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Department of Plant Sciences


Helen Woodfield (2.1, 2008-09), writes "I am a former Natural Sciences student. Following on from a great year doing the part IB plant sciences course I carried on with plant sciences for my part II. The part II course was really fun & easy to tailor exactly to your interests. I am now doing a PhD on C4 photosynthesis in Julian Hibberd’s lab, Cambridge. I really enjoy the lab work & it’s nice to be able to research exactly what you are interested in. The department is great fun too!"

Nicky Peart, (2.1, 2007-8), writes, After "completing the MSc at Imperial (along with a whole bunch of other Plantscis, including Lester and Becky) and having specialised in environmental economics and law, I went on to work for WWF on their adaptation and ecosystem based adaptation work for about a year. It even took me off to Copenhagen! I ended up doing a lot of environmental law work with both WWF and Oxfam, and am currently working for an environmental lawyer in London, assisting him with different cases, mostly domestic, but some international, and (sometimes) including things like unsustainable land use change in Malaysia for biofuels though mostly including things like smelly sewerage works and leaking petrol stations. Hopefully, in a few weeks time I'm going to the Philippines to do an internship with an environmental lawyer there who is doing his best to save the coral reefs by arresting and charging illegal fishermen. (as I read through this email, it all sounds much more glamorous and exciting than it actually is! I do quite a lot of photocopying and coffee making too). I am, however, really enjoying the environmental law, and almost constantly using things that I learnt in my undergrad and masters degrees. Unfortunately, I do have to sit through a law conversion course, beginning this September, and have to join an 'Inns of Court'..."

Henry James writes "I am 23 years old and very interested in ecology, land management and conservation. I graduated from the University of Cambridge in 2008 where I studied biological natural sciences. In April and May of 2009 I worked as a research assistant studying insect biodiversity in forests and plantations in Malaysian Borneo. I also spent time travelling around Papua New Guinea. For the rest of this year I have been working with my farmer neighbours to help restore their orchards. I hope to spend my life conserving natural habitats and working to reconnect people with the natural world." Henry James, former Part II student 2007-8 blog

Jo Hepworth, (1st, 2006-7), writes, "Having studied IB and part II Plant and Microbial Sciences, Jo was bitten by the plantsci bug and after taking 6 months off to travel went to York to do a PhD on plant evolutionary development, funded by the BBSRC. During her PhD she's also spending 3 months doing a BBSRC Fellowship working at the Parliamentary Office of Science and Technology, looking at issues surrounding GM crops and food security."

Laura Dixon, (2.1, 2006-7), writes, "I’ve always had an interest in Science and understanding processes and mechanisms. Natural Sciences at Cambridge allowed me to investigate a wide number of disciplines varying from chemistry to pathology, however by my final year I had found plant sciences. In my opinion the study of plant science has many benefits; you can easily study plants from organism to molecular levels. They have a fundamental application and they feed themselves, it’s got to be a plus! During my time in Cambridge I also got involved in a number of societies, these included the cross country running club the “Hare and Hounds” as well as organising the college May Week Balls.

Following Part II I went on to study plants, in particular the circadian signalling network, for a PhD at the University of Edinburgh. Nothing could have prepared me for a PhD. Everyone has a different PhD experience, there is really no comparison, but a common theme appears to be, get ready to waste some time on research which seemed essential/ interesting but just does not pull through. This is, of course, countered with the research which does work, the rare but valuable whoop whoop moments when the data makes sense and you can contribute to the communities understanding. Whilst 3 years may seem a long time to be studying the same topic, the PhD process takes time to understand. The initial themes which students research rarely make it to the final thesis and the development of the skill to pose an interesting problem which is achievable within the constraints of a PhD, funding and practicality takes time. The biggest and earliest challenge facing PhD students is to identify a research group which meet their requirements. The revolving door of science can make this a particular challenge as people are normally on short contracts and so only spend brief periods in the research group. Still it is definitely worth investing time in and be prepared to walk out if it’s wrong.
Following completion of my PhD I will be embarking on a post-doc position at Duke University in North Carolina. This work will hopefully combine my interests in light signalling and the plant circadian clock as well as allow time for some other great pursuits including running, cycling and exploring my new home. "

Lucrezia Tincani (2.1, 2005-6) writes, “I've turned into a social scientist now. I finished my MSc in Environmental Economics at Imperial (field work in Burkina Faso) last September and have now started my PhD at SOAS … I'm looking at the "social role" of forest resources in Burkina: they constitute a sort of informal insurance mechanism in rural area, by proving people with a source of food, income (selling forest products) and cheap medical care (medicinal herbs) when other alternatives are lacking/too expensive. This "rural bank" is particularly important in times of crisis, such as seasonal droughts which periodically hit Burkina, as well as any other recession- or climate-change-related shocks which may be heading their way! I'm working together with a local NGO (UK based to promote forest management as a way of building resilience & adaptive capacity.

I'm nearing the end of my first year, and will head out to Burkina in the summer to start my field work lasting 12-15 months - it will be that long, because I'm focusing on seasonal dynamics and need to get at least 1 wet and 1 dry season in! The last year has been very interesting - SOAS is rather mad and rather leftist, but it has made it all the more interesting. My background reading has involved everything from Karl Marx to complexity economics … unfortunately poverty is a terribly complicated subject, on which a lot has been written, from very many different angles…”

Rebecca Ross (1st, 2005-6) writes, "the PAM and I have returned safely from the field. I hope you had a good summer and are feeling rested for the return of the students! You might remember the study system (Senecio) and the hybrid zone, with differing leaf morphologies. I am setting up a common garden experiment this summer in high and low altitude sites. The 2 parental species have leaves which are either simple (high site) or dissected (low site). My hypothesis is that differences in climate, particularly temperature and water availability, will result in differential adaptation of the photosynthesis system, for example greater water use efficiency. In particular, dissected leaves will be better at heat dissipation and simple leaves less so."

Therefore, in the hot conditions of a Sicilian summer, the simple leaves (altomontane) will have to either transpire massively or overheat. Whereas, in the cooler altomontane site, the simple leaves may benefit eg less risk from frosting, possibly more light interception due to a greater s.a. I'd like to test these in the field."

Holly Astley (1st, 2005-06), writes "I have just handed in my PhD thesis, and have spent the last three years doing a BBSRC Industrial CASE sponsored PhD jointly with Julian Hibberd's group in the Department, and Advanced Technologies Cambridge, a company on the Science Park. Although I spent most of my time in the Department, the CASE award gave me a chance to see what working in industry would be like. On the strength of that, and after having taken part in a competition called Biotechnology YES, I have now decided to move into industry. I am currently looking for lab-based jobs in small biotech companies, which could take a while given the state of such companies after the recession, but watch this space!

Kaisa Kajala (1st, 2005-06), writes "Currently I have submitted my thesis "An mRNA blueprint for C4 photosynthesis" and I'm waiting for my viva voce examination. I plan to stay in academia, and I'm looking for post-doc positions in the USA. But before I take up the next position, I will take a much-waited-for gap year travelling in Asia!"

Susie Roques (neeLeathers) (2.1, 2004-5) writes, "I'm now working for ADAS, which advises the Government, farmers, large manufacturers and the wider agricultural and horticultural supply chain about sustainable food production, with links to our own Cambridge Partnership for Plant Sciences (CPPS) I completed my own MSc in Integrated Pest Management in 2006 and am now working in ADAS carrying out applied science and knowledge transfer.”

Johanna Cornah Details from Alison Smith: "Jo did her PhD in my lab, graduating in 2001. She did a post doc with Steve Smith in Edinburgh, followed by one with Ian Graham in York. Then qualified as secondary school teacher, teaching biology. She married Dr Peter Eastmond (a fellow plant biologist, now lecturer at the University of Warwick) in April 2008, and had Meredith Rose in July 2009".