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!

Wednesday 2 July 2014

Frogs, telephone interviews and women in science...

Another early start...and even earlier for Dr Hamilton, who was picked up at 6.00 to be taken to the recording studio for his interview on the Today Programme. Unfortunately, I miss this whilst I was in the shower - after all the excitement it was only four minutes long! It certainly seems to have generated a lot of interest thigh, even being picked up by The Telegraph.
But, I have to look forward to the next lot of interviews; two this morning both for German Public Radio. I escorted first Dr Amanda Adams ( who works on scorpion burrow design in Israel) then Miss Lauren Nadler ( who investigates social recognition in tropical reef fish). Once again, the landline works fine and my German colleague, Michael Stang, seems pleased with the results. I tell the researchers not to be too nervous, after all their words will have to be dubbed over into German!

I feel slightly awkward about how few talks I have attended so far... There is a wealth of fascinating science being discussed here but I am hardly sitting in on any of it. One example was the Presidents Medallist talk this morning, on auxin dynamics in the root. I had hoped to attend this but ended up trying to arrange the room to do the phone interview in. Foiled! I made up for it in the afternoon by dropping in on the session on animal biomechanics. This covered a fascinating range of organisms but I was struck by a talk from PhD student Miss Marta Garcia- Vidal, investigating how the environment influences a frogs jumping style. I grabbed her afterwards for an interview and may be able to get another press release out of it. Watch this space!

Another highlight was Dr Christopher Clemente's talk describing his work on lizard locomotion. Larger animals put greater stress on their limb bones and Dr Clemente was investigating to see whether larger sized lizards adopt a more upright posture to compensate for this. Although the PowerPoint kept breaking down on him, he ploughed on with gusto, entertaining us with videos showing him running after the lizards to get footage of them in motion...and occasionally, they turned round and chased him! Further information on his research can be found on his blog: http://biomechanicsdownunder.blogspot.co.uk

Networking at the Poster Session

Meanwhile, I was excited to see that the BBC exclusive about dormice had gone live (http://www.bbc.co.uk/news/science-environment-28036330). I always think the 'BBC treatment' gives a very professional touch! After the main session finished, the poster session opened. This is an especially good opportunity for early career scientists, including PhD students, to showcase their work to a large scientific audience. It can also be an invaluable way to  network, make new contacts and find potential collaborators in research. It feels a bit like an eclectic art gallery, where one is free to wander and browse the 'advertisements' . It is much more enjoyable, if course, when you KNOW some of the scientists and can have a catch up with old acquaintances.

The Women in Science Dinner at the Palace Hotel

After checking in with friends and former lecturers from Durham University, I had to dash back to the Palace Hotel to be in good time for the Women in Science dinner. This has been an organised event at the SRB Annual Meeting now for 12 years and is designed as an informal chance to discuss the big issue of gender equality in science. The setting, in the Grand Room, was sumptuous indeed with chandeliers, towering marble arches, silverware and lighted candles. Our after dinner speaker was Sarah Dickinson, strategic director of Athena Swan, a award scheme by which Universities and research institutes can gain recognition for implementing strategies to promote gender equality. Encouragingly, their results suggest that institutes that are part of the award scheme see benefits for all their staff; when women are able to work more effectively and have greater support, the whole working environment improves, resulting in tangible results, including more papers. After dessert, the floor was opened up for questions with even the ( relatively few) makes attendees getting involved. In the end, the discussions moved into the bar area and I decided to head up to bed, fortunately in the same building. It was a thought provoking evening, but as one attendee noted ' How will such events have impact when so few men are present? Half of the decision makers are missing!'
A good point for the next meeting - women, invite your male colleagues!

Women in Science Dinner, Palace Hotel

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