White Rose Mechanistic Biology 2020 Symposium

White Rose Mechanistic Biology DTP 2020 Symposium.

White Rose BBSRC Student Symposium 20202020 banner

Whilst the global pandemic interrupted many things last year, our fantastic BBSRC student representatives ensured that the 2020 White Rose Mechanistic Biology DTP Symposium was not one of them! In fact, the organisers adapted quickly to the current times and worked tirelessly to implement the symposium virtually, using a seamless combination of Zoom and Slack communication platforms. Through research talks, flash presentations and posters, this all-day event was primarily designed to celebrate the work of our current 3rd and 4th year students, covering a diverse range of research topics from enzymatic synthesis of protein conjugates to soil chemistry and structure. The 2020 symposium also gave students the opportunity to share their PIPS experiences, whilst taking the time to hear from keynote speakers on important topics such as mental health and life after a PhD. If you somehow missed the event and want to know more about the symposium, our student’s incredible research, the interesting PIPS talks and our keynote speakers then please read on!

Following application and selection by the student organisers, 4th year students were able to share their research through longer 8-minute live presentations, shorter 2-minute pre-recorded flash talks and/or through a poster. Whilst all our 3rd year students had the opportunity to present a poster.

Research Talks

Through the course of the day, there were 10 fantastic 8-minute research talks by our final year students. These talks were presented over Zoom, followed by 2-minutes of questions to further engage students with the research performed within the cohort. Whilst it’s not possible to cover all the talks in this blog, we do want to highlight our brilliant research talk prize winners:

  1. First prize went to Hayley Pearson from the University of Leeds for her exceptional work on “Identifying the TMEM16A/ANO1 Calcium Activated Chloride Channel as a Novel Target for the Treatment of Human Respiratory Syncytial Virus Infection”.
  2. Second prize went to Holly Morgan from the University of Leeds for her talk on “Investigating Enzymatic Methods for Preparation of Protein Conjugates
  3. Third prize went to Lorna Malone from the University of Sheffield for her research talk on “Cryo-EM Structure of the Spinach Cytochrome b6 f complex 3.6 Å Resolution
Talks by the 1st and 2nd prize winners Hayley Pearson and Holly Morgan

Flash Presentations

The 2-minute flash presentations were a great way to engage as many students as possible in the symposium. Over three sessions we had an astounding 15 flash talks by our 4th year students, all of which were pre-recorded for a smooth and organised transition between talks. In just 2-minutes, students aimed to summarise their ongoing or completed research, with a chance to expand on this in the poster sessions. We had two brilliant winners:

  1. Sophie Meredith from the University of Leeds
  2. Ana Jones from the University of Sheffield

Poster Presentations

The last way in which 3rd and 4th year students could share their work was through research posters, which were presented separately in the communication platform Slack. Here students could post their posters for others to download and view, with the chance to ask and answer questions and delve further into their research. We had many fabulous entries which were categorised into the 4 core DTP strategies: (1) renewable resources and clean growth (2) sustainable agriculture and food (3) transformative technologies and (4) understanding the rules of life. We has two winners in each year group:

3rd Years

  1. First prize went to Alex Scott from the University of York for his poster on “Grevious Bacteroa; Wounding with Intent: Quantifying Pore Formation in the Gram-negative Cell Enevelope by Low Temperature Plasma”.
  2. Second prize was awarded to Alex Holmes from the University of Leeds for her poster on “Determining the Mechanism of Activation and Membrane Interactions of the Piezo1 Mechanosensitive Ion Channel”.

4th Years

  1. First prize was awarded to Claire Brown from the University of York for her very unique poster on “Isolation and Characterisation of Denitrifying Bacteria from Arable Soils”.
  2. Second prize went to Chris Arter from the University of Leeds for his poster on “Fragment-based Discovery of Modulators of the Aurora-A/TPX2 Interaction
3rd Year and 4th Year Poster prize winners

PIPS Talks

As a nice break from research presentations, a number of students were invited to give 8-minute talks on their PIPS experience. We had 3 diverse PIPS talks, covering everything from what they did, what they learned and how they felt about their placement. Of note, Dani Pierce from the University of Leeds won the prize for the best PIPS talk on her experience at the MRC Research Unit in The Gambia:

  1. Winner: Dani Pierce – My PIPS Placement At The MRC Research Unit in The Gambia.
  2. Shauni McGregor – Working with Sense about Science
  3. Amy Tooke – From the Lab to the Galleries: My Great North Museum: Hancock PIPS
Dani Pierce PIPS Talk Winner

Dani’s PIPS experience was highly inspirational – having spent time at the rural field station upcountry in Basse Santa Su and the main camp in Fajara, Dani worked on a malaria clinical trial, interacting with local people to distribute the medication. Dani also had the chance to work with mosquitos in the entomology labs, learning how to catch, identify and dissect the mosquitos for malaria research. You can read more about Dani’s PIPS in her case study here.

We also had a fantastic talk from Shauni McGregor who discussed her placement at the charity Sense about Science, which promotes public understanding of science, and from Amy Tooke who undertook her placement at the Great North Museum: Hancock. You can find out more about Amy’s PIPS here.

Keynote Speakers

Keynote Speaker Dr Steve Scott from the UKRI

Our invited keynote speaker was Dr Steve Scott who is currently the Public Engagement Lead at UKRI. Dr Scott gave an insightful and inspirational talk into how his career progressed from his PhD in Cardiovascular Biology to his current role UKRI. Steve shared his valuable experience and learnings in how PGRs can grow their careers and what life can be like after a PhD. This was an encouraging talk for all those students near the end of their PhD but also for those in earlier years who may be starting to consider their future careers.

Mental Health Talk

Mental health is a growing problem amongst students, particularly those in postgraduate research. Fortunately, it is gradually becoming more acceptable to discuss mental health and the challenges PhD students face. However, there is always more work to be done and many students may not be getting the support they need. Therefore, we were incredibly grateful and privileged to hear from Dr Sarah Masefield from the University of York, who gave an informative talk on the importance of looking after your mental health and wellbeing during research. Building on the “How to thrive and survive in your PhD” resource developed by PhD students at the University of York, Dr Masefield emphasised the impact of mental health on our daily lives in research. Importantly, she gave great tips and tricks on how we may learn to manage our own mental health, how to cope with bumps in the road and where we can seek support if needed. If you would like more information on this, you can visit this website.

Dr Sarah Masefield: How to Thrive and Survive in Your PhD – Mental Health Talk

Big thanks to the organisers

Lastly, we would like to thank the student organisers (Alex, Amber, Catherine, Evie, Maria, Molly, Roz and Sarah) who did an amazing job in organising the 2020 symposium. One of the organisers, Alexander Scott, had this to say on reflection of the day:

The online format did allow for more flexibility in how we were going to run the event, which played into our favour as after a stressful year we wanted to make it as ‘casual’ as possible, especially as no one wants to sit in a zoom call all day. So far the feedback has been very positive, which we are grateful for, and the constructive feedback will be used to improve the structure of next years symposium (fingers crossed it’ll be in person!).”

This symposium was full of incredible science and ran seamlessly from start to finish. Importantly, this was reflected in the incredibly positive feedback received from the attendees:

Brilliantly delivered, it was extremely professional probably more so than some international virtual conferences I have attended.

“I enjoyed the symposium and I think it went really smoothly with lots of great talks especially the talks delivered on mental health and life after your PhD”

“Very smooth running. It was clear that lots of planning and preparation had taken place, evidenced by the technical issues slide that was ready to go.”

And the positive feedback didn’t stop there, even Twitter was full of praise ….