My research aims to help farmers in the tropics whilst discovering how plants, pests and microbes interact. Brambles, biological control organisms, bananas and now, sweet potatoes.
I joined SCI after receiving the David Miller Travel Bursary to attend the International Banana Congress in Miami in 2019. Now, I am the new Secretary of the Horticulture committee and I am part of the Agri-Food Early Careers Committee.
I started my undergraduate studies in Marine Biology as a bit of rebellion against my plant pathologist father. After living with Nepalese farmers in 2017, I switched universities to study Plant Biology. Last year, I started an PhD to work with a banana disease in Costa Rica, but I decided to exit the Doctoral Training Program with an MRes due to concerns about the lab environment. Next week, I will (re)start my PhD at the University of Southampton which will involve working with subsistence farmers in Papua New Guinea.
It sounds like my life is a bit of a roller-coaster. It is. I love it.
In 2017, another scholarship took Juniper to Nepal to visit plant clinics and live with farmers.
Whilst I received “Top Student” awards for graduating with a high average – I never really studied from textbooks. I worked as a technician in labs and attended as many conferences as I could with scholarships. Often, I was the only undergraduate at international conferences or symposiums but that is where I learnt the behind-the-scenes stories of how scientists question how the world works.
Moments of random kindness, spare-of-the-moment dancing at conferences, and ridiculous situations I put myself in are the highlights of my scientific career – so far.
PhD Tips and Reflections
Personally, the workload of a PhD is not that scary, and I find it exciting to lead my own project. The biggest challenge of my PhD last year was to put my foot down and say that I did not feel comfortable around some colleagues. My pre-PhD advice would be to choose people over projects, be honest with yourself why you would like to do a PhD to begin with, and what skills you need to gain for post-PhD jobs.
“The workload of a PhD isn’t that scary”
The COVID-19 pandemic put a halt on my rotation project at the Eden Project (Cornwall) in March and it is hard to predict when I will be able to travel to Papua New Guinea. I have been attending online events, panel discussions and conferences every week spring lockdown which have been a fantastic way to keep feeling engaged with the scientific community.
Whilst starting a PhD in a pandemic is strange – I am very excited about my project. I will be exploring options for working with local technicians remotely. I am planning on studying nutritional and social aspects of food security which has been inspired by an interview with an ethnobotanist and virtual conferences.
If there is one opportunity in this pandemic, it is to reflect on our behaviour, choices, and responsibility to live in harmony with nature and bring each other along.Juniper Kiss is a NERC INSPIRE DTP student at the University of Southampton, and a member of SCI’s Agri-Food Early Career Committee and SCI’s Horticulture Group