Plants, people, pub quizzes – the Plant Environmental Physiology Group Early Career Symposium

In a joint guest post for the New Phyt blog, Sarah Carroll and Alison Tidy report on the recent Plant Environmental Physiology Group Early Career Scientist Symposium, sponsored by Plants, People, Planet. Sarah and Alison won the prizes for Best Poster and Best Talk, respectively. Congratulations Sarah and Alison!

A group of eager early career plant physiologists descended upon picturesque Sheringham, Norfolk, on the 14th May for the annual Plant Environmental Physiology Group (PEPG) Early Career Scientist Symposium. This three day meeting attracted 20 Early Career Researchers (ECRs) for three days of talks, posters and costal walks. Attendees travelled from as far as Switzerland and the Czech Republic to the rural Norfolk coast to participate in this event expertly organised by Prof. Katie Field and the PEPG team.

After arrival we had the chance to get to know each other before settling down for an evening of talks covering a range of topics. Dr Gill Malin from the University of East Anglia (UEA) gave us an insight into her work on the effect of phytoplankton and seaweed on the Earth system. Gill also talked to us about her career progression and the people who inspired her along the way. Next up was Prof. Andrew Watkinson, also from UEA, who talked to us about his varied and interesting career in which he has moved from research to policy.

It was interesting to hear about the different opportunities which can arise from doing a PhD and how Gill and Andrew took very different, but both successful, paths. Gill and Andrew both joined us for the rest of the conference, which provided a great opportunity to ask further questions and learn more about their work. Finally, Dr Matt Davey, University of Cambridge, told us about his recent trip to the Antarctic research station where he is investigating snow algae populations. We were all very jealous of the beautiful scenery and the animals Matt saw along the way, including penguins, seals and whales and, of course, all of the interesting botany. Although we were perhaps less jealous of the rocky plane landings and the harsh working conditions!

We rose early on the second day for a guided botanical coastal walk around the Blakeney Point Nature Reserve by the National Trust, and were lucky enough to have the keynote speakers join us for further discussions. It quickly became apparent that Prof. Andrew Watkinson was going to put us all to shame in naming the coastal plant life. The weather wasn’t the best – you can see us all sporting our windproof gear – but despite this and the hardship of walking on shingle, lots of interesting discussions blossomed within the group.

It was really interesting to have the National Trust guides with us to explain the history of Blakeney point and to point out local plant species which we may have otherwise missed. As well as the plant life Blakeney Point is also home to multiple bird species such as black headed gulls and little terns. Blakeney point is famous for its seal populations and, while we only managed to spot one relaxing on the beach along the way, on a clearer day we would have seen more!

Once we were back in Sherringham it was time for the poster session. The majority of the group had decided to give a talk rather than a poster, so the poster session was limited to approximately one in four giving a poster presentation. This ratio allowed for plenty of interesting discussions, new ideas and collaborations.

Next up was the career session, during which we got to hear about the personal career paths of PEPG committee members Prof. Katie FieldDr Saoirse TracyDr Marjorie Lundgren and Dr Matt Davey. It was great to hear such honest opinions from all of the panel and to see first hand that almost every success is preceded by multiple rounds of failure – something that we never normally talk about.

The final morning of the symposium gave us the opportunity to present our work to the rest of the group. In an interesting session, the majority of attendees gave a brief overview of their work, spanning a broad spectrum of topics, from the effect of the environment on plants (Terra Watcharamongkol – Plant Cold Adaptations; Merten Ehmig – Plasticity in dynamic environments; Alison Tidy – Cold / Heat tolerance in oilseed rape; Oliva Cousins – Drought stress in maize), to biotic interactions (Petra Svetilkova – Root Hemiparasite Rhinanthus; Ashleigh Elliott – Mycorrhizas in Crops; Grace Hoysted – Vascular plant-fungal associations) to developmental plant science (Alexandra Townsend – Crop Canopies and Photosynthesis; Catriona Walker – Flowers, fruit and growth; Sarah Carroll – Stomata cell walls).

The symposium was wrapped up with the presentations of the poster and presentation prizes, kindly provided by Plants, People, Planet. After lunch, a quick exchange of emails and ideas and promises of contact in the future, we headed home and it was all over for another year.

This was a great symposium, ideal for early career researchers as it provided a setting to present research and network with other researchers in similar fields, but in a less intimidating setting than a larger conference. Thanks to all of the delegates and a massive thank you to the PEPG committee for organising a fantastic small early career conference, which has stimulated plenty of new friendships within plant physiologists and even some new collaborations and research ideas.

Alison Tidy and Sarah Carroll

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Plants, People, Planet is a new open access journal from the New Phytologist Trust, a not-for-profit organisation dedicated to supporting plant science. Find out more.