Rose DTP final year student Michaela Agapiou (@MichaelaAgapiou) and fellow PhD student Isabel Birds (@IzBirds) from Dr Julie Aspden’s lab in Leeds who organised an online public engagement activity that was all about decoding DNA as part of the Be Curious festival! Read our interview below about how the event came together.
This week DTP student Emma White is back giving us all another insight into the science of cooking, with one of everyone’s favourite foods.. pizza!
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.
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.
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!
Some of the earliest flowers to appear in the new year are from the genus Crocus. With careful management these bulbs can flower from September all the way to April, making them a valuable source of pollen and nectar for bees waking up from hibernation.
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.
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!
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.
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
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.
Hi, my name is Rhianna and I’m a 4th year PhD student at the University of York. I work at YSBL focussing on human lysosomal enzymes which breakdown various glycoconjugates within our bodies. Inherited deficiencies in these enzymes leads to range of metabolic diseases called lysosomal storage disorders. My project aims to structurally characterise these enzymes and aid in the development of chemical probes, inhibitors and chaperones for diagnostic and therapeutic purposes. Coming from a Masters year in analytical chemistry, this project has been a real challenge. Working with membrane-associated proteins, delving into insect-baculoviral expression systems and the dark art of protein crystallography has all been new to me, but I chose this project because I felt it would allow me to explore protein chemistry/structural biology with real-life applications in human health and disease.
Why did you join the DTP Communications team?
I enjoy scientific writing and saw this as a great opportunity to improve my writing skills whilst further engaging with the White Rose DTP and its students. I hope to learn more about the exceptional research conducted by White Rose students and to share/showcase this with other students in the DTP through blogs and the use of social media. I also see this is a chance to share non-scientific content which I hope students (including myself!) will find helpful in coping with PhD life and maintaining a healthy wellbeing.
Alex has just now, in October, entered third year – how time flies!
I’m Rachel, a PhD student at Sheffield and one of your 2020 comms committee members for the BBSRC White Rose DTP. I joined the committee primarily to help gain more experience in social media management and develop my writing skills but I have really enjoyed the insights I’ve gained into other people’s work and really enjoy highlighting all your achievements!
Prior to joining UoS, I worked for 5 years as a Genomics Scientist at Tun Abdul Razak Research Centre (TARRC), developing molecular markers for Hevea brasiliensis (natural rubber) clonal variety confirmation to aid in field misidentification in Malaysia. This role really highlighted to me the fundamental necessity for global crop improvement efforts to meet food security targets, and directed me down my career path.
The focus of my PhD project is primarily to look into what underpins the virulence of Striga asiatica, a parasitic plant which devastates cereal crop yields in Central and Eastern Africa. I’ve found my research focus in the crop improvement/food sustainability field, and is something I’m very passionate about!
Alongside working with plants in my academic life, I also have an allotment which keeps me very busy on the weekends. I also enjoy running and somehow completed my 4th half marathon in the brilliant Sheffield half in 2019.
I’m looking forward to bringing lots of plant-focused content to the DTP blog, twitter and more in the future!
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.
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: https://pubmed.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/32555725/
Check out our Q&A session in full!
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
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.
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.
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 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!
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.
It’s National Allotments Week here in the UK, a celebration of all things green (and purple, orange and yellow)! DTP student and instagram blogger Rachel (@rachels.allotment), is here to talk about the range of benefits you can get from growing your own.
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.
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!
Hiya! My name is Zoe and I’m a new member of the comms team from York. I work across YSBL and CNAP studying C-C bond forming enzymes derived from plants. I’m using x-ray crystallography to determine their structures and trying to elucidate their mechanisms in order to modify them to use substrates of industrial importance. Long term this will hopefully lead to greener processes for fine chemicals production.
Why did you join the DTP comms team?
I’ve been doing SciComm since first year of undergrad when I volunteered at the RSC stand for the York Festival of Ideas however, due to corona, all in-person SciComm has been cancelled for the foreseeable future. I saw this time as a good opportunity to develop my writing skills, so I’ve been using twitter to post about the chemistry and cultural importance of a new plant each day (who doesn’t love plants!). Writing for the White Rose blog allows me to explore this in more depth as well as write about other areas of the PhD experience.
Tell us some non-work related things about you!
I love food! York has an amazing food scene and whenever some place new opens up I try to visit. During lockdown I’ve learned how to make pastel de nata from scratch and I’m trying to grow some of my own fruit and veg too. At the start of my PhD some of my friends took my bouldering and I’m really looking forward to the climbing gym re-opening. I also train horses and go out to explore the Yorkshire area whenever I can.
My name’s Maria Nikolova and I’m a second year PhD student at the University of Leeds. I am the Comms Team group lead and most of the Tweets you see will be from me. Who knew a lifetime of endless scrolling through social media and subsconsciously absorbing what content gets the most attention will be useful!
My research focuses on the structural and functional investigation of PACE transporters. They are a family of multidrug efflux pumps that can transport a number of biocides out of bacteria and facilitate resistance. I chose this project because protein biochemistry was my favourite part of the integrated masters I did at the University of York (I just need a post-doc in Sheffield to complete my White Rose collection) and I think antimicrobial resistance is the most urgent global health threat we are facing. I also wanted a challenging project and membrane proteins fit neatly into that category so I can’t complain when it’s hard now (although I still do). It has been a steep learning curve but a rewarding experience and I feel like I have already learned a lot. Now I just need my structure!
I have recently got into cycling as it’s such a great way to get active and explore the green spaces around my plain old terraced house (I have not enjoyed spending a lot of time indoors…) and I get some satisfaction out of getting there all on my own. I may have got a little too into tracking my rides on Strava… Just another social media obsession to add to my list. I also love meeting up with friends in my spare time and getting involved in science communication projects. It’s no surprise then that I’m involved in organising Pint of Science for the second year running as it combines two of my favourite activities! I joined the DTP Comms Team because I see great potential in using our social media and website to showcase and amplify all the great achievements of our students and also provide a platform for students to share what they’re passionate about. I’m also quite excited about connecting with and sharing ideas with our cohort so it’s been great fun for me really. I hope everyone enjoys our posts and our DMs and emails are always open for new suggestions!
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!
It’s time to introduce our first student rep from the University of York! Evie is currently in the second year of her PhD. She also did her undergraduate at York, with a year working in the agriculture industry in Gloucestershire. Her PhD allows her to combine her interests in crop protection, microbial evolution and genetics into one project. Evie thinks time has really flown by and she can’t believe she’s already halfway through her PhD!
Read on to find out how Evie’s interest in crop protection has evolved to bring her to her current project and what it entails, what she loves doing in her spare time and one of the misfortunes she’s had during a late night in the lab (don’t worry, it has a happy ending)!
Hi there, my name is Ioannis and I am a 3rd year PhD student working across FBS and FMH on RNA Biology. More specifically, my project aims to understand how long non-protein coding RNAs can co-evolve with their protein binding partners across placental mammals with divergent early pregnancy events. To this end, I use biochemical pull-down methods and primary cell culture to identify the protein interactome of the XIST RNA in humans, cows and pigs.
Why did you join the DTP Communications team?
Joining the DTP Communications team made sense because I am interested in scientific communication and have realised social media provides a new platform to interact with wider networks of scientists. Being an active Twitter user, I frequently post cutting-edge scientific research, conference meeting opportunities as well as my thoughts about all things science. I am also keen to learn about all the latest research which makes me the person having a lot of questions in seminars (not always asking them though).
Enough about work, tell us something about you!
In my spare time, I like to play basketball, cook or explore new places in Leeds for food and/or music. It was clear from the beginning of my PhD, I was pro-pun and would get every chance to come up with science-themed jokes (even if they weren’t that good – groan!). Being native Greek but having spent 10 years in the UK, I now more than ever prefer my holidays by a sandy beach over a mountain hike. A saying that has stuck with me is that…
“There is no such thing as I can’t do, there is only I don’t want to”.
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.
Our next WRDTP student rep profile is here.. This week we are introducing you to Sarah Gratton, a long-standing DTP rep with a passion for wildlife conservation!
Sarah joined the DTP in 2017 coming from Durham University. Based at the University of Sheffield, she continues to pursue challenging work within the field of microscopy with a couple of papers already under her belt. Sarah wants to tell the wider world that PhD students matter and wants to chat to YOU if you’re interested in becoming a rep too!
Check out our question and answer session in full!
First in our new blog series ‘Get to know… your WRDTP student reps’ is Rosalind Latham! Roz did her BSc in Biology at the University of York, with a year in Industry in Pharmaceutical research. Highlights of her degree were learning about biotechnology and how to genetically engineer plants/microbes for human benefit.
After gaining industrial experience in a Fast-Moving-Consumer-Goods Graduate Scheme, Roz decided to go back to science and plant biotechnology, which she specialised in as an undergraduate. She’s now 8 months into her PhD and loving it!
We asked Roz a few more questions about her life in and outside of the lab – keep reading to find out how DNA origami can help us get better crops, Roz’s favourite Yorkshire spots and what you should (not) do when growing archaea!
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.
Dorothy Hawkins is a third year DTP student. She featured on the BBC Look North (Yorkshire) news on 20th April 2020. In the midst of the COVID-19 pandemic, Dorothy and her colleagues at The University of York have stepped up to the challenge. They are working at top speed to try and better understand the new coronavirus.
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.
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.
Being a DTP Student Rep can provide much fun and valuable skills development. Read Lewis White’s journey here:
Lewis began his PhD in 2016. Supported by his supervisor, Dr Kanchon Dasmahapatra of The University of York, Lewis is researching: Life in extreme environments: adaptation and evolution of African soda lake fishes.
He volunteered to take on the role of a Student Representative for the White Rose BBSRC Doctoral Training Partnership (DTP) in his first year and enjoyed the role so much that he plans to continue the role into his fourth and final year, from October 2019. His contribution to the work of the DTP has proved invaluable. In particular, planning and running an annual Symposium for just under 300 PhD students across the partnership is a huge responsibility that has been capably handled by Lewis, leading the current team of Student Reps (five reps in total). This has had the advantage of ensuring the Symposium is student-friendly, whilst retaining the highest academic standards. The detailed project planning has been exemplary, with the added benefit of allowing the DTP Co-ordinator to have an oversight and freeing up her time for other DTP tasks. The student feedback on DTP training courses presented to the Management Board has positively influenced the development of the training programme for the new academic year. Lewis’s leadership skills, teamwork, communication skills, commitment and his enthusiastic approach are much appreciated by the DTP Management Board.
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.
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.
Our latest White Rose BBSRC Doctoral Training Partnership (DTP) Symposium was held in December 2018, hosted by The University of Sheffield.
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.
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.
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.
Our DTP students have produced the second issue of the DTP newsletter. Many thanks to the editorial board and all our student contributors for all their hard work. Please take the time to read this, on the last page there is info about how to get involved and submit your own contributions for future issues.
Read it here: