I’ve been a busy little bee over the last month!
In my July update I mentioned that I had an exciting new venture on the horizon…well now that I have officially signed on the dotted line and have, in fact, been in my new post for the last few weeks, I can finally share what that new horizon is!
At the end of July I was absolutely gobsmacked when I was offered the position of Research & Engagement Officer for a project called GARNet. Based at the University of Warwick, GARNet is a BBSRC-funded network that aims to promote basic plant science in the UK and to help plant scientists make best use of available tools, resources and funding – in short, as my colleague neatly put it to me recently – “we help plant scientists get what they want”. Although I absolutely knew that I could *do* the job, and that I would enjoy it, I was gobsmacked to actually get it because the job description had asked for someone with a PhD – something that I don’t have (and probably never will have!). But, it seems my communications and event planning experience (and I hope my enthusiasm!) served me well in the interview!
GARNet originally started 10 or so years ago as the Genomic Arabidopsis Research Network, which focused almost exclusively on forming a network for researchers utilising the model plant organism Arabidopsis thaliana. Although we still love this little weed, over the years, GARNet’s remit has altered somewhat to include all basic plant science research – that is all ‘pure’ research, using plant organisms, that is interested in the discovery of fundamental plant processes.
Rather than ‘applied research’, which has the intention of driving innovation and creating new tools and technologies for human benefit, fundamental research may be defined as ‘science for science’s sake’ – scientific research undertaken because we are inquisitive beings who want to understand how everything works to the minutest detail – even if that knowledge might not immediately be of any value. The findings of basic research form individual jigsaw pieces that give us little glimpses of the whole picture – we might make educated guesses as to what the picture is, but for now we might only be able to see a little bit. Sometimes we might be able to fit several pieces together, and if we are very lucky, we might complete the whole puzzle – and THAT would be terrifically exciting – but we wouldn’t ever get there unless one lab had started with just one jigsaw piece.
So, whimsical analogies aside, my role at GARNet largely involves:
- communicating and celebrating basic plant science research;
- networking with plant scientists around the country to help foster competitive and innovative collaborations;
- promoting opportunities for plant science funding and training;
- organising events and developing resources to facilitate communication, networking, funding and training.
Currently, I am working with my colleagues to organise and run a 4-day workshop with the iPlant Collaborative from the US – this group develops ‘cyberinfrastrcture’ that enables life scientists to use cloud computing and collaborative software to store and analyse complex datasets. I’m also working on the next issue of GARNish, the GARNet newsletter; helping with a report on opportunities for plant scientists in synthetic biology; collating a weekly ‘Arabidopsis Research Round-up‘ of new papers published by UK plant scientists; updating and maintaining both the GARNet website and the UK Plant Sciences Federation website; and lots more!
Although, as you will know, my background has largely been in medical science and human biology, I’m thoroughly chuffed to have been given this opportunity to work in a scientific field that is almost completely new to me. I have a lot to learn still, but it’s all so interesting and I’m absolutely loving it!
If you’d like to follow my work with GARNet, you can do so by following me on Twitter @GARNetweets.