To tweet or not to tweet?

Here at GARNet, we’re pretty big fans of social media, and Twitter in particular. You can find me, for example @GARNetweets, Charis is @weedinggems, and Ruth has the enviable Twitter handle @plantscience. We regularly post links to news, journal papers, job posts etc., tweet from conferences, and encourage live-tweeting at our own events too.

Left behind at GARNet Towers while my colleagues attended the Plant & Animal Genome conference in San Diego last week, I followed events virtually, via the Twitter hashtag #PAGXXIII – thanks to everyone who tweeted for keeping me up to speed!

Though once upon a time it would have been considered rude to sit tapping away at your phone during a plenary lecture, in today’s WiFi-enabled world, more and more people are using social media during conferences. As John Innes Centre (@JohnInnesCentre) student Amelia Frizell (@AmeliaFrizell) points out in this blog post, there are many advantages to live-tweeting: it’s a great way to make notes, stay engaged with the speaker, increase your Twitter follower numbers and network with peers.

But there’s an ongoing debate, known as “Twittergate”, about whether it’s appropriate to tweet during a conference, what should and should not be tweeted, and what, exactly, the “twetiquette” is when engaging with social media during live events.

A Twitter account I follow recently retweeted a link to quite an old blog post on The Guardian website, which reminds us that there is a certain level of responsibility involved in live-tweeting. At academic conferences in particular, there are unwritten rules that should be followed. I recommend reading the article as there are some very useful tips and things to bear in mind.

You see, although many of us are fully subscribed to the idea of Twitter as a way to quickly give and receive snippets of news and information, not everyone feels the same way. Not everyone is aware of what Twitter is, how it works, or just how public a channel it is. Many distrust it and are sceptical. Some academics, for example, are comfortable with presenting unpublished work to an audience of peers in the room, but less happy to have it instagrammed and summarised in 140 characters or less and whizzed around the Twitterverse for anyone to read.

Having been lucky enough to attend quite a few conferences last year, it was interesting to note the uptake, or not, of Twitter in different places. At UKPSF (@UKPSF) Plant Sci 2014 and ASPB’s (@ASPB) Plant Biology 2014, for example, tweeting was encouraged and I was among a handful or two of other delegates all using the official conference hashtags. At ICAR 2014 (@ICAR2014) however, Charis, Ruth and I were practically the only ones online.

At SEB (@SEBiology) 2014 in Manchester there were noticeably more ‘tweeps’ in the plant science sessions than there were in the animal or cell biology talks, while at SpotOn London (@SpotOnLondon), a science communication conference I attended at the end of 2013, there were so many people tweeting and using electronic devices that it was a scrum to find available plug sockets to recharge during the lunch break!

Like Amelia, I think – when used responsibly – Twitter is brilliant for conference and workshop communication, and as Anne Osterrieder (@anneosterrieder) and others testify, social media is a great science outreach tool, too. Like it or not, Twitter is a ‘thing’ now. And it’s not just a frivolous plaything for younger students or early career researchers, it’s a bona fide tool for communicating and sharing news and joining in online conversations.

Speakers: don’t be offended if people spend more time looking down at their iPads than up at your slides. If they’re tweeting or live-blogging about your work, they are helping you to communicate your science to far more people than just those in the room. If you’re presenting something you’d rather not have published on the internet, or don’t want your photo taken, just say so during your talk – the twitterati will respect your wishes.

Embrace Twitter. Why not set up your own Twitter account and start posting links to your papers or research websites? Follow people you’re interested in (like us?!) and retweet what they have to say. Tweet about what you get up to in your lab. Put your Twitter handle on your conference presentations so people can @mention you in their tweets, or even start your own catchy hashtag? Who knows, you could end up trending!

GARNet goes global with the Global Plant Council

If you follow me on Twitter (@GARNetweets) then you’ll know that I’ve been out of the office quite a lot recently, attending a variety of conferences.

Charis has already blogged about our trip to Manchester for the Society of Experimental Biology conference a couple of weeks ago, but I’ve also been helping out our colleague Ruth Bastow at some conferences further afield.

The Global Plant CouncilAs well as being GARNet’s part-time co-ordinator, Ruth is also Executive Director for the Global Plant Council (GPC) – a coalition of global crop and plant science societies that aims to connect the wealth of knowledge and expertise from around the world to help find solutions to global plant science challenges.

The GPC is focusing on three priority initiatives: firstly the creation of a Digital Seed Bank, which aims to capture and exploit the wealth of diversity in crop collections around the globe. The Digital Seed Bank is part of larger project; the Diversity Seek Initiative (DivSeek), whose mission is to unlock the potential of crop diversity stored in genebanks around the world and make it available to all so that it can enhance the productivity, sustainability and resilience of crops and agricultural systems.

This is an ambitious project and will need to tackle problems such as how to tag or assign a DOI to genetic resources, just as you can to a journal paper. If this can be done, scientists will be able to trace published work or data back to a single seed, accession or group, and know where they can find and access that germplasm to cross-reference and compare data. A grand aspiration, but aim high and you never know what you might achieve!

GPC is also working to join up global research and policy in the areas of biofortification and stress resilience. There are many scientists across the globe working on the improvement of crops, whether by traditional or marker assisted breeding, or using GM or synthetic biology technologies – wouldn’t it be great if we could facilitate better global collaborations on these projects?

The Convention Centre Dublin, or The Coke Can, to its friends!
The Convention Centre Dublin, or The Coke Can, to its friends!

The GPC is made up of (at present) 28 member organisations, including some big players such as the American Society of Plant Biologists (ASPB), the European Plant Science Organisation (EPSO), the Society for Experimental Biology (SEB) and our own UK Plant Sciences Federation (UKPSF).

As members of these societies, many researchers are also members of the GPC by default – whether they realise it or not! To help spread the word to these organisation’s members, I’ve been helping Ruth to man (woman?) an exhibition booth.

So first we flew off to Dublin and attended EPSO’s Plant Biology Europe 2014 conference (23–26th June). This was held at the Convention Centre Dublin in Ireland (known locally, I’m reliably informed, as the ‘Coke Can’!).

Delegates at the EPSO conference came from all over the world
Delegates at the EPSO conference came from all over the world

Our booth was well attended and generated lots of interest from not just European plant scientists as you might expect, but also the global community. Rather than just collecting email addresses in a list, we collected business cards, or got people to fill in a GPC card, and pinned them to a world map so we could see exactly how ‘global’ the GPC’s reach is – I was surprised to meet delegates in Dublin from as far afield as Africa, Australia and New Zealand!

As well as working on the booth, we also had the opportunity to hear some great talks, including a public evening lecture given by Charles Godfray from Oxford University. Charles put a population biologist’s twist on ‘The Challenge of Global Food Security”; lamenting our ‘Malthusian pessimism’ about the need to feed 10 billion people by 2050 and resistance to technologies that might allow us to do this, Godfray said that failure is not an option – “If we fail to have food security, everything will fail,” he said. A sobering thought!

Portland is known for being a bit on the "alternative" side
Portland is known for being a bit on the “alternative” side

After Dublin, and a week in Manchester at SEB, I was back on the plane again; this time heading to Portland in Oregon in the US’s pacific northwest. After a few days’ holiday exploring this very cool ‘hipster’ city and sampling the infamous Voodoo Donuts, Ruth and I set up our GPC booth, this time at the Oregon Convention Centre for the ASPB Plant Biology 2014 conference.

As you can see from the map we generated this time, it was a different demographic who visited the booth; mostly researchers from the US, Canada and western Europe, although we did speak to a few people from Asia and Latin America too. The GPC’s giveaway pens went down a treat here and I came home with only one left!

Our Global Plant Council map at the ASPB conference
Our Global Plant Council map at the ASPB conference

Again, I found some time between exhibit sessions to attend a few talks, and was particularly impressed by journalist/food writer Nathanael Johnson, winner of the ASPB award for Leadership in Science. He spoke about the challenge of communicating science to the public, arguing “facts are not enough”. The big issues in science, he said, are simply too big and too complex for people to grasp, so instead they will grasp at small pieces of information they can understand – and this is often how things like the anti-vaccination movement, or anti-GM campaigners get started. Building trust between scientists, industry and the public is of huge importance, because simply giving people piles of ‘evidence’ has no impact a) if people do not understand it, and b) if there is an assumption that it is inaccurate or they are being misled.

Ruth in the Booth
Ruth in the Booth

So now I’m back in the GARNet office (though the weather here in Coventry is just as hot as it was in Portland!) but only for a week. This weekend the whole GARNet team is off to Vancouver for the International Conference on Arabidopsis Research (ICAR), so stay tuned for more blog posts and tweets from Canada!

Summer at GARNet

Categories: Arabidopsis, GARNet
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Published on: June 13, 2014
Cosmos Flower by Alfred Borchard, via Free Images
Cosmos Flower by Alfred Borchard, via Free Images

A summer of conferences

We’re gearing up to go to a few major conferences before our own in September, so watch out for Ruth, Lisa, Jim or me at EPSO, SEB, ASPB, SynBio SEED and ICAR.

There are loads of UK meetings for plant scientists coming up: Early career events New Phytologist Next Generation ScientistsSCI Young Researchers in Agrisciences and Frontiers in Plant ResearchBreeding Plants to Cope with Future Climate Change; the CPIB Summer School in Mathematical Modelling; and the HvCP workshops.

If you’re attending these or any other event this summer and want to try your hand at writing a meeting report or blog post, please get in touch – we’re always looking for guest bloggers!


GARNet2014 logo 200

GARNet 2014: The Ongoing Green Revolution

For us, the biggest event of the summer is the finale – GARNet 2014 in September. Our conference is the biggest Arabidopsis event in Europe this year and we have a fantastic line-up, so it’s an unmissable opportunity to catch up with collaborators and colleagues past, present and future. We’re taking early bird registrations and abstract submissions for short talks and posters until 30 June. If you’re a post-doc or PhD student, you could win a bursary to cover the cost of your trip! For more information, go to:


BIS Capital Consultation

Before all the inspiring talks and networking, we’re working on a response to this BIS consultation about capital investment until 2020. Capital investment in science infrastructure will total over £5 billion between 2015 and 2020, and BIS are asking the whole STEM community for input on how this investment will be managed. GARNet is putting together a response and if you have anything to input, please do email me. If you want to know more, the 110 page consultation document is here. For a bitesize overview, I suggest you take a look at these two excellent Guardian Science Blogs by Stephen Curry and Claire Viney. Also, the Guardian is hosting a live online Q&A session with a panel, to include David Willetts, on Monday lunchtime.


GARNish … coming next week

It can’t really be summer at GARNet without the June edition of GARNish – don’t worry, it will be with you next week!

Travel grants 2014

Categories: conferences
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Published on: February 18, 2014

It’s that time of year when conference registrations are open and early bird deadlines are coming up fast. If you want to go to one but are unsure about the cost, take a look at the travel grants below. They all have fairly simple application processes and several deadlines throughout the year, but get your applications in within the next few weeks for summer conferences.

Remember, if you’re a student, you can use your training grant to pay for conference fees and travel. Attending and presenting posters or talks at conferences is an important part of a PhD studentship.

  • Company of Biologists travel grants from the Society of Experimental Biology: Deadlines 31 March, 30 June, 30 September, 31 December 2014. Funding to attend a UK (£250) or international (£500) conference. You have to be a member of SEB, or to buy a multi-year membership, to apply.
  • Honor Fell travel award from the British Society for Cell Biology, sponsored by the Company of Biologists: Rolling deadline. Up to £300 for UK meetings and more for international travel is available to students and post-docs.
  • Biochemical Society travel grant: 7 deadlines throughout 2014 – submit as early as possible. Members of the Biochemical Society can apply for a travel grant of up to £750 to attend a meeting.
  • British Society of Plant Pathology travel grants: Deadlines 28 Febrary, 31 May, 31 August, 30 November 2014. Travel funds are available for BSPP members to assist with expenses for conferences, study tours and visits. The amount available varies, but will not be more than half the cost of your trip.
  • Society of Biology travel grants: Students and early career researchers can apply for £500 for overseas travel in connection with biological study, teaching, research, or attending a conference.
  • Genetics Society Conference Grants: Deadlines 1 May, 1 August, 1, November. Up to £750 is available to PhD students and post-docs within two years of their viva to cover travel, accommodation, and registration cost for conferences and meetings. Also, up to £150 is available for travel to Genetics Society meetings.

Why not try and get some funds to attend UK conferences PlantSci 2014 (£200 is up for grabs for the best student/postdoc talks!), SEB 2014 or our very own GARNet 2014?

Recently in the GARNet community…

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Published on: January 24, 2014

GARNet news

Lisa and I went to the Brassica Growers Association Conference on Tuesday. I wrote two posts on it over on the UK-BRC website, and Lisa put together a very informative Storify of tweets on the #BGAconference stream.

The UK Plant Sciences Federation has been collecting opinions, facts and data for the past year or so and is now ready to launch a report entitled UK Plant Science: Current Status and Future Challenges. Lisa and I helped out with this report so keep an eye out for it on Tuesday and let us know what you think!

I went to the SEB Synthetic Biology conference last week and have written a short report for the SEB Bulletin about it – I’ll share it when it is published. There was some excellent plant science there. Antonio Scialdone presented the plant-arithmatic work from Martin Howard’s lab – you can read his open access 2013 paper modelling starch degredation over night here (Scialdone et al., eLife 2013;2:e00669). Oliver Ebenhoeh discussed how mathematical models for photosynthesis and plant metabolism can help synthetic biology be done in plants and other photosynthetic organisms.


On the GARNet website

If you missed some January funding deadlines, there are plenty more opportunities to submit your proposal – take a look at the funding round-up on our website for ideas for fellowships, travel, collaborations or straightforward research grants.

Lisa is continuing to write her weekly Arabidopsis research round-up, which you can find on the GARNet news pages. It’s the best way to keep informed of what fellow UK Arabidopsis researchers are up to. This week, papers from GARNet committee members Heather Knight and Cyril Zipfel feature.


Your chance to present your work

PlantSci 2014 is in York on 31 March/1 April, and abstract submission is open until the end of February. There are two £200 cash prizes to be won by early career researchers giving short talks, so make sure you submit an abstract! There won’t be a traditional poster session, but delegates are invited to bring mini-posters to discuss during the networking sessions. Abstracts for the mini-posters will be included in the abstract book.

Further away in September, GARNet 2014 is your second chance to present your work at either a poster session or as a short talk. Registration and abstract submission are both open, and news about special opportunities for students will be coming very soon.

Finally, I’ve been reliably informed that the FSPB/EPSO Plant Biology Conference organisers are looking for proposals for short talks for the Big Data in Plant Science session, so if you’re planning on going and do ‘big data,’ think about submitting an abstract!

Register now for GARNet’s 2014 events

We have been busy arranging two great events for 2014! Registration for both Software Carpentry for Plant Scientists (9-10 April) and Arabidopsis: The Ongoing Green Revolution (9-10 September) is now open.


On 9-10 April we are hosting a Software Carpentry bootcamp for plant scientists – an Introduction to Programming for Biologists. For those of you who don’t know about Software Carpentry, it is a foundation that teaches good practice in scientific computing, with the aim of providing all scientists with basic, but reliable and transferable, programming skills. If you’ve ever run through the rain to Computing to have a large ChIP-chip dataset split so you can attempt an Excel analysis on it, you’ll know how valuable that is (based on real events – feel free to insert your own experiences there …)!

We’ve worked with the Software Sustainability Institute to develop a programme suitable for both complete beginners and scientists how know their way around the Terminal/Command Prompt but want to improve their skills and learn how to write reliable, re-usable code they can share with their colleagues and collaborators. Registration is £50 and discounted on-campus accommodation is available.


Later in the year, the GARNet general meeting is returning for one time only on 9-10 September at the University of Bristol. Our theme is ‘Arabidopsis: The Ongoing Green Revolution’. We have a line up of excellent speakers, including plenary talks from Alistair Hetherington (University of Bristol), Andrew Millar (University of Edinburgh), Rob Martienssen from Cold Spring Harbor Laboratories, and Paul Schulze-Lefert and Maarten Koornneef from the Max Planck Institute for Plant Breeding Research. 

The full line-up and registration details can be found by visiting More information will appear on there closer to the time of the conference. Registration costs £150 for two days, lunch and refreshments on both days, and a drinks reception on the afternoon of 9 September. We’d also love to see you at our conference dinner on the evening of the 9 September at the Bristol Marriott Royal Hotel (£44 per head for three courses and wine on the tables).

Perseverance and community: The opening session of Plant Biology 2013

Categories: conferences
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Published on: July 21, 2013

Follow Plant Biology 2013 on #plantbiology2013

Plant Biology 2013 is in full flow here in Providence, Rhode Island. It kicked off on Saturday afternoon with an impressive Awards Ceremony recognising fifteen plant scientists (see the list here) from across the world, and of all ages – from graduate students to emeritus professors. Celebrating the huge breadth and depth of plant science today and over lifetimes was an inspirational way to start the conference.

The first major conference talks began directly after the Awards Ceremony with lectures from two of last year’s award winners, Lisa Ainsworth and Ian Sussex, and the Science Perspective Speaker Robert Zeigler. These three lectures were each very different, but represented three major themes of ASPB and the conference: an overview of excellent research, a celebration of plant science, and an update on the reason most plant scientists do what they do: the food security challenge.

Lisa Ainsworth’s work on ozone damage and ozone resistance in soybean is remarkable for its quality (publications here) and its potential impact, but for me the stand out message was the reminder that US science is just on another scale to UK plant science. Ainsworth carries out most of her experiments in the open air at SoyFACE in Illinois – not a growth chamber or glass house in sight. UK scientists constantly struggle with the difference between results obtained in ‘lab conditions’ and the field phenotype, even when working on crop species. Ainsworth’s results, although they are very much in the experimental stage, already show realistic field phenotypes.

Ian Sussex, an Emeritus Professor from Yale, gave a perspective on experimental plant morphogenesis and how it evolved from what was essentially surgery on plants in the 18th century into modern molecular biology in the 1970s. It was an interesting talk, and some of the ideas are in this paper by Sussex in Plant Cell vol. 20.

The CEO of the International Rice Research Institute (IRRI), Robert Zeigler, gave the last of the three diverse opening lectures. He gave an overview of the food security challenge, but with an understandable focus on rice and the work of IRRI. Rice is the staple food for 50% of the global population, but of a staggering 70% of people living in poverty worldwide. Zeigler presented an impressive and typical case study demonstrating the objectives of IRRI: submergence-tolerant rice. Using an integrated research approach, including soil scientists, genetics, and physiology, IRRI scientists bred ‘scuba rice’ and tested it in 2009.

A theme that ran through these three talks was perseverance and the importance of seeing the long view. Ainsworth is part of a long-running research programme that she joined as a post-grad student, and no doubt in the next few years, her ozone-tolerant soybean will be having a big impact. Sussex’s history of plant biology, in which he highlighted the decades before the Arabidopsis genomics revolution in the 1970s as a dry spell for cell and molecular plant science reminded us that modern plant scientists are part of a long tradition of strong community and modernisation. Zeigler summed it up when anticipating a second Green Revolution: “You can do what people say can’t be done.”

Monogram 2013

Categories: conferences, guest blogger
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Published on: May 17, 2013
Laura Dixon

This is a guest post from Laura Dixon, post-doc at the John Innes Centre.

Monogram, the UK small grains conference, was hosted by the James Hutton Institute in Dundee. The conference, which was attended by scientists, breeders and companies showcased the research projects and technologies recently developed for small grains research. In particular, the conference was used to discuss the best approaches the community could use for utilising the rapid advances in sequencing technologies, such as the wheat affymetric chips and the how to approach more controversial topics including the genetic modification of cereals.

The talks ranged from reporting the latest scientific developments to promoting new technologies and resources including huge germplasm collections. The conference had a strong theme of the progress being made in sequencing and constructing a consensus genetic map in wheat and the complexities faced through the highly repetitive hexaploid genome. This theme was established in the keynote talk from Catherine Feuillet, which linked Monogram and to PlantSci 2013. The conference also played host to the first annual Early Career Researcher in Cereals Award, which was presented to Dr. Christopher Burt from the John Innes Centre for his work on understanding disease resistance in wheat.

Next year’s Monogram conference will be hosted by Rothamsted.

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