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

Get to know… your WRDTP Comms Team: Zoe Ingold

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.

Get to know… your WRDTP Comms Team: Maria Nikolova

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!

Maria Nikolova intro
Like Ioannis, I also prefer spending my holidays by the beach because of where I come from (in my case, that’s a city called Burgas in Bulgaria).

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!

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

Get to know… your WRDTP student reps: Evie Farnham

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!

Evie Farnham

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)!

Read moreGet to know… your WRDTP student reps: Evie Farnham

Get to know… your WRDTP Comms Team: Ioannis Tsagakis

Mandatory photo by my (fabric!) poster at #EESNoncoding 2019 in Heidelberg, Germany!

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”.

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

Get to know.. your WRDTP student reps – Sarah Gratton

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 Gratton

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!

Read moreGet to know.. your WRDTP student reps – Sarah Gratton

Get to know… your WRDTP student reps: Roz Latham

Rosalind Latham

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!

Read moreGet to know… your WRDTP student reps: Roz Latham

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

Lewis White – Student Rep

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.

Read moreLewis White – Student Rep

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.