Introducing the first BSPP Outreach internship student: Claire Stoker

01 May 2013

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Claire Stoker internship student
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BSPP Outreach team at UKPlant Science conference

Claire is a first year BBSRC funded PhD student working with Katherine Denby at the University of Warwick.  As part of her PhD program she is required to complete a 3-month placement, which she is doing with the BSPP outreach team. The 3-month placement will encompass a range of activities; including helping to develop and trial educational resources in schools and attending science festivals.

'I heard about the serious situation of the need to recruit more plant pathologists and thought this placement would be an excellent opportunity to help.'

As part of her internship, Claire attended the UK Plant Science Conference 2013 in Dundee. Here is her report of how it all went:

One of the core aims of this conference was to create a coordinated approach to plant sciences education and outreach. It was a fantastic opportunity for us to meet others doing outreach work and also scientists interested in getting involved.

I really enjoyed Sir Charles Godfray's talk, 'Feeding 10 billion people on a finite planet'. He provided excellent facts, figures and insight into the politics and potential solutions to current food security issues. This will help us deliver informed and up-to-date facts when doing outreach.

In the section, 'Inspiring future generations' Prof. Gary Foster's talk, 'Plant Pathology: The past, the present, and more importantly, the future' was excellent and very entertaining. He even did an Irish dance to illustrate how people on board the Titanic were fleeing the Irish potato famine! His talk will be online sometime over the summer!

Gary gave key facts from the BSPP's audit on plant pathology teaching and training in the UK including worryingly low participation levels in plant pathology in education and how the BSPP is planning to tackle this. This talk gave us excellent publicity and our photos, future events and contact details were very much on display!

The BSPP Twitter account (and mine) also gained lots of new followers and several supportive Tweets from other outreach scientists.

During the conference we were also given space on the outreach table and two presentation slots. We gave an overview of our  activities currently being developed and our future  events

We also had an example activity for schools; potato cyst nematode cysts and larvae were dropped onto microscope slides and scientists were asked to identify what they were. Guesses centred round 'a worm', which  we then expanded on the agricultural and economical impact of this pest and how it invades plant roots. It was subsequently explained that this activity would be repeated with children as an introduction to plant pathology. 

We also displayed plant pathogen models made by a group of 8-10 year olds; the models included the Tobacco Mosaic Virus (made from a pipe cleaner, a cylinder and plastic caspids) and Botrytis cinerea (made from pom-poms and straws). Scientists were very impressed with these models and believed this would be an excellent activity to carry out in schools. 

Katie and I have also been working with Sian Deller to develop some 'Plant Pathologist Profiles'. These are designed to show the huge range of careers in plant pathology. We recruited several plant pathologists from the conference at different stages in their careers and plan to carry out interviews. Several scientists also signed up to receive complete outreach resources and agreed to carry out lessons in schools using the resources.

We also met other outreach groups, such as Mary Williams from ‘The Plant Cell’ and Jenni Rant from the ‘SAW Trust’. We all agreed it would be great to work together to enhance plant sciences’ profile and achieve our aims faster. 

I am now developing a game for secondary schools based on the co-evolution of plants and their pathogens. I will also be helping Katie prepare for our next events! I’ll update you on how we get on in May…