EducationMy first school was a little local primary school. We had a single class of 30 per year so it was a pretty small school. When I went to secondary school I went to an all-girls school called Rugby High School which I mostly enjoyed being at although sometimes I missed the boys I was friends with at primary school. I did GCSEs at that school and stayed to do A-levels at the sixth form and applied to university at several places. I ended up going to the University of Nottingham to do a degree in Biology then stayed to do a PhD. I’m about half way through the 4 years it takes to get my PhD and as long as everything goes ok and I pass I’ll get to call myself Doctor at the end of it.
QualificationsGCSEs- Biology (A*), Chemistry(A*), Physics(A*), English literature (A*), Maths (A), English language (A), Design and Technology resistant materials (A), RE (A), IT (B), Spanish (B) and sports leadership. AS level – Maths (C) A levels – Biology (A), Chemistry (B) and Physics (B) 2:1 Biology MSci (masters degree)
Work HistoryI’ve only had one other job before I started my PhD, I worked part time at a Starbucks during my first degree so that I had some extra money.
Current JobPhD student. This is the first step to becoming a scientist at a University. Even though we are called students it’s much more like a normal job. I generally work about 9-5 and i get paid by the university.
The University of Nottingham
My Work: Plants need different things to grow. They need energy from the sun but they also need things from the soil like water and also things that help them grow, like Phosphorus. My plant is bad at this, so I'm trying to make it better.
The plant I work with is called oilseed rape, you’ve probably seen it growing in fields during the summer, it has really bright yellow flowers and it’s one of the plants that makes a lot of people have hay fever. Farmers grow it to make vegetable oil which is used in cooking, added to lots of foods and even used to make fuel for cars.
<- it looks like this
The problem I want to fix is that this plant needs something called phosphorus to grow, and it’s not always good at getting it from the soil. Farmers put a lot of fertiliser on their fields so that the plant can get enough phosphorous but this 1. Costs a lot of money and 2. Isn’t good for the environment. Some of the fertiliser can get washed into rivers by rain and it can kill the fish and other animals that live there. So we definitely want to fix this problem so less fertiliser is needed!
Making the plants better at getting phosphorous will mean that the farmers don’t need to add as much fertiliser but it will also help them grow bigger and that means we’ll get more food from the plants! Which is good when there are places in the world without enough food.
My plant is also related to plants like cabbage and brussel sprouts (it’s kind of like a cousin, it’s related even though it looks pretty different!) So my work might also be able to be used to make those grow better.
I think that one of the ways to fix the problem the plant has is to make the plant roots better at getting the phosphorous out of the soil. Some oilseed rape plants are better at getting phosphorous than others, so I’ve been growing lots of them and looking at their roots to see if the ones that are good at it all have something in common.
I look at how the roots grow by growing them on paper and using a computer to make a map of the roots (like a high tec version of growing cress on a paper towel). Then I can get the computer to measure lots of different things about the roots. Then I can look at the measurements I get and work out what makes roots good at getting phosphorous out of the soil
<-My plant growing on paper <- the map of the roots
I’m also looking at the inside of the roots under a microscope which is a machine that lets me look at them really really close up and I get pictures like this.
I think they look really cool and I’m probably going to make myself a calendar with the pictures.
I’m going to use another computer program to measure these pictures to see if there’s any differences inside the roots that might help the plants get phosphorous from the soil.
Once I’ve worked out what features of the roots makes a plant good at getting phosphorous out of the soil, scientists and farmers will be able to breed plants that have those features. Then they won’t need as much fertiliser which is better for farmers and better for animals, and the plants should grow better which means there will be more food.
My Typical Day: get up early so I can catch the bus to work. Then I usually start with a cup of tea and check my emails. Then its down to the greenhouses to check on my plants and make sure they have enough water and are growing ok. Sometimes i need to plant more, which is quite a long job because I have to prepare the equipment I grow them in, count all my seeds out and plant them all. If my plants have grown big enough I take them out of the greenhouse and take pictures of them so I can measure the roots on a computer. Then I chop them up and look at them under a microscope so I can look at them really close up. Sometimes I have meetings with my boss. He’s a really nice guy and helps me plan my experiments. When I’m finding an experiment hard or something isn’t working very well we’ll talk through what I’ve been doing and what I can do next which usually helps me make a plan and makes me feel better. I also talk to the other PhD students a lot, and we all have lunch together. Sometimes we share ideas on how to make experiments better, or complain if our experiment isn’t working very well, but usually we’re just joking around and having a nice chat! Usually we talk about T.V shows we’ve been watching or about fun things people are doing at the weekend, or we talk about people’s pets (which makes me jealous because I don’t have any pets).
8.15 – get up so i have time to eat and get ready to catch the bus.
9.00 – catch the bus. It takes about 30 minutes to get to where i work so I usually read a book, listen to music or talk to friends on the bus.
9.30 – Get to work. I usually start by checking my emails and answering any that are important.
^this is what my desk space looks like (although it’s usually much messier than this)
9.45/10.00 – If I have plants growing this is usually when I go and check on them. I check they have enough water and if they have grown big enough for me to experiment on them. Some of my plants grow in soil in the greenhouses but I also grow plants on paper.
These are our greenhouses, they’re much bigger than the kind you might have in your garden!
When I grow plants on paper they grow in racks like this, with one end of the paper in a tray of water.
10.30 – If any of my plants have grown big enough to be experimented on this is when I photograph them.
11.00 – Once my plants are photographed I get them ready to go under a microscope. I have to cut the roots and put them in a gel that holds them still. When I’m preparing them I work in the lab.
^This is what our lab looks like. These are some of the other people for the lab working on their own science experiments. They’re wearing lab coats to protect their skin and clothes from the chemicals they are using.
12.30 – Lunch. While the gel I put my roots in sets I usually go and have lunch. All the PhD students usually try to have lunch together so that we can chat. Sometimes we ask each other for help with experiments but mostly we talk about things that are nothing to do with work like TV and what we plan to do at the weekend. Quite often someone brings in cake which is always a nice treat! We all get on pretty well so it’s a very friendly place to work.
1.15 – I chop up the roots I set in gel and look at them under the microscope. I also take pictures of them so I can measure things later. It take a long time to do this. Sometimes it takes the rest of the afternoon to look at all my roots.
^This is my favourite bit of my job. It’s quite hard to get really clear pictures from the microscope so getting pictures like this makes me really happy and proud of myself.
5.15 – Usually I catch the bus home but sometimes my work friends an I will go out for dinner or drinks, usually we’re celebrating someone’s birthday but at this time of year we’re also celebrating people finishing their PhD and getting to be called Doctor. I’m really looking forward to when it’s my turn to hand in!