Hello and welcome to my blog! My name is Caroline and I am a PhD student at the University of Sheffield. My research project focuses on Striga - a genus of parasitic plants that devastates harvests by infecting food crops. I am exploring the defence reactions that can make host plants more resistant against Striga. Due to my ongoing battles with anorexia, I haven't made as much progress as I would have liked but I am determined to finish the course.

This blog charts the ups and downs of life in the lab, plus my dreams to become a science communicator and forays into public engagement and science policy....all while trying to keep my mental and physical health intact. Along the way, I'll also be sharing new plant science stories, and profiles of some of the researchers who inspire me on this journey. So whether you have a fascination for plants, are curious about what science research involves, or just wonder what exactly I do all day, read on - I hope you find it entertaining!

Monday 16 June 2014

A visit to London......

The BIG city.... home to our capital, historic palaces, the Olympic stadium, the hub of industry, shopping galore... and also where the head office of the Society of Experimental Biology (SEB) happens to be located!I had been invited down to the SEB office at Charles Darwin House to discuss my duties as the official media intern for the Annual meeting in Manchester, to be held in July.

Traveling from Sheffield to St Pancras late morning meant that I avoided the worst of the commuter traffic and I arrived in good time to meet my supervisor Dr Sarah Blackford (who had only just landed in the country after a week running a summer school in Germany) at the Goodenough Club Hotel. Due to a mix up in the bookings, Sarah had been upgraded into the Master Suite - an opulent room complete with balcony, chandeliers, generously proportioned sofas and a table large enough to host a boardroom meeting. After a quick introductory talk about the internship, we headed out to Charles Darwin House, conveniently just around the corner. I hadn't realised just how pleasant London could be - far from the smog and traffic I associate with the capital, here was a district of quiet and broad streets, expansive leafy plane trees and hidden parks & gardens. Perhaps the sunshine helped to set it off though! I was similarly impressed with the headquarters- the open-plan office had a buzzy, stimulating atmosphere with the other societies that shared the building (including the British Ecological Society and the Journal of Experimental Botany) close at hand. Imagine having daily access to all of that expertise! It was nice to meet the faces behind the emails that I receive as a member of the society, including the head of membership and the conference organiser.

As it was absolutely sweltering, we decided to make use of the refreshment facilities and spacious room back at the Goodenough Club and decamped there to spend the afternoon looking through the abstracts. Dr Blackford had sent me these a week ago - a dossier so large I had to have it delivered to the Department as it would never have squeezed through my letterbox! - so I had already had a chance to read through the abstracts for the talks that would be presented at the meeting and to pick out the ones which I thought had public appeal. Between us, we managed to whittle these down to a shortlist with most of the talks coming from the "Animal" section, rather than the Plant or Cell talks (people will always be more interested in Koalas than Thale Cress...). By this time, the heat of the day had passed and an evening breeze was rippling through the long curtains. We were both in need of an early night so after an excellent meal at Caluccios' Itallian in Brunswick Place, we headed back to our rooms.

Tuesday morning and a bright and early start to plan the day's activities over breakfast. We took our shortlist over to Charles Darwin House where Sarah had booked one of the small suites for us to work in that morning. Having identified possible press stories, our job was now to contact the researchers and ask if they would like me to write an article about their work. We first had to check to make sure that none of the stories had already been reported by science media streams. I had been quite interested in a group which had produced a "transparent soil" so that plant root growth could be observed non-invasively (this was different to agar medium as the texture resembled soil particles). But would you believe it? It had already been picked up! (see http://www.newscientist.com/article/dn23823-lasers-watch-plant-roots-grow-in-transparent-soil.html#.U58wALSgp_c). Enough stories hadn't been spotted by the media yet for us to have a fair list to work on. After a busy morning compiling and sending emails, we joined the other members of the SEB office to head back to Carluccios for lunch.

By the time we returned, the first replies had come in! Unfortunately some of these were to say that due to the work being under review for publication, a press release would not be suitable at this stage. But some people had said yes ... and were pleased that we were interested! It reaffirms how most scientists love nothing better than to pass on their passion for their research.

All too soon, it was time for me to catch my train back to Sheffield. Since then, I have had more positive replies and have been compiling lists of questions to help me shape the press articles. It is like having a full time job! As thew conference gets closer, I find myself getting increasingly excited. It's all happening now!

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