Today we chat to SCI member Luca Steel about her life as a plant pathology PhD student in 2020.
Zymoseptoria tritici is a fungal pathogen of wheat which can cause yield losses of up to 50%. We’re investigating an effector protein secreted by Z. tritici which acts as a ‘mask’, hiding the pathogen from host immune receptors and avoiding immune response.
What does a day in the life of a plant pathology PhD Student look like?
My days are very varied – from sowing wheat seeds to swabbing pathogenic spores onto their leaves, imaging symptoms, discussing results with my supervisor and lab team, and of course lots of reading. It doesn’t always go to plan - I recently attempted to make some wheat leaf broth, which involved lots of messy blending and ended up turning into a swampy mess in the autoclave!
Wheat in the incubator!
How did your education prepare you for this experience?
The most valuable preparation was my placement year at GSK and my final year project at university. Being in the lab and having my own project to work on made me confident that I wanted to do a PhD – even if it was a totally different research area (I studied epigenetics/immunoinflammation at GSK!).
What are some of the highlights so far?
My highlight was probably attending the European Conference on Fungal Genetics in Rome earlier this year. It was great to hear about so much exciting work going on – and it was an added bonus that we got to explore Rome. I’ve also loved getting to know my colleagues and being able to do science every day.
What is one of the biggest challenges faced in a PhD?
My biggest challenge so far has probably been working from home during lockdown. Although I am very privileged to have a distraction-free space and good internet connection, it was difficult to adjust to working from my kitchen! It was sad abandoning unfinished experiments, and I missed being in the lab – so I’m glad to be back now.
What advice would you give to someone considering a PhD?
If you’re sure you want to do one, then absolutely go for it and don’t be afraid to sell yourself! If not, I’d recommend spending some time working in a lab before you apply and chatting to any prospective labs. If you don’t get a reply from the PI, existing students/post-docs in the group are often very happy to talk and give honest opinions.
How have things been different for you because of the global pandemic?
I was lucky that the pandemic came early on in my PhD, so I had a lot of flexibility to change what I was working on. I switched from lab work involving lots of bioimaging, towards a more bioinformatic approach. My poor laptop will be glad when I’m back to using my computer at work!
On the week of 10th-16th August, 2020, scientists across Twitter came together to celebrate the Black scientists working in Chemistry. The community event included a range of chemistry themes, from Organic to Physical Chemistry, showcasing a diverse range of research, and even garnered support from celebrities such as MC Hammer and Michael B. Jordan.
#BlackinChem was started by a group of early career researchers, following on from other successful weeks, who wanted to highlight the incredible range of science that Black chemists do.
The main tweets of he week were by Black chemists highlighting their research interests.
Hi everyone! #BlackinChemRollCall I’m Sonja, an Electrochemist, and a Chem lecturer at Princeton U. I worked on bimetallic/alloy electrocatalysts for fuel cells and CO2 reduction and now interested in academic support interventions. Looking forward to to #BlackInChem week! pic.twitter.com/GpTNpFnIaK
#BlackinChem Kelly here 🇿🇼. I’m a grad student @KStateChemistry in the Aakeroy lab. My work focuses on crystal engineering and inorganic chemistry to modify properties of agrochemicals, fragrances and energetics :from fundamentals to applications.Cobalt girl…#BlackinInorganic pic.twitter.com/8OQM40zVgm
The week also included online events, panels and socials throughout the week.
Issues surrounding diversity in science, particularly representation of Black scientists, was discussed.
1,656 U.S. citizens and permanent residents received a Master’s degree in chemistry in 2016.
Only 89 were Black. That’s less than 5.4%. #BlackinChem #BlackinChemRepresentation #BlackinChemGradStudent (Source: NSF NCSES) pic.twitter.com/7vd4GZBRJZ
There were even a few celebrity shout outs! Yes, this is MC Hammer tweeting about MOFs!
Mesoporous stilbene-based lanthanide metal organic frameworks: synthesis, photoluminescence and radioluminescence characteristics - Dalton Transactions (RSC Publishing) #BlackinOrganic #BlackinChemRollCall https://t.co/qhlMLv9Dod
Overall, it was an incredibly successful week. A massive congratulations to everyone involved, and especially to the organisers.
Find out more about #BlackInChem here.
This latest instalment of SCI Energy Group’s blog delves deeper into the working life of one of its own members and SCI ambassador – Reace Edwards. She is currently pursuing an industry funded PhD in Chemical Engineering at the University of Chester and, through this blog, answers some questions to shed some light on her experience so far.
Reace Edwards: Head shot
Can you please provide a brief summary of your research?
My research is concerned with the establishment of a hydrogen gas network, in the North West, as a method of large-scale decarbonisation. This cross-disciplinary work will examine different elements of the hydrogen economy from production to end-use and explore the opportunities and barriers possessed by the region. Whilst technical and economic considerations are key components of this, policy, regulatory and social aspects will also be explored.
Reace Edwards: Riding a bike that generates hydrogen from pedalling
What does a day in the life of a Chemical Engineering PhD Student look like?
“It’s hard to define a typical day for a PhD student as no one day is ever the same.
At the beginning of the PhD, I spent a lot of time reading literature to help contextualise my research and appreciate its importance at a local, national and international scale.
Within time, I began to not only read but review and analyse this literature, which ultimately led to the construction of my literature review (this is regularly updated still)! Through this process, I identified research gaps, helping me focus my research questions, and inspired my field research and methodology.
Since then, I have applied for, and gained, ethical approval. At my current stage, I have chosen semi-structured interviews for data collection. So, now, my typical day consists of conducting interviews and transcribing the recordings.
Alongside this, there have always been ample opportunities to attend conferences and networking events, which, provides another form of skills development. So, there’s lots going on. But, what’s for sure, is that though each day is busy, the results are definitely rewarding.”
How did your education prepare you for this experience?
“In 2018, I graduated, from the University of Chester, with a first-class bachelor’s degree in Chemical Engineering. Therefore, I was eligible to apply for the PhD studentship when it was advertised.”
Reace Edwards: Graduation
What are some of the highlights so far?
For me, one of my main highlights had been to travel abroad to deliver a presentation on my work at an international conference.
Another highlight was the opportunity to co-author a conference article with a colleague from my industrial sponsor, and others, which was presented at another major, international conference.
In addition to this, I’ve done a TEDx talk and appeared on the BBC politics show. Where, on both accounts, I have discussed the opportunities for hydrogen.
Without doing this PhD, none of this would have even been possible!
Reace Edwards: After delivering TEDx talk
What is one of the biggest challenges faced in a PhD?
Time management is definitely a challenge, from two different perspectives.
Firstly, there are many different things that you can be tasked with at one time. Therefore, it’s important to learn how to prioritise these things and assign your time accordingly.
But, as well as that, because of your passion for the research, it can be very tempting to work exceedingly long hours. Whilst this may be necessary at times, it is important to give yourself some rest to avoid becoming run down.
Reace Edwards: Whilst being interviewed by BBC
What advice would you give to someone considering a PhD?
“If you’re passionate about the subject – do it!
You won’t regret it
Jenny Gracie was awarded a Messel Travel Bursary for an internship with the Naked Scientists based at the University of Cambridge. Here she describes how her internship has helped her to develop her skills and confidence in science communication, which she can now use to help shape her future career.
Jenny in The Naked Scientists studio.
I am currently in the final year of a PhD in Chemistry at the University of Strathclyde. My project seeks to better treat cardiovascular disease, which is still the world’s leading cause of death. I am working towards a drug delivery system which utilises hollow gold nanoparticles as a ‘vehicle’ for delivering statins to the fatty plaques that block the arteries. Although I’m still interested in my research project, I’ve developed a real enthusiasm for science communication over the last few years and would like pursue a career in this field.
As a STEM ambassador I have attended fairs, festivals and schools to help spark a curiosity in science among children. During my PhD, the opportunity of an eight-week internship with The Naked Scientists came up, and I simply couldn’t let it pass. Without the funding support from SCI I could not have taken the internship, and so I am extremely grateful for the Messel Travel Bursary, and I know that this contribution helped make this transformative career experience a reality.
The Naked Scientists are an award-winning science production group based at the University of Cambridge. They create one of the world’s most popular science shows, achieving over 50m downloads in the last five years. They broadcast weekly on BBC Cambridgeshire, BBC 5Live, ABC National Radio in Australia and also publish a podcast of the show. Podcasts are free, available on-demand and are a widely accessible source of science information to the general public. The Naked Scientist internship programme develops the skill set of early career communicators and provides first-hand experience in the world of science media communication.
Podcast production has grown exponentially in the last few years, however chemistry still remains underrepresented compared to the other traditional physical sciences, like physics and biology. As a chemist who is interested in a career in science communication, this role has allowed me to gain the necessary skills to make my own podcasts in the future.
As an intern I was part of the production team from the first day! It was a catapult into the world of radio broadcast and podcast production, but perfect for understanding how a show is produced from scratch. Our weekly show consisted of two parts – one half would cover the news and recently published articles, and the second half would cover a specific topic within science.
Media privileges gave me access to all the journals to be published that week, with them sealed under embargo until publication. We tended to pick articles that have a global impact and capture the interest of the listener. Each team member would be assigned an article, and we would then have to contact the authors to scope the story and arrange a recorded interview. The skills I required to organise and execute a good interview improved over the course of the eight weeks. I could see a real development in both my style and confidence.
During the internship I also learned how to use software to edit audio, and stitch together multiple tracks to create build pieces with music and sound effects. To accompany the interview, each week we also wrote a short article on the research. This required converting high-level science into a form that could be understood by the general public… something that is much harder than it sounds!
Cassie Sims is a PhD student and SCI early career member, sitting on the committees of SCI’s Agrisciences Group and Agrifood Early Career Committee. Read more of Cassie’s work at soci.org/news and sciblog.com.
As part of my PhD programme – the BBSRC Doctoral Training Partnership (DTP) with the University of Nottingham – I have had the opportunity to do a 12-week internship in something different to research. Today, I am going to tell you why I think every PhD student should step outside their comfort zone and do an internship.
1. Expand your community
Doing a PhD internship allows you to temporarily leave the academic bubble, and meet some new and different people. During my internship, I had the opportunity to engage with members of SCI’s community, including a range of industrial partners, academics and other early career scientists.
Attending events at SCI HQ has given me the chance to network with people I may never have met otherwise, gaining valuable connections and career advice. I was also able to see the range of work that goes on in chemistry and the chemical industry, including the variety of different career paths that are available.
Taking a step back from the practical side of science can also allow you to gain an appreciation for other areas of science. Learning about science in journalism and digital media will inform my decisions when trying to communicate my research to the general public in the future.
2. Gain transferable skills
Undertaking an internship in an area that you are unfamiliar with will diversify your skills. Digital media has taught me many new skills, such as social media and Photoshop, but also refined skills that are valuable and transferable.
The main skills I have worked on are my writing and editing capabilities. I have found my flow for writing, learnt about proofreading, and refreshed my memory in grammar and spelling. These skills will be incredibly useful when trying to write a PhD thesis, and my experience will shine on my CV when applying for future jobs.
3. A break from the lab
A PhD can be an overwhelming experience; sometimes it can feel like you are drowning in lab work and data analysis. Doing an internship means you can take a few months to escape, allowing you the chance to free your mind from data and reactions.
During my internship, I have had time to think about my research in more depth, considering options and planning, instead of rushing into things. The opportunity to take a step back means I will be re-entering the lab with clear, coherent plans and a new-found energy.
Although I have missed the rush of scientific research, my internship has taught me useful skills and allowed me to meet so many interesting people. I have really enjoyed my time in the SCI Digital Media team, and I would urge anyone considering an internship to take the leap.
I hope to continue working with SCI through the Agri-Food Early Careers Committee and other SCI activities that I am involved with.
All Images: Andrew Lunn/SCI
On 19 March 2019, SCI hosted the second annual final of the Bright SCIdea Challenge, bringing together some of the brightest business minds of the future to pitch their science-based innovation to a panel of expert judges and a captivated audience.
As an opportunity to support UK/ROI students interested in commercialising their ideas and developing their business skills, the final included talks and training from our judges and networking with industry professionals.
The day started with a poster session and networking, including posters from teams Glubiotech, Online Analytics, HappiAppi and NovaCAT.
Training sessions came next, with Neil Wakemen from Alderley Park Accelerator speaking first on launching a successful science start-up.
Lucinda Bruce-Gardyne from Genius Foods spoke next on her personal business story, going from the kitchen to lab to supermarket shelves.
Participants could catch a glimpse of the trophies before giving their pitches.
The first team to pitch were Team Seta from UCL, with their idea for a high-throughput synthetic biology approach for biomaterials.
Team Plastech Innovation from Durham University presented their sustainable plastic-based concrete.
Closing the first session, Team DayDreamers. pitched their AI-driven mental wellness app.
The break was filled with networking between delegates and industry professionals.
Opening the second session, Team BRISL Antimicrobials, from UCL, showcased their innovative light-activated antimicrobial bristles that could be used in toothbrushes.
The final pitch of the day was from Team OxiGen, from the University of St Andrews, presenting their designer cell line for optimised protein expression.
After asking lots of questions during each pitch, the judges were left with the difficult task of deciding a winner.
Team HappiAppi, from Durham University, were voted the best poster by the audience!
The second runner-up was Team Seta!
The first runner-up was Team BRISL Antimicrobials!
Congratulations to the winners Team Plastech Innovation!! They win £5000 towards their idea.
We would like to thank our participating teams, sponsors (INEOS and Synthomer), guest speakers and judges (Lucinda Bruce-Gardyne, Robin Harrison, Inna Baigozina-Goreli, Ian Howell & Dave Freeman).
Cassie Sims is a PhD student and SCI early career member, sitting on the committees of SCI’s Agrisciences Group and Agrifood Early Career Committee. Read more of Cassie’s work at soci.org/news and soci.org/blog.
The SCI staff pass makes a change from the conference lanyards I am used to.
I am studying for my PhD as part of the Biotechnology and Biological Sciences Research Council (BBSRC) and University of Nottingham Doctoral Training Programme (DTP). I’m currently stationed at Rothamsted Research, a research institute in Hertfordshire, studying insect olfaction, specifically in aphids.
A DTP involves completing rotations in different labs, a variety of training days and an internship, alongside your PhD studies. The internship is expected to be three months working in a role not directly applicable to your PhD studies, and is designed to give you a break from the lab to explore different potential career options.
Working in digital media is a big contrast from my usual lab work.
When choosing where to undertake my internship, I was presented with a world of possibilities. There was working in industry, policy, marketing or for a charity. Prior to even considering an internship, I had done a lot of volunteering with the Society of Chemical Industry, being a member of their Agrisciences Group and Agrifood Early Career Committees.
I had even previously written for the blog about experiences as PhD student. Having really enjoyed my prior work with them, it seemed logical to ask whether they would host me for my internship – and they said yes! I was accepted to do a three-month internship in the digital media team starting in January 2019.
My first month working with SCI has been a whirlwind of activity. There have been lots of opportunities already, from writing for the website and SCI Blog, to running their social media accounts. Recently, I was asked to help cover an SCI conference, which presented an entirely different experience to that which I had had with conferences before.
The conference was on formulation – an area of chemistry I am completely unfamiliar with – and there was a wide-range of talks from academics to industry partners. It was a unique experience to listen to technical talks in something you have never studied, and the variety of real-world applications piqued my interest.
Commuting to London everyday takes some getting used to, but it is a privilege to work in such a beautiful building.
There are huge differences between working at SCI and Rothamsted. Aside from the obvious differences in the work, there’s the London commute, dressing smart, and most importantly, the exposure to the wide variety of science covered across the chemical industry.
Coming from an academic science background, my brain has been filled with new knowledge, particularly in relation to the intersection of industry and policy, such as the Chemistry Council and Industrial Strategy. This new knowledge, along with my training in digital media, will certainly be beneficial to my future scientific career.