Investment in plant science training

Categories: funding
Comments: No Comments
Published on: October 7, 2014

The planet needs more plant scientists.

As a headline in The Scientist last week, this statement was unambiguously qualified by its ‘Opinion’ prefix. But for the UK plant sciences community it is a dangerous fact: the skills gaps in plant and agricultural sciences expertise and very limited plant science content on undergraduate courses were highlighted in the UKPSF report on the status of UK plant science.

The news that some 375 students will receive PhD training in agriculture and food security over the next five years is therefore very welcome. On Friday, Vince Cable announced the locations of 12 new Doctoral Training Partnerships, funded by a £125 million investment from BBSRC. 1250 PhD students will be trained, of which 30% (375) will be trained specifically in agricultural and food security science, 20% (250) will focus on industrial biotechnology and bioenergy, and 40% (500) on world-class ‘frontier’ bioscience – all areas in which plant science plays a key role. The remaining 10% (125) of students will work within BBSRC’s ‘Bioscience for Health’ theme.

We at GARNet are looking forward to seeing the impacts on plant science, from food security and bioenergy to the as yet unknown, that will come from the hundreds of plant scientists starting their training and careers in the next few years. As every student in the centres will have to do a funded three-month internship working in a different area from their PhD project, it will also be interesting to see how this impact spreads into areas like policy, funding and government over time.

Congratulations to all the organisations involved in the new Centres, lead by Imperial College London, the John Innes Centre, Newcastle University, University College London (not plant science), the University of Bristol, the University of Cambridge, the University of Edinburgh, the University of Leeds, the University of Manchester, the University of Nottingham, the University of Oxford and the University of Warwick.

Training and skills in the UK plant sciences community: Have your say

Categories: UKPSF
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Published on: September 4, 2014

The UK Plant Sciences Federation have set up working groups to follow up the recommendations made in their report, which was launched in January. The Training and Skills Working group is tackling school, university, post-graduate and early career issues in the plant science – definitely a broad scope. The Chair Simon Leather is trying out ‘crowd-sourcing’ with his working group, asking anyone who wants to contribute for their opinions and suggestions about the way forward.

In a post on his personal website, Simon Leather has given a lot of information about the current status of training and skills in the UK plant science community, the main problems highlighted in the report, comments from the first Working Group meeting and some ideas to help solve the problem.

Leather argues that action is imperative: Without a well-trained cadre of plant scientists that are able to recognise whole organisms and are able to interact with industry we will see more problems arising with invasive species, our crop production industry will be severely compromised and biodiversity loss will accelerate. 

Some of the ideas to improve training and skills in plant science discussed at the Working Group are:

  • Working with teachers to encourage children and young people to take an interest in plant science
  • Raising awareness in schools and universities of the opportunities provided by a background in plant sciences
  • Working with the Society of Biology degree accreditation scheme to make sure plant science is a part of accredited courses
  • Building stronger training links between academia and industry to ensure HE courses are fit for purpose

What do you think? Do you think these are the right areas to focus on? The Working Group has come up with reasonable actions to begin making progress. I strongly encourage you to read the whole article, and to have your say on the action plan and challenges by commenting on the article.

Along with the Working Groups on Funding, Regulation and Translation, the Training and Skills group will report at the UKPSF AGM on 20 November.

Go here to read the article and comment: http://simonleather.wordpress.com/2014/09/02/how-do-we-save-uk-plant-sciences/

Collaborations and training in integrative biology

The prevalence of first systems and then synthetic biology in BBSRC and wider UK research funding calls, the establishment of The Genome Analysis Centre (TGAC), the fact that the term ‘big data’ is mentioned in nearly every meeting of any type about the biological sciences … all these point to the irreversible integration of mathematics into biology.

This blog post is for two groups of people: plant scientists who feel they lack the expertise to confidently maneuver in the world of integrative biology; and theoreticians either interested in plant science, or who would rather not have to spend quite as much time dealing with the mathematical problems of the plant scientists in their professional or non-professional circles. (more…)

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